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Varanasi, May 2018

One month left in India, and none of us have yet been to Varanasi. It's a short flight away, so Heidi and I left the kids at home (first time ever!) and went on a quick three-day trip. If you are looking for cute photos of Astro / Finn / Piper, look elsewhere!

Varanasi is on the banks of the Ganges. It's known as the most holy city for Hindus, in large part due to the cremations that happen on the river. It was really incredible to watch these happening. We saw body after body being carried across the river, then brought up, covered in flammable ghee, blessed with a puja, then brought over to a stack of wood, and lit on fire with grass carrying the flame from an eternal temple. The burning happens for a few hours, after which the 'chief mourner' at the site will find a charred chestbone or pelvis, and toss that in the river, before someone sweeps away the ashes. Then someone else will take the charcoal and use it in their tea stall, and meanwhile there are a hundred and twenty kids diving off of temples into the Ganges and screaming behind them. And there are cows munching on the marigolds that were draped over a new dead body that's just come in, and then the chai-wallah walks around and sells tea.

When we moved to Bombay three years ago, I thought it was the craziest place in the world. Then I visited Kolkata, and realized it was much crazier than Mumbai: huge styrofoam palaces for Durga Puja, legions of ancient Ambassador cabs, human-pulled rickshaws, ayur vedic in the streets, and thousands of chickens being carried by their legs through the smog. Varanasi, it turns out, is even more intense, with more of everything, constantly, than anywhere else in India. It is a juxtaposition of life and death and cows and rivers and fruits and balloon-wallahs and fresh fruit and people scrounging for money, and old palaces and LOUD LOUD LOUD HORNS CONSTANTLY HONK HONK HOOOOONK!!! and tons of wood being carried down the river, and big swimming, and aloo tikki chaat and mango juice, and silk shops and temples and strange lassis, and then it starts all over in the next block. It goes on and on and it's all India.