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Varanasi- long overdue

INDIA | Friday, 22 May 2009 | Views [1046] | Comments [3]

So how frequently this blog is updated is mostly contingent on how pricey
the internet is in whatever location we currently plant ourselves. Arriving in Bangkok we were disappointed to learn it was more expensive than India. We thought we would hold off until the islands, but learned in the islands (we are now in Ko Phi Phi) it is double! Anyway, we apologize for the delay...we do have the best of intentions with keeping up on this blog. Onto Varanasi!
6am on the train from Tundla I get my leg frantically pulled on from
below and an equally frantic "We're here! We have to get off!" Now, our
train had left no less than 2 hours later than scheduled which would mean we should not be arriving at Varanasi until 9am. Andrew and I literally jump off the train while it is pulling out of the station, not a moment to spare. This is so strange to us... we think maybe the guys on the train played a prank- why would we arrive here so early? We do realize shortly we actually are in Varanasi. Yet another aspect of India which confuses me- trains leave late but will in fact arrive early. After purchasing our prepaid taxi ride to our hotel a tall Aussie approaches us asking us where we are staying. Apparently some kids had asked to borrow his Lonely Planet and then they "forgot" to give it back. He has no idea where to go and wants to jump in our taxi with us. Ans and I both think privately to ourselves, "Is this another scam?" He is a legit guy though and he starts asking the taxi driver where he can go for a good morning run around here. Is he serious? Not only is it 107 degrees but there is no room to walk in these windy streets let alone run. I do spot him a couple mornings later running along the Ganges as Indians take a morning swim, do laundry, yoga, or begin to sell their goods of the day. Our driver all of the sudden pulls over and tells us we are at our hotel Palace on Steps. There is no hotel in sight so we ask him to please lead us to the proper hotel. He then proceeds to take us down the most absurd maze which we never in a million years would have found our way through on first arrival in Varanasi.
Yes, our room overlooks the Ganges perched up on the steps. No, this is not a palace. The room technically was part of a palace back in the 1600s. I think the room does have good bones with a quaint little balcony where I can look down on the murky water. Ans tells me after I place myself out there with a book I had better come in, the balcony looks like it is about to crumble. We head down to walk along the river which is seeing action nonstop. The people of Varanasi do everything in this river. You name it: shower, laundry, swim, go to the bathroom, drink from it, eat from it, burn bodies in it, dump animal corpses, dispose of rubbish, wash dishes, the list goes on and on. Our boat driver one of the following evenings, born and raised and will never leave Varanasi, explained that since they believe the river is holy they also believe it will always be pure and clean. Our first evening in Varanasi we witnessed the vibrant celebration of the Ganges which takes place every night. I saw during my week stay in Varanasi that there are plenty of people who attend this ceremony each night, never an empty audience. The ceremony consists of eight dancers total brightly swathed in orange and pink fabric. They make slow movements to the music which sounds like a hymn in Hindi. Incense is burned and music increasingly gets louder as the ceremony proceeds lasting a total of an hour and a half. At the end people rush down to the Ganges to bless themselves and men walk around with red paint to mark your third eye between your two eyebrows. Andrew and I had this quickly placed on our faces after one evening's ceremony being told "You live long and prosper." I liked the sound of that. Oh, he then asked us for money.
Back to our first walk along the Ganges. We meet a young couple from Holland immediately and they rave to us about this restaurant Mount Fuji with live Indian music every night so we arrange to meet them for dinner at their guest house so we can all walk over to the restaurant. Another girl from Holland comes along to dinner and I learn she is studying theater in Southern India after she leaves Varanasi. She is totally decked out in sari, bindi, bangles, and thick black eyeliner. Maybe I should pick up a sari afterall, she does have quite the look going. I really enjoy chatting with her and she tells me that Andrew and I need to chill out, stop moving every 2 days, just plant ourselves. A couple of travelers we have met now have told us to do this and we finally do in Varanasi. What was supposed to be 2 nights turns into 7 nights. The following morning we switched hotels to where there was much more action, not so far down the river and it had lot's of other travellers.
Our third night we went on a boat ride along the Ganga as the sun was setting. During the ride we went down to the burning ghat where bodies are constantly being cremated up to 15 at a time maybe even more. Many Indian people, especially those living in Varanasi, wish to have their bodies burned and then placed into the Ganges. Family members all travel to Varanasi to witness the burning of the body a very holy tradition. During the celebration of the Ganga which we viewed from the boat this second time around we lit a lotus candle then placed it in the river where the flame floated for quite some time. The following days were spent wandering the narrow streets which are more like passageways and walking along the river which was blazing hot during the day. I never tired of seeing old men dressed in brilliant shades of orange with long white beards. After plenty of exploring we decided to go to Saranath for the day.
Saranath is one of the main sights where Buddha spoke. There was not much in the way of interesting ruins. The ruins consisted of scattered piles of bricks. There was a museum which housed some beautiful Buddha sculptures from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd century AD. More thrilling was the extremely bumpy rickshaw ride out to the ruins when I thought the rickshaw would tip or stall out. The dust and pollution blowing in our faces was intense- I had to tie a bandana on my face to have some sort of barrier from breathing in the dust. I also saw two grown men randomly walking around buck naked. In the middle of a busy village in between Varanasi and Saranath with hustling and bustling of cars, bikes, people. These two men were just naked. Andrew asked me, "Did you catch that? What was that about?" All I could do was laugh and say, "That's India! Nothing suprises me."



Hey andrew_and_alexandra,

We liked your journal and decided to feature it this week in our Popular Stories so that others could enjoy it too!

Happy Travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Jun 29, 2009 12:19 PM


Guys...nice journal. if u get tired of varanasi or benares as it was anciently known then take a trip to rishikesh for some action.

  Vivek Jun 29, 2009 2:42 PM


Nice reading. I will be visiting Varanasi in a few days.


  Maneesh Oct 24, 2009 6:02 AM



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