It has come time to say goodbye to my new- found home of Varanasi. I can hardly believe that my four months here have swept by so quickly!
It has certainly been a love-hate relationship with this old city.
There have been moments of frustration beyond almost anything I’ve felt before- from the constant traffic hooting and screeching along, to seeing caste being used as an excuse for ignoring humanity, to not being listened to, and to struggling to communicate through cultural and language barriers. But of course there have also been times of intense excitement and joy- from seeing a student grasp a new letter, number or even concept, to being awed by the intense dedication of many Hindu people through their pooja and other special festivals, to making a hostel girl smile or laugh, to being made to smile or laugh by a hostel girl, and to meeting new people, be it locals or other travellers on a similar journey to myself.
There are a few things that I won’t miss in Varanasi- from having to carefully place each step to avoid stepping in cow dung, to being treated in a particular manner a) because I’m a girl and/or b) because I’m a westerner, to watching men openly urinate on the side of the road. But there are so many things that I will miss- first and foremost, my beautiful hostel girls and the tiny adorable students of Little Stars who are eager to learn; as well as my wonderful, ever-helpful host family- the Tripathis!
And of course, my volunteer partners, best friends and confidants for the last four months- Kas, Elly, Beth and Eden!! You guys are truly amazing.
Of Varanasi itself, I will miss the colour and culture which hits you every time you walk outside (and even that which is often present in our house), the kids who say hello as we walk down the street, and the festivities and people who are so full of life being the things which exemplify Varanasi to me.
It is the constant assault of the senses and the constant ability to surprise, excite, frustrate, or entertain me that has made my experience in Varanasi so amazing and so memorable. It is that every day, Varanasi has brought me something new to challenge, or to enlighten me; to put a smile on my face or to bring tears to my eyes.
Saying goodbye to the hostel girls on Friday night was an emotional affair- needless to say it was very hard to do. But of course, this was a reaffirmation of the fact that we have formed a very strong bond with the girls over the last four months, and of all the good times we have had. I will certainly miss their energy and the strength which they exude as young people who have been through tough backgrounds- I’ve certainly learnt a lot from them.
We were to leave Varanasi on Saturday evening, but we found ourselves running late to the station after a series of events including goodbyes to the Tripathi’s, classic Varanasi traffic, and a final bid of confusion by Varansi to us- of blocking off the middle of the road so that we could not make a U-turn to get to the station and so had to take a much longer route...
We pulled up to the station just after 5.10pm, for our train which was meant to depart at 5.20pm...and so grabbed all of our bags and made a mad dash towards the station. When we reached the platform the train had just begun to move slowly and in an air of panic I led the way along the train in a bid to find our carriage. On reaching the ‘luggage carriage’, and hence the end of the train we were hit with the realisation that we would in fact have to run to the other end of the train to find our carriage. By now, the train had stopped moving, however we still took off in an awkward shuffle along the train. Along the way we collected Kas and Elly, who had lagged behind due to Elly’s troubles with her suitcase...and continued to desperately make our way along the platform, turning on our Indian manner and pushing past people as we went. As we were running alongside it, the train did feel as if it was about the longest train ever...but a minute or so later we reached our carriage, and clambered on all sweating and pink in the face. We all then seemed to collapse into positions and burst into fits of laughter and sighs of relief as we comprehended that we had made the train!
Of course, this did mean that we had to leave Varanasi behind.
I can never truly explain Varanasi to people in a way that will do it complete justice- but I do honestly urge anyone and everyone to visit this amazing city and experience it for yourself. Varanasi will no doubt throw many things at you; but in my experience there, so long as you accept whatever comes your way and tackle the challenge head on, it will have the most amazing outcomes and leave you with incredibly fond memories.
In the end, whatever happens in Varanasi, I could always be comforted by the fact that you can always add in a cow for good measure!