On the eve of Holi – India’s ‘Festival of Colour’, I landed 8000km’s from Batemans Bay at Varanasi Airport – India, and jumped in a taxi shared with a Canadian man, Martin, who visits Varanasi every year.
“Better to stay inside and celebrate,” he said while warning me of the “intoxicated and aggressive locals” to swarm the streets the next day.
“The kids, you can’t hide from them,” Martin said ominously. With the anticipation of the festival felt in the febrile air that night, I was soon to discover if Martin was joking or providing a prescient warning.
Author of ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, Mark Twain famously described Varanasi after visiting the city as “Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
Despite Martin’s warning, the next morning I rose in an ebullient mood to meet the sunrise on Holi. The sun emerged through morning mist over the Ganges to light the city’s coloured day. Vacant streets and closed storefronts gave the post-dawn hours a post-apocalyptic feel.
Roving bands of expectant kids moved through the abandoned streets on foot and motorbikes looking to tag passers-by with packets of coloured powder and coloured-water balloons. The rules of engagement are simple: anybody on the street gives their tacit agreement to be splashed with colour.
Out of the colourful chaos emerged an Indian teenager, appearing suddenly as an apparition. He’d tasked himself with the job of commandeering my path for an hour, dispensing advice and words of caution.
‘You have to be a little crazy to come to India,’ the Varanasi local cheekily remarked.
Later, I took leave from the festivities to watch devoted Hindus bathe in the Ganges.
Worshipped as a deity, the river is thought to purify those who enter it. I had reservations about taking a purifying plunge in the highly polluted water, and content myself with watching from a safe, dry distance.
However, a couple of mischievous kids decided I needed purifying even if I didn’t, surprising me by dumping a plastic bag of Ganges water over my head. Martin was right – you can’t hide from the kids. Nor can you hide from the bacteria. The next day was spent on the toilet.
As the dust from 7-months abroad begins to settle back home in Batemans Bay and post-travel ennui creeps in, I’m reminded of the American poet, T.S Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
I take this as an invitation to rediscover Batemans Bay and the Eurobodalla Shire with the same curiosity that prompted me to leave in the first place.
What this space!
Words by Jared Searson