A walk through the Varanasi gullies

"Let's go out for dinner!" we said. And off we went.

"Can we go through the gullies?" I asked. The gullies are the small winding alleyways between the tall stone buildings in the old part of this ancient city in North India.

"We'll have to travel for a little way on the road," Brendan said. "But then we can get back into the gullies."

On the road, the kids walked hand in hand, two by two. I kept Solo with me. Cycle rickshaws careened by. A cow and a dog stood in a mountain of discarded plates, relishing the leftovers. Auto rickshaw drivers and motorcyclists leaned on their horns. We stepped around small potholes, over the piles of poo that cows or water buffalo have left. The kids pointed out things they saw and chattered to each other.

When we stepped into the gully, it was like stepping back into an older world. We skirted a building and a large pile of trash, stepping through the small passageway in between, and inside the walls it was quiet and dim in the waning light. People sat in their doorways.

A lovely older woman wanted to know where we were going. In Hindi, my friends told her we wanted to see Lolark Kund, an incredibly beautiful ancient well, where once a year couples struggling with infertility come to bathe and ask for healing. She gave us directions (which we already knew) and took a different fork with a sweet smile. We all agreed that she was lovely.

At Lolark Kund we stood at the gate and looked down, deep into the well. It really is a beautiful place, with steps leading right down into the pool.

Night fell as we walked. The scent of burning dung and incense followed us.
We came across a man heading in the other direction who was wheeling himself in his wheelchair up a steep incline. Brendan quickly got behind him to push him, calling, "I'll catch up!" to us.

Yellow light spilled from bulbs that hung in the doorways of little rooms. We stopped for a moment and YaYa spotted a bird. She moved closer in that gentle way she has. She went closer and closer and still the bird didn't move. She touched the bird, then cupped her hands around it and picked it up for a moment before it flew off.

"Oh!" Leaf said, her hand over her heart. "That was gorgeous! Francis of Assisi!"

Yes, it is so apt. My little lover of all living things. (Nothing is too small for YaYa to love. She cried one day when I killed a mosquito.)

We kept walking until we reached the steps of the ghats and climbed them. There were bells and lights and smoke. We kept on until the pizza place, where we sat down for pizza. I first ate pizza at Assi Ghat when I was nineteen years old, with my then-friend Chinua and my other traveling friends.

Some things circle around in such a perfect way that the brightness almost blinds you. This is what I am thinking as I walk through gullies with my children.

(For an amazing shot of Lolark Kund on the day of the year when couples come to bathe, watch this Aradhna video. When we were there it was empty. A big difference between empty and full.)