Varanasi

The river Ganges
Varanasi, India

I slept really well in my tiny space on the train.

I woke at 10.30am with men wandering down the train selling food.

We were stopped at a station that has a restaurant and apparently the only proper food until we reach Varanasi about 5pm tonight.

I wasn’t particulary hungry, but ordered a Thali anyway. It came like a microwave meal with 5 segments! Rice, popadom, chipatis, a Dahl, a paneer curry and a potato curry.

It was nice, but far too much!

And I fell asleep again.

The train arrived into Varanasi at 4.30pm. I basically slept the whole way.

When I got down from my top bunk to leave the train, it was only then did I notice how dirty the train was. Rubbish absolutely everywhere. It’s the same anywhere you go, Indians treat the floor as one a large rubbish bin. It’s horrible.

The platform was chaotic. People everywhere. Never seen so many people in a train station before! And it’s dirty here.

We caught tuk tuks for the short ride to the hotel – through the dirty streets. It seems a lot dirtier than other places we have been to.

We received flower garlands when we entered the hotel – that was nice! Bit more resting! Then time for dinner – usual curry.

It’s someone’s birthday today, so when we got back to the hotel we headed up to the rooftop garden (!) compete with real grass!

We had some cake and fireworks!

 

Wednesday 1 May 2013

I’m not quite sure how its May already.

And another 4.45am wake up! We’re heading down to the ghats of Varanasi, along the Ganges river.

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Once known as the City of Life,Varanasi is one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities.

Upto 60,000 people come here to bathe everyday – to wash away their sins or cremate a family member.

There are over 80 ghats and most of the ghats are used for bathing, but several are used for public burning. Anyone can choose to have their funeral along the Ganges in Varanasi. You can either be burned, or if you cannot afford to (or are already pure – pregnant woman or child) your body can be placed directly into the river, with weights attached.

I thought it would be awful to see, but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Hindus believe in reincarnation, so these rituals are carried out in the best possible way to ensure a higher chance of a good reincarnation.

We started at Kedar ghat and headed off on our small rowing boat upstream.

We watched the sun rise over the Eastern bank of the river – it was really pretty.

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A faint mist hung in the air, giving a mysterious atmosphere, with the buildings obscured both ways up and down stream.

There was already a lot of activity along the bank. Lots of clothes washers using the specially laid out concrete slabs for washing. Then rows and rows of clothes and sheets hung up to dry in the sun. Many people were bathing, swimming and splashing around. In the morning, the morning prayers/offerings to the sun are known as puja. The men bathed in just underwear. But the women in full colourful saris! Many were starting their morning yoga rituals. And although no burning had begun yet, preparations were underway with piles of wood being built up.

We watched from a distance as one family made their last goodbyes to a deceased man, as his body lay on a bed of wood right on the river bank. I didn’t like this much, it felt rather intrusive. But that’s how funerals are here – totally public, right on the shore of the river. It was all quite a sight. And totally unique. I’ve never been anywhere that looks, or feels like this.

We headed back for some breakfast and a bit more sleep.

Then off to see the second thing Varanasi is famous for – silk.

We were taken to a Muslim area where the silk products are produced. The narrow lanes were full of the sounds of the weaving machines. The streets were quite dirty and full of off casts of colourful silk threads. Children chased around after us, unusually not begging, just curious. This is the first time not a single person has asked us for food or money. Apparently no one really goes around here, so white people are quite a novelty.

We went around several different houses, each with a room full of huge weaving machinery. Some completed by hand, others electric. It was really cool. Of course there was a shop. But this time, I wanted to buy things!

And ended up with a lot of scarves!

In the evening, back off to the Ganges. This time to watch the Ganga aarti – the river worship ceremony at Dasaswamedh ghat.

While we waited for the ceremony, which happens after dark, we watched the evening activities along the banks. The burning was slowly coming to an end, where we stood, there were 6 piles of wood glowing and fading.

People of all ages still bathing in the water and many beggars ploughed the crowds for money.

We went further downstream this time to one of the famous burning ghats. This one was also still alit with glowing ambers of wood.

This ghat is the most expensive to be burned at – as this is apparently where Lord Shiva once came.

The river was still really pretty. I had a go at rowing the boat, which was fun!

Then we parked ourselves up on the river, along with many other boats to watch the ceremony. Boys were jumping boat and boat trying to sell glowing birds, bindis and masala tea! The temple on the bank was absolutely packed full of people. Several stages were set up, each with a man stood on a podium. There was music and dancing, bells and fire. The men on the podiums were performing. The stage was lit up and really pretty. It was lovely.

Varanasi is so unusual.

We had dinner on the rooftop of our hotel and then ended up sat on the grass drinking all night.

Thursday 2 April 2013

We had a long lie in until 10am (can you call it that when you go to bed at 4am?!) and had to check out.

We went to a nearby restaurant for lunch and was given masala coke instead of normal coke, eugh! Then off to the markets!

These are local markets, no touristy things in sight. Everything an Indian person might want. Loads of jewellery, saris, prayer beads, oil burners and bindi stickers (the red dots women often wear on their foreheads).

I went a bit mad and bought quite a few things! We headed to the train station at 6pm ready for our 7.15pm train back to Delhi.

Luckily this time, the train was starting from here, so we didn’t have to throw people off our seats this time! And we have a whole pod to ourselves, which is nice.

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