It startles me that one of my favorite photos from the journey, taken during a sunrise boat trip along the Ganges River, so magically depicts what became my least favorite place, Varanasi. Arriving in Varanasi, we were welcomed by some trickery from a tuk-tuk driver, dumped unceremoniously down a side street far from our hotel, and came face to face with more varieties of feces — animal and human, it’s worth noting — than I care to remember. I had booked a hotel next to the burning ghat, where the funeral pyres burned continuously and our balcony gave an excellent vantage point for floating, unburned body parts bobbing down the river.
Emotionally and visually, Varanasi was the most challenging place I’ve traveled. I simply could not wrap my head around the feelings it stirred in me. And frankly, I wanted to get the hell out. Quick.
A few weeks later, in Udaipur, I met a backpacker who told me he had arrived in India for a second time, and intended to spend a few months in Varanasi. “My god, why?!” I asked him. He explained that on his first trip, Varanasi all but destroyed him. He hated every minute he spent there. But the memory, it seemed, would linger. “It’s the only place I traveled,” he told me, that I think of every single day.”
He had to return. To come to terms with it.
You might have guessed where this one’s going, eh? Here it is: Varanasi is the one place I still think about. Every. Single. Day.
I’m not tossing out any commitments to return for months on end, but yeah, I’d like to see it once more. With a little experience and a lot of perspective, I wonder what I’d think. I wonder if I could last long enough to love it. To understand it. To come to terms with it.