City of Light
Mark Twain had this to say of Varanasi:
Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all three of them put together.
I ended up spending a week in Varanasi. I can't say why, exactly. There really isn't a week's worth of things to see and do; rather it was inertia I suppose. Inertia and the fact that I wasn't sure where I was going next, or why. After 10-1/2 months of 'traveling' in India and Nepal, I'd lost the point. Originally the plan was to spend February doing a yoga course in Rishikesh, but my travel companion's back problems put an end to that. Instead we'd floated around for a second month in Nepal. Now I was back in in-your-face India, in perhaps the most in-your-face city of all: Varanasi, aka Kashi, The Luminous, founded by the big guy Shiva himself.
Varanasi, a city of much religious significance, has been continuously inhabited since at least the sixth century BC. Today there's a patina of modernity atop the ancient city, most of it not very nice. The traffic consists of countless bicycle and auto rickshas; carts pulled by oxen, horses, or bicycles, or pushed by humans; scooters, motorbikes and bicycles; cars, lorries and buses. All on roads also crowded with pedestrian traffic, beggars, stray dogs and cows. Pollution is intense. Several varieties of shit and piss-- dog, cow, buffalo, goat and human-- can be found everywhere, along with putrid rubbish. Children who ought to be in school instead learn to hock postcards in several European languages and Japanese. Touts hassle constantly, some aggressively, and others with a polished friendliness that is so misleading as to make one leery of absolutely everyone. And then there are the cremations and other religious ceremonies.