There are almost 100 ghats in Varanasi – wide sets of stairs leading down to the river Ganges. Some feature hotels, some feature markets, some are for bathing, and a couple are designated specifically for cremations. Finding a quiet ghat in Varanasi is a challenge, but I think at last I’ve found one. As I sit on my quiet little ghat, taking in the view of the holy river and the half-clothed people at the shore performing ritual ablutions, the mood takes me to catch up on my postcard writing – and that’s when the fun starts. First a couple of teenagers, ~16-year-old boys, sit down on both sides of me and ask, “What are you doing?” Quietly I place my forefinger to my lips and mimic a writing gesture with my hand.

“Shh! I’m writing,” I suggest in pantomime.

“Ahh,” the boys respond. “Very nice handwriting!” And they walk away.

A short while later, a group of rambunctious 10-year-old boys rush up and gather around me, pushing and shoving each other.

“What are you doing?”

“Shh! I’m writing,” I suggest again in pantomime. (It worked once, why not again?)

After a few minutes, when the boys realize they won’t be getting a reaction from me, one of them pushes my hand, forcing my pen to scratch a long, jagged line across the postcard. In a moment, the kids are off, laughing and shoving as they seek a more interactive plaything.

Annoyed, I take out another postcard and resume my writing. And that’s when it gets surreal.

I kid you not, two monkeys now sit down a few feet away from me. And, why not, right? I mime my usual, “Shh! I’m writing” gesture, but the monkeys have a different idea in mind. Before you know it, the two imps start throwing nuts at me! Exasperated, I chase my tormentors away and sit down, fuming. “What is it about this place!” It’s then that I realize the full hilarity of the situation. Neither teenagers, nor boys, nor monkeys want me to sit alone and write postcards on a ghat in Varanasi! India, it seems, is not a place to be a spectator. It invites you to participate, to interact, to become part of the action. And how marvelous is that!
As a side note, there’s more to Varanasi than the ghats. You can rent a row boat on the Ganges. You can tour the MANY temples of this holy city (although bring some Rupees as a little baksheesh (bribery) is often necessary to get past the gate keepers). At night, Varanasi lights up with lanterns, glowing reds, greens and yellows out of the tiny shops along the main path. It’s quite magical.
Just don’t expect to be a passive observer!

(Vexatious monkeys notwithstanding, you do have a choice in how you move through the world. When faced with the distractions of life, there’s no reason why you can’t maintain a bubble of calm around yourself, letting folks know when you’re prioritizing peaceful quiet time. Your friends and family will give you space; the others are just monkeys, and nuts to them.)