In spite of myself I had an enjoyable few days in Varanasi, a city that seems to have everything and nothing going for it at the same time. Varanasi is an ancient, vibrant and confronting city where people have lived continuously for thousands of years, it’s one of the holiest places in the world for Hindus and is significant to Buddhists as well. It has a large Hindu university, many scenic vistas and fascinating street scenes. It’s also the single dirtiest place I have ever been to.

Arriving at the airport the ride into town was adventurous itself, the driver swerving amongst the cars, vans, rickshaws in any of the road space available, the pedestrians, cyclists best be aware of themselves, the urban cattle that stand and sit where they will. The complete lack of adhesion to road rules definitely seems to be the Indian driving mentality.

The initial impression of Varanasi isn’t particularly positive, walking towards the river the street scene is chaotic, the narrow roads thronged with people, creating a difficult experience to endure amongst the dust, exhaust fumes, continual honking and filth. I really struggled to keep my cool, it was pretty overwhelming.

It is instantly apparent that street food will not be consumed here, Varanasi is perhaps the dirtiest place I have ever seen, sure a lot of it is cow shit, from the poor urban cows. Sadly more of it is not, it’s just garbage, easily thrown garbage that spends a lifetime underfoot, before being washed into the holy river with the rains. With flies aplenty and a significant amount of dust to boot I’m ever so glad our homestay guesthouse has food available.

Urban cows, the poor urban cows, they made me so sad, I just wanted to scratch their heads and give them a hug but really wasn’t comfortable with touching the filthy things. I grew up on a farm, our cows were not religiously symbolic but were treated well, our cows didn’t pick through garbage to eat, drink fetid water or sit on piles of stones. They lived as cattle should surrounded by grass, not in a road, or down a laneway having to endure an existence like this. The street goats seem to fare better, they eat a wider range of foods, the dogs, monkeys and paltry horses simply fend for themselves.