The Death of My Twenties in Varanasi, India

I said goodbye to my twenties in Varanasi. India was somewhere I had always wanted to go, but was terrified of. Stories of filth, poverty and chaos filled me with anxiety, and yet, I was drawn to the place. So, instead of throwing a party, and paying for other people to get drunk, I decided to face my fears and experience this mysterious, crazy country first hand.

Varanasi Holy Man

When I told someone I would be spending my 30th birthday in the holy city of Varanasi, their response was, “how depressing.” I guess they had a point- cremations take place on the banks of the River Ganges around the clock. But, sure enough, on December 30th, 2010, I found myself on those very banks, watching a cremation taking place, as both my twenties, and some poor soul’s body went up in smoke.

Varanasi boat cruise

The next morning, I began my birthday with a pre-dawn cruise along the holy Ganga. We set off with our trusted boat rower, Raju, in the dark. The usually busy, bustling city was still sleeping, except for some unruly dogs who felt it their duty to bark and howl through the entire night. In fact, they had disturbed our sleep so much, Tyrhone used a ‘dog whistle’ iphone app (yes it does exist!) to placate them for a while…

The December air was crisp as we greeted the last morning of the year, and the first morning of my thirties from the serene waters of the holy river. Shortly, early morning light bathed the banks in a pinkish haze, welcoming bathers into the icy waters. Men in loin cloths performed puja (prayer), whilst female pilgrims excitedly dunked themselves in the blessed waters, draped in elaborate, brightly coloured saris. Morning yoga instruction blared through a loud speaker from an ashram, encouraging its devoted trainees to follow along.

Varanasi India

Soon, the banks of the Ganga were alive with morning activity. Dhobis twisted coloured sheets high above their heads, bringing them down on large flat stones with a loud “whack!” to remove the grime. Looking at the polluted waters littered with dead dogs (yes, we saw one) and God only knows what else, I wondered how effective this method of laundering was…

Varanasi India

There was something about that moment, watching these people go about their morning rituals, in one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world that gave me a humbling sense of being just a tiny speck in the grand scheme of life. People had been doing this for centuries, long before I came into being, and they would continue on, long after I was gone.  This holy city, coming to life, whilst continuing to take care of the cremations of their dead, seemed to have a life force of its own, and I felt comforted to be a small part of it.

Varanasi India


The Death of My Twenties in Varanasi, India — 3 Comments

  1. Hi Sarah,
    I just came across your wonderful blog. I love this post! I was in Varanasi more than a year ago. You described it so vividly that I felt that I traveled back there. I share your insights and sentiments about the place.
    I’m an aspiring travel blogger and your blog inspires me. It makes me push to start putting the blog together. It will be more of a photoblog as I’m a better photographer than writer.
    Happy travel you and I’ll visit back.

    • Thank you Marisol, lovely to hear from you and thank you for your feedback, I really appreciate it! It’s wonderful when people can identify with what I write – that’s what it is all about really! Varanasi is a crazy, wonderful place hey? I really encourage you to start your blog, I knew nothing about it when I started and learned as I went. You just have to take the first step, thats the hardest part! I look forward to checking it out when you do get up and running, and thanks again for stopping by :)

      • Hi Sarah, thanks a lot for the encouragement! The technical aspect of starting a blog is what intimidates me. Hopefully, I’ll learn as I go like you did.
        My plan for the blog is to make it more like a photojournal, similar to the ones I post in Flickr & Facebook for family and friends after each trip. Here’s one of the links from my India trip. Check it out when you have a chance and let me know what you think. If you have any suggestions as to a better formal I should present it, I’ll dearly appreciate it.

        (Click on the first photo and click “next” to go to other photos. That way you can read the narratives of each photo. The slideshow does not show the captions.)