So, Varanasi. Yes, it’s been weeks since I was there, but memories of the city (and its stifling heat) are still fresh in my mind.

Mimsie and I parted ways at the train station in Agra, but not before a fight against the masses to get our tickets. Even after a month traveling around the country, I was surprised by the number of people absolutely everywhere. In India, there is no such thing as personal space. It just doesn’t exist in a place with a population exceeding 1 billion. Just getting our tickets involved standing in a packed women-only line, being shoved and jostled as the line slowly inched forward. A soldier in the room noticed us, the two white, bewildered girls in a room of sweaty, yelling people and ushered us to the front of the line. We bought our tickets, though truthfully, nobody would have noticed either way — the trains were so packed that something as simple as checking tickets would have been absolutely impossible. Mims and I had a rushed goodbye before we ran to our respective trains. I pushed my way onto a packed train and leaned against my rucksack for support. I whipped out my camera and took what ended up being my last photo in India. (Dead battery. Lost charger down south. Sad story.)

Once in Gwalior, I connected to my Varanasi-bound train. Fifteen hours later, I was in Varanasi — tired, sweaty and overwhelmed — but in Varanasi. I checked into a guesthouse on the banks of the Ganges River and went out exploring.

Here’s the thing they tell you about India in June: It’s hot. Here’s the thing they don’t tell you about India in June: It’s so hot you’ll want to sit under a cold shower every waking moment. It’s so hot that because you can’t do that, you will alternate between taking a shower and sprawling out in front of the air conditioner (provided the power hasn’t cut out for the millionth time that day). And when all else fails, you will find a coffee shop, order a cold drink to try and keep your body temperature down and wait for the hottest hours to pass. That’s the thing about Varanasi. From 10 a.m. to  5 p.m., the city is at a standstill. Shops are closed, streets are deserted and rickshaw drivers nap in the shade. There is nothing to do but wait and shower, wait and shower, down a bottle of chilled water before it hits room temperature, wait and shower, wait and shower until 5 p.m. rolls around.

Once the sun starts the set, the city comes alive again. It’s like an Indian Brigadoon (OK, Melissa, stop being so dramatic.) It really is cool, though. Crowds gather by the ghats along the river. Some ghats are for bathing, others for doing laundry, some for swimming and one for burning corpses. Bet ya didn’t see that one coming, eh? The Ganges is the holiest river in India, and being cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat ensures that your soul will continue on to liberation instead of continuing the cycle of reincarnation.

The best way to see the ghats is by taking a boat up the river either at sunrise or sunset. On my last evening in Varanasi, I hired a guy to take me from Assi Ghat, where my guesthouse was, to Godolia, one of the main shopping areas. The whole ride took about 45 minutes and took me past half a dozen ghats.

(I apologize for the fuzziness -- my Blackberry hasn't got the best camera on it.)

Toward the end of the ride...what a difference a few minutes can make!

I put my Blackberry down as we paddled past the burning ghat. It was hard to wrap my mind around the idea that I was seeing actual bodies –real people– being burned and their ashes scattered into the water. While there is an obvious sadness to it, there was the more comforting thought that these people had achieved enlightenment, every Hindu’s ultimate goal.

After I stepped off the boat in Godolia, I wandered around the market, bought dozens of bangles and rejected the advances of half a dozen teenage boys before sitting down to enjoy one final dinner in Varanasi.

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