Varanasi, the immortal, eternal city, is one with narrow lanes and even narrower by-lanes. Getting to the hotel was like winding our way through a maze, where we had to walk in single file, lugging our backpacks and looking down to avoid stepping in fresh dung. I plodded grumpily at the back of the line. We were travelling with two French friends and being guided by someone from the hotel.
We passed people at shops and at doorways nonchalantly brushing their teeth. In Varanasi, unlike in most other parts of the country, foreigners aren’t a rarity to be ogled at. It was business as usual for them, calling out to one another across handcarts that looked as if they would never fit in lanes like that. They shouted off and on, and I ignored them as I wrinkled my nose to shut out the animal smells.
“Ay, ey, ey!”
One part of my mind did think that they were calling to me, but I was not going to respond to sounds like that. A woman at her door looked at me, surprised. “EY!” she cried, looking at me, and then behind me.
Casually, I turned around – to find a big black bull coming straight at me. A sound caught in my throat and I jumped into a shop, calling out to everyone ahead of me, just in time for the bull to go racing past. Eyes wide, I exchanged a nervous smile with my sister.
In Varanasi, I realised, I had to pay attention to random yells around me, however rude I found them. Else, I ran a serious risk of being run over by a charging animal in a narrow lane.