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Varanasi - The Holy City.

INDIA | Wednesday, 27 December 2006 | Views [1040]

We spent three days in Varanasi... Our experience was an interesting one... Our hotel was unfortunately outside of the main part of the city which made the experience slightly less enjoyable...

We arrived on train to Varanasi from Agra at 5am in the morning... A little sleepy, a man greeted us on our platform but as he had no identification but seemed to know our names and which hotel we were headed to, we decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. We started getting really worried though, when a huge bunch of guys surrounded our car and started asking us where we were going and so we sort of started freaking out... We were informed that the main bridge into Varanasi city was broken, so we had to get out and walk the 2.5km accross with all of our stuff. Walking across the brigde in the dead of early morning gave me the distinct feeling of coming to a holy city - I could already hear the faint chanting coming from various temples dotting the landscape which felt almost like a spiritual experience in itself. On the other side of the bridge we were met by a driver who took us to our hotel. Feeeewww!

After sleeping a little bit we headed out to Sarnath where we were able to visit a few temples and a museum which housed some nice stone carved artifacts... We decided that after being denied entry to some of the temples on grounds that we are not Hindu, to not try and visit anymore... I don't like the idea of treating someone's religion as a turistic experience anyways.

The next day we went on a boat ride on the Ganges to see the sunrise which was quite an incredible experience... There were many people bathing in the Ganges to 'cleanse' their souls and bodies (I have to say that I was horrified at the thought of bathing in this water though due to the fact that all of the sewage gets pumped into the river plus dead bodies and whole lot of other unsanitary items...). There were also people meditating on the Ghats and the river was illuminated by the many little floating candles and the golden orange sun, rising out of the morning mists.

On our last full day, we decided to catch a rickshaw to the Ghats to 'soak it all up' again... We had to argue with about 10 drivers before having to settle on paying at least double for our trip (better than the original 4 times we were originally quoted!). Firstly, we went to see the burning of the bodies on the Ghats. A man explained the the process to us while we were watching in exchange of us coming to see his silk shop (a small price to pay for the priceless information he shared with us...). He told us about how they wash the bodies with water and oils before wrapping them in cloth and bringing them to the river side. They burn the body on a wood pile in the open and then the ashes are placed in the river... Aparently there are five different bodies which cannot be burned though of which include pregnant women and small children - These are tied to a heavy boulder and dropped into the river so that they can be reincarnated. I found it interesting that many Indians seem much more accepting and aware of death than we seem to be...

After buming around for the day we try to get a rickshaw back home. The driver does not speak English so a man aids us, telling the driver where we want to go and setting the R30 price for us in Hindi. We jump on, happy that for once we are not getting ripped off, and the driver seems happy and laughing at us as we joyfully bump up and down over the many potholes in the road. Just as we say to each other that perhaps we are starting to enjoy the whole chaotic Indian experience, the rickshaw stops in the middle of nowhere and we are signaled to get down and pay the driver. I say to him that this is not our hotel and demand that he takes us there but he shakes his head. At this point a big group of men has surrounding us and we are feeling distinctly uncomfortable as they are starting to get agitated (As am I). One of the men begins translating for the driver and tells us that we have to pay the driver.I say no way and tell him that we agreed on a price to be taken to our hotel. The man says that we have to pay about 4 times the price we were told to get there and I get really angry and tell him that we will not. Eventually I tell them all to bugger off, we give them R20 so that we don't get beaten up and then we go and find another rickshaw which takes us safely to our hotel. A crappy ending to a perfect day sadly...

The next day (Christmas eve) we were leaving to get to Darjeeling. In the morning we set of on a mission to stock up on some goodies (none of which we actually found!). We were followed around by a kid for the whole hour down the street wanting money which was pretty annoying too... It makes me feel horrible but at the same time I have made the concious decision that my money goes much further when donated to a worthy organization which helps people like them - This has become one of our research points in India, so that we can find that best way to leave a possitive mark here.

For the Xmas eve train ride (and plenty of entertainment) don't forget to read "All I Want for Christmas is My Ass Groped" :)



Tags: Adventures

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