Streets of Varanasi

February 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

January 18th:

The city, especially the old quarters, has a beat all its own. Navigating the narrow mess of alleyways was a challenge, but I did my best to follow rule number one of safe, solo travel: always look like you know where you’re going… or at least attempt to.

My bluff was called early on when circling about. I passed the same group of guys two, maybe three times, and eventually caved. They were more than happy to help. After walking me to the restaurant, I was starting to change my tune, thinking maybe, just maybe, I had finally encountered some good samaritan’s who wanted nothing in return. Not so fast. As soon as I reached my destination I heard the famous words, “If you have some time after, you come to see my shop. You don’t have to buy anything, just look. Beautiful, beautiful things. I help you, you help me, you see?” And there it was. Life in Varanasi means survival, and for shop-keepers in this touristy town it means offering one service in exchange for another. I’ll show you the way, if you help me fill my pockets. Simple as that.

While roaming around, I encountered many curious crowds, but instead of wanting to know where I was headed or which country I’m from, they were more concerned with my hair. Yes, that’s right, my copper top. Now, to be fair, this wasn’t the first time my hair has attracted attention. While growing up, I could pretty much guarantee that a trip to the grocery store would result in middle aged women oohing and awing over my curly mop. At the age of six, I was a real life, walking, talking, breathing Annie, freckles and all. Only I didn’t live in an orphanage or have a dog named Sandy. In a city that receives an estimated 200,000 foreign tourists per year, you’d think at least a handful of those would be Ginger’s.

While the streets of Varanasi were moving at top notch speeds, I found some relief on the river. From the confines of a small rowboat I could breathe easy for a nominal fee. A first row seat to all of the action without any of the hassle for just $2.25. That’s money well spent.

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