Cows, rick shaws, motorbikes, street dogs, cars, pedestrians, bikes, tuk tuks , a concert of permanent honking from all sides, a pollution leaving a grayish layer on my skin, hair, clothes. Sweat pouring down my face in a humid 37 C heat. Now and then some monkey families cross the electricity cables. Garbage on the road sides, the smell of street food, children on the motorbikes held by their mothers (behind their fathers) in their red saris in an elegant « side saddle » position. Nobody wears a helmet. Some cover their faces with scarfs against the pollution. The chaos advances in a smooth slow noisy manner. Nobody gets excited or angry, the acceptance of the present moment seems perfect in a dantesque inferno.
At a roundabout, the marble cow (sign of shiva) thrones helplessly on a column, supervised by a board of 5 policemen sitting in a sort of tribune (as if there would be a national bank holiday) while some real cows move slowly forward. The policemen’s presence is definitely purely symbolic.
However, the chaos unveils another Benares. The Benares of the Sadhus, priests and pilgrims coming to worship Shiva and Parvati at the holy Ganges. In the old town, the Chow, the streets are so narrow, only bikes and motorbikes may pass. Queues of barefeet devotees move towards the Ghats, the temples. Cow boose, dirt, garbage become irrelevant when I look into the faces of the Sadhus. They wear the weight of the world. The chaos seems to be an eternal lesson in Benares: all material manifestation is illusion, maya. Their knowing eyes go straight into your heart. Young brahman students from different brahman colleges illuminate the narrow roads. Something pure, clear and beautiful emanates from them. They chat joyfully, their movements are delicate and their smiles are perfect displaying immaculate white teeth in illuminated faces.