The narrow lanes in the old town were filled with all sorts of smells. Some better, some worse. A couple stand out in my memory as unique to Varanasi.
Apparently the city is famous for its pann, and just about every block had a vendor who inevitably had a beautiful display of the vibrant green leaves on a small counter and would be busy preparing the stuffed delicacy. The smell of the leaves is refreshingly astringent and pervasive but light – a nice contrast to some of the other street smells!
Also lovely to walk through was an area that had numerous spice shops. Surprising was that the strongest smell in the area was of nutmeg (or maybe something similar?) – I didn’t realize that this was even used in Indian cooking. But it smelled great and made me think of Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. 🙂
I just loved the presence of the kites in Varanasi, seeing them soar above the rooftops while their owners remained hidden in the folds of the city, the sound of the paper rippling in the wind. Being able to fly the kite just outside of the burning ghat was such a special thing – simple, pure pleasure. Felt like a kid again – there was really something exhilarating about the tug of the thin string and knowing the tenuous connection I held to this flying bit of paper way up over the water.
One night we were on our favorite rooftop restaurant the Dolphin (very average food but the view makes up for it) in the evening. Looking down at the expanse of the Ganges below, we noticed that someone in a small boat had taken it upon themselves to light a whole bunch of the little floating lamps. They must have kept at it for about an hour, and at the end, there was a narrow but bright stream of flickering flames probably a mile long being pulled along by the river’s current.
As much as a pervading awareness of the burning ghats was part of my experience in Varanasi, I loved the hundreds of things we saw during our stay that were all about life. During our last full day in the city we saw a number of wedding processions (must have been an auspicious day to get hitched?), which was really fun.
Each followed more or less the same formation. A cart with a loud, massive generator is at the front of the parade. Thick wires feed backward from the cart to what looks like gaudy, electric chandeliers balanced upside-down people’s heads (see a not-so-great picture at the end of this post)! A marching band in full regalia plays boisterous music. A crowd of guest follows; a handful of these are dancing their hearts out to the music while the rest are just walking. The women are stunning in glittering saris and oversized jewelery including gold nose rings the size of a half-dollar coin. At the end of the procession is the regal-looking groom on a white horse with a child sitting in front of him on the saddle. All in all quite a spectacular sight!
I don’t think I need a blog post to help me remember this, but I will include it anyway. The Varanasi sight that still appears in my mind’s eye: A perfectly healthy, young-looking leg sticking from the knee down out of a blazing funeral pyre.