As our time here in Varanasi comes to a close, and we begin our second, more urban half of the course, I find myself reflecting on the hesitations and fears I have felt about leaving and moving to new places while in India so far.
When we initially arrived in Delhi and were greeted by car horns and people everywhere, I was shocked. The noise and chaos overwhelmed me and I immediately feared that the next three months would be like this. As we settled in for our short stay, however, I became familiar and comfortable with the noise and thought to myself “why are we leaving?”. I was perfectly content spending all our time here, regardless of the fact it was the only place in India I knew.
From Delhi, we moved to the colder, greener and much quieter state of Uttarakhand. We were welcomed by hot, steamy cups of chai and introduced to a side of India I never knew existed. A canopy of trees that stretched for miles and quiet nights beneath a star-speckled sky became the new normal. When it was time to leave, I once again felt a sense of sadness and confusion, thinking that I would be happy to stay here, and only see these two sides of India.
When we reached Varanasi, we were embraced by a rhythmic hustle and introduced to a third side of India. We quickly fell into our routines and the unfamiliarity soon felt comfortable. We learned to navigate our way through tight alleyways with ease and grew to understand that getting ripped off and paying way too much for a rickshaw is very normal. We learned the hottest hours of the day, and places to avoid if we wanted peace and quiet. We learned where to get the best, and worst, lassi and where to go if we wanted to be crammed together with hundreds of strangers. This third side of India, and the 4th city we have visited so far, soon became our “home-base” and we each grew to love it in a different way.
So now, in our fifth week in Varanasi, as we load up our backpacks and say our final goodbyes, I wonder what I will miss. What will I want to and take with me for the rest of the trip? What will I be sad to leave behind and what will I be happy to let go of? What fears do I have as we leave the comfort of our homestays and head up north? In the heat and congestion of Varanasi, it is almost impossible to imagine the brisk mornings and cold nights we will experience, but I know that soon that will all be our reality, and yet again we will be introduced to a new side of India.