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Varanasi

INDIA | Sunday, 23 March 2014 | Views [131]

We don't make it up for the 6am boat ride on the Ganges River. Apparently, there are ceremonies in the morning as well as evening. We sleep in and go to a restaurant run by a hippie dippie American, at least that's what the guide book says. The food is supposed to be all clean and some of it is westernized. I have a fruit salad. It's a nice change to eat fruit. They have Wi-Fi, which it's thankful, because the hotel's was broken. So we all update our plans and reservations. The girls are still waitlisted on the train this afternoon.
After breakfast, we walk the ghats- the long steps that border the river bank. It's midday and super hot. There are a lot of bathers- all male- and a few women doing laundry. Laying sheets out on the steps to dry.

We're dying of heat. Its 10 degrees cooler in the shade but the natives have filled all the shady spots and they don't seem friendly. We don't stay long. Between the heat and Krystina feeling sick again, it seems better to go back to the hotel. There isn't much going on anyway.

On the way back, we did see a body on a stretcher wrapped with a colored cloth and covered with flowers, marigolds mostly, being transported by some men down to the ghats. They were chanting as they carried the body, a funeral procession of sorts. The body was likely being taken to be burned on the ghats- a service they perform often and which supposedly serves to liberate the person from the cycle of life death and rebirth.
Later that evening, Stacey and I headed back to the ghats. The girls did not get tickets for the train they were waitlisted on so they will stay another night and try to get on my train in the morning.
We saw a bonfire burning on the ghats and a body nearby.
It was cooler temps and lots of people were taking the boats out. We decided we weren't really keen on the boat ride. Honestly, the boats looked fairly rickety, like they might take on water. They were all going down river to the same place we were going: Ganga Aarti.
Ganga Aarti- a ceremony, Hindu, with a cacophony of sound and smoke. Bells, cymbal, drum, a soundtrack in the background, burning more than one type of incense. Gold and red and Christmas trees of candles. A pot of fire. Five young men officiated. They took each instrument and held it up and waved it around in a specific pattern over and over again in all four directions. It was kind of a slow show. Maybe because it was so loud and smoky, I had a hard time appreciating it. Also it was in Hindi. But it felt like a performance rather than a solemn ceremony.
But of course I've never been to a Hindu ceremony so I don't really have any comparison. There were a lot of Hindus there. At the end of the ceremony they all stood up and raised there hands in praise and then went and touched the main altar of marigolds with their hands and blessed themselves. That part was actually pretty cool to watch. Maybe because it was participatory. It was a bit like watching Catholics take communion.
Afterwards we walked down the main street, past some souvenirs shops in a claustrophobic crowd trying to avoid cow dung. For a fairly large city, they haven't lost their rural roots because there are helluva lot of cows in the streets. It's really not cool at all. There is just cow plops everywhere and it takes a lot of concentration to avoid them. Mostly it just makes this about the dirtiest place I think I've been so far in this country. Or maybe they have so many cows because it's such a big place on the religious circuit and cows are somehow recognized as a deity, from what I understand.
In comparison, the river seemed relatively clean and that was something that I thought would seem incredibly dirty. In fact, once you're at the river bank, it doesn't seem odd at all that people are bathing there and washing their clothes. That seems very normal.
All in all, I don't know that Varanasi was really an amazing place to stop at, but I saw it so now I know what all the hubbub is about. Maybe I was a bit let down because it is so hyped up. One unique thing about this city- this is the first time I recall seeing bicycle rickshaws.
On a general note, I find it interesting that there is no shortage of water here. Its unclear how clean it is, but most everyone is refilling plastic bottles with water from the taps and they don't seem bothered at all by washing themselves, hands and faces with it. There are sinks at every train station, sometimes right on the platform. So they've even gone to some lengths to make the water accessible and have there be enough available for the hoards of people they have everywhere. My friend in the states who is from Kolkata says she always drinks the water when she's here. I'm certainly not going to take a chance with it, but still it's interesting to notice this party of life here.

 

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