The Pyre and the Labyrinth

Sunrise cruisers

We have almost found our way back to the guesthouse. The alleys near the ghats of Varanasi are narrow and slender and impossible to navigate. The walls seem to reach towards each other as they climb upward, almost intertwining at the peak, revealing only the faintest sliver of dark sky. It is night, and we convinced one reluctant cook to keep his restaurant open for us for an extra ten minutes, but when we exit the alleys are black. We try to retrace our steps, turning at half-remembered marks of graffiti, backtracking to statues, making long, winding journeys.  We stumble upon one thin pathway completely blocked by a stolid, immovable bull, who grazes his two horns against opposite walls, who stares us directly in the eyes.

There is another path, another slick stair, another bull. We climb up and we climb down, and our fingers run over advertisements painted directly onto brick and concrete. At long last, we find a turn that looks familiar, a sign that calls us home like a clarion. We turn to move.

“Stand back,” a man remarks, waving us off the path. “They need room.”

We look, and a procession staggers past us. The men each are old and grey, their shirts are too big for them at this age, yet they are still strong and purposeful. Their arms are wiry and shaped by decades of work, they strain and haul like steam-powered machinery. Across their shoulders is a stretcher of thin wood, and on the stretcher is the body. He is wrapped in an orange veil from head to toe, swaddled like an infant, and these men will carry him to the water and will carry him to the pyre.

The fires burn all day and all night. We can hear a crackle in the distance, the snap of tinder consumed by flame, the hushed murmur of elegy. Much of Varanasi this close to the river smells like woodsmoke. The sky is heavy with grey.

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India Photoglut Pt. 2: The Lotus and the Surf

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And suddenly, we are at the end of our pictoral journey through India, and indeed through all of Asia. There are still plenty of words to be shared, stories to be told, songs to be sung, but for now let us slip our eyeballs over the colours, over the waves, over the alleys and seasons and trees. In our second month in India we made it to the east and to two of the most important religious sites in the world (I rose one day and sat by the Ganges for sunrise, and was sitting under the boughs of the goddamn bodhi tree by nightfall, a religion major’s wet-dream). And then, run ragged by our ravaging desire to basically see all of India in the span of two months, we flew to the south and became so tired that we just bummed around the beautiful beach towns and ate our faces off on sun-dappled shores.

India was so hard, you guys.

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