Benares/Vanaras/Varanasi: Sacred Cows, Sacred Water


Benares/Varanasi, City of the holy Ganges

If Goa is too groovy and Rishikesh too guru-y, then Vanaras (locally no one says “Varanasi”) may be just the place for a person wanting the authentic Indian experience. It’s got everything: all the filth and chaos that India in general is known for, a decent batch of tourist sights and sites, plus a healthy dose of the religious experience that still attracts many psychic adventurers.


That includes a healthy dose of ashrams and spiritual centers, Indian music recital halls, a plethora of temples, and of course the famous ghats down by the water which are special places of bathing, worship… and cremation. Cremation is actually one of the main causes of pollution in the river Ganges, which is revered as the source of life for many Indians, and a place to die for many more.

Waiting for a train in Varanasi, India

All I see are cows, though. Anybody who says that there are no more sacred cows in the modern world have not been to India, in general, Vanaras in particular. Cows rule this place. They’re everywhere: on the streets, in the train station, and in your face. Thus derives much of India’s filth, and reputation for it. You can’t blame the cows, though. They just do what cows do. So blame the religion, maybe?


The food is incredible, and cheap, but after a week I’m starting to overdose on street food. They’re full of potatoes, which I like. That’ll bring out the Irish in you. Unfortunately they’re also full of fried bread. I’m not that Indian, not yet, anyway. I realize I’ve only eaten rice once in the entire first week in the country, this in the birthplace of rice, that on a floppy disc in my lap.


Maybe I should go to a restaurant. I usually think of that for dates and romantic interludes, not for fast food, not by myself. But who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky… Next stop is Agra, and the Taj.