A walk through Varanasi: Student’s account of her semester abroad


Bailey Allegro

This article is from Bailey Allegro’s time in Varanasi, India last semester.

It’s 5:30 a.m. and there goes my alarm. I impulsively hit snooze. I begin to fall back into my serene slumber and then it begins, that rumbling in my tummy telling me I should probably get out of bed and run (not walk) to the bathroom. Welcome to India!

After taking care of business in the morning I run a bucket of cold water for a shower. I bathe quickly and then run another bucket, this time filling it with laundry detergent to wash my clothes. I spend about one to two hours, depending on how large my laundry pile has accumulated to be, hand washing and scrubbing my clothes on the bathroom floor.

This may seem gross, but it cleans my clothes better than the wannabe washing machine here that just spins them around in dirty water for a while. It takes me about 30 minutes to wash the clothes, 30 minutes to rinse all the soap out and about 25 minutes to wring them dry (and that’s if I get it done in record time). Then I make my way up to the roof and hang them to dry.

This is one of my favorite parts of the day. Mornings are so serene compared to the loud jumble during the daytime in Varanasi when temples are chanting “Hare Krishna” or “Om Namah Shivaya,” birds are chirping the same melodious songs and morning vendors are making their rounds through the small gullies of Varanasi. The early bird really gets the worm here, and even getting up to the roof by 7:30 to hang my clothes, I can see that I’m already late to the party since everyone else’s laundry is basically already dry.

I put on my kurta and pajama pants (Indian fashion), quickly grab my dupatta scarf and walk toward the door off to school. As I swing the door open ready to make my departure into the outside world, I find a big, beautiful, majestic cow with giant horns blocking my doorway. I stand there, not exactly sure where to go from here. My moment of hesitation heightens the cows senses; now that she knows I’m here, she turns her head and sticks it right in the doorway. I panic and quickly shut the door. Two seconds later she walks off carrying on with her day, and me with mine.

Now that that’s over, I finally enter the mysterious abyss that is Varanasi and begin my walk to school. Down the street I go, dodging massive fecal landmines left and right. I pass the neighbors eating their breakfast, one of which religiously snaps her head back at me every morning I walk by.

Vegetable and rice carts roll by, men yelling “Sabjiiiiiii” and “Chawallllll.” I turn the corner through the scattered piles of trash and clouds of flies and am given two options to get to school: the easy route or the scenic route. The easy route will take me through a small goat farm near people’s homes. The scenic route will take me past what I like to call Big Rock Candy Mountain (BRCM), a 15-foot high trash pile that serves as a throne for desiring cows. I’ve seen a record of 15 cows on top, sitting, standing, eating trash scraps, chewing on cud and staring vapidly down at passing humans. It’s not a bad gig for a cow.

Adjacent to BRCM is Sludge City, a 20 by 20 meter square “pond” that is definitely home to some type of radioactive sewage. It’s dark green and black in color with a bubbling surfaced in hundreds of little frogs skimming across the top.

After making my way past Sludge City, I exit an alley and am surprised to find a newly paved street. This is a pretty big deal for Varanasi.

I revel in the quality of the road and how there are actual streetlights when I smell something a little more rancid than the perpetual smell of cow poop I’m used to. As I turn the corner to make the final stretch of my journey, I am greeted by a swollen, decaying cat carcass. I cover my nose with my scarf and continue until I arrive at the school gates at 8:30, ready for the day.

I know from this description that Varanasi probably sounds like the dirtiest place on Earth; but it’s things like these that make me appreciate India so much more. Crazy things like this have become part of my normal daily routine, and they don’t seem to phase me anymore. I’ve submerged myself in a completely different culture and lifestyle and I’m so grateful for every single bit of it. My experience here wouldn’t be the same without Shelly the cow who has a basketball sized tumor protruding from her face, or the little boy who asks me what my name is everytime I walk past his house, or the smoggy sunrises on the roof in the morning or the countless number of times I have stepped in cow poop.

My time here has been the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life thus far, and not a second goes by that I’m not learning or seeing something new.

I don’t want to discredit my experience here by saying it has only made me grateful for my life back home, although in some ways it certainly has. But I think my time here has definitely showed me how different human beings are and has made me appreciate how culturally rich our globe is.