Imagine this: up before daylight and on the streets to catch a tuktuk while the boulevards still sleep. By the time you arrive at the chowk on the northern end of the Ghats, the dawn has broken, and you have chai and buttered toast with the locals. The narrow alleys of the mohallas are still dark, but looking up, strips of skylight catch the eye like glinting silver.
In the shadowed passages, people begin to appear, at first just a few, but you know that soon it will be bustling.
Emerging into light, you look down on the ghats to see the long shadows of morning. It is said that one needs to come every day to the ghats at dawn to know Varanasi. It is the time of pujas and bathing milk men, sweepers and snake charmers. Banners of laundry celebrate the new day. No stalls are open, and it is almost quiet.
As Petra and I continue toward our breakfast at Aum Cafe, I learn that the oil paints artistically inclined “foreigners” are using to cat-spray ghat walls degrade not only the visuals, but the structure of the walls. I see illegal building going on, and men carrying garbage to dump in the river. There is one portion of the river bank that is meticulous in its grooming, with nicely raked and sand and stones planted just so. It is in front of an extreme right-leaning school, and is a gambit so that the politicos can say how they are cleaning up the Ganges. And there is a very fancy hotel that was renovated for tourism. Only problem is that the first two stories, including the reception area, are under water during the monsoon.
So I was told…