Finally, a fringe of young people revolted against Western society (but who do not forget to touch the RMI or to type papa-maman), settle for indefinite durations in shabby pensions. They may be caught up in drugs or, what is not necessarily better, by pseudo gurus who make them believe that they are following a spiritual itinerary. Disguised as saddhus, they are more Indian than the Indians.
The physical environment of Benares is quite frightening. It is an overcrowded city with often broken streets and anarchic circulation. A cyclo-rickshaw ride from south to north between Assi ghat and Raj ghat will give masochists a good idea of what a crowd is. To say that Benares is an extremely dirty city is an euphemism. From the slightest rain, we flounder in the boil. The innumerable cows are evidently everywhere, and on the banks of the Ganges their excrement is close to that of dogs and men. The piles of garbage gathered at every corner of the street and, of course, on the banks of the sacred river, whose brown, uninviting waters do not discourage the thousands of Hindus who, every day, winter and summer, come there to do their ritual ablutions then their toilet, their laundry ...
Walking along the ghat is an indispensable experience. First of all you have to resist the innumerable proposals: men shout at you crying "boat, sir" or others would like to take you to silk shops, children want to sell you postcards, powders colored plates, offerings cups, others ask to be photographed in exchange for a few rupees. Others do not sell anything: pilgrims who engage in ablutions or consult guru and astrologers under parasols. And then also the young ones who practice to fly summary kites or to play cricket with the means of the edge, the dhobi (laundry washers) who type like madmen on their board all the morning, after which the linen is spread on the stairs, balustrades and walls, some people read their newspaper or meditating, and of course the buffalo gathered in flocks in places like Mahanirvani ghat which grow raucous roarings and are able to climb and descend stairs with agility.
Walking on the ghats is also to meet many friendly yellow dogs, accompanied by their puppies who sport, beautiful big goats who sometimes persist in chewing a piece of plastic and discourage rejected after a few minutes. From time to time, women and even girls gather cattle dung and make flat cakes that they apply to the walls for drying and then serve as domestic fuels. From place to place, tea is sold in more or less summary installations.
The buildings ???? which overlook the ghats, although often having the status of palaces, are quite decrepit and the whole, although picturesque, is not really beautiful.
But then, you will say, why come to Benares and, worse, linger?
Well, here it is, we do not know, but this city is magic. It leaves to the visitor a very strong impression, positive or not, it depends, but one does not return indifferent. Its extreme antiquity, practically attested for more than 3000 years, its thousands of temples, oratories at every corner of the street, its labyrinth of narrow and mysterious alleys where it is easy to go astray, popular piety which expresses itself abundantly in each a sacred place, create an unparalleled ambiance. It is necessary to take the time to attend in full the religious ceremony of the ariti which takes place each evening at Dusashwamedh ghat (central ghat), in the middle of the crowd of hundreds of people gathered attending.
It is necessary to get up at dawn and to descend on the ghats when the sun appears on the other side of the river and illuminates the whole landscape with a supernatural light, ocher light and slightly veiled. The Ganges with dark waters shimmers like metal. In a few short moments, the star of the day rises rapidly in the sky, passes from red to orange and then to brilliant golden yellow. This is the time when tourists rent a boat and make their little tour of an hour.
It must not be forgotten that Benares is the city of death. The Shiva God who presides over the transformations is here present everywhere: in Lingams temples and shrines that people flourish and revere, as on the fields of cremations of Manikarnika ghat and Harischandra ghat. The men soberly accompany their dead, who, day and night, burn on the stake. Sometimes, when a poor family can not afford the 250 kg of necessary wood, she entrusts the deceased, wrapped in her shrouded shroud, to a boatman who immerses her in the middle of the river without any other ceremony.
The impression that one can have of Benares depends very much on the time and the time that he makes there. In winter, if it is cold, gray and rainy, you will leave discouraged. In the summer, during the monsoon, the high waters of the Ganges cover the ghats and overflow into the neighboring streets, making many walks impossible. On the other hand, in spring or autumn, when the weather is fine, everything is transformed. You will organize your day according to the temperature, reserving the warm hours for a restful nap if you get up before the sun.
Do not forget to stroll through the chowks at the innumerable little shops displaying a bit of everything: postcards of deities, glass bead necklaces, wooden toys painted in bright colors, brass statuettes and hardware, gold jewelery, silks for which you will be inevitably solicited, cotton clothes, internet shops frequented by hordes of Koreans, ...
You'll find it a little hard to get around the crowd, the horny motorcycles, the heavily loaded carts and the cows that are almost as wide as the lane, ... Even if you get lost, the river is in the East ...