Insanity in India – Varanasi part 1

As I suspect, I do not have a great sleep on the overnight sleeper train from Delhi. I sleep for maybe 4 hours, and wake up at 430AM and can’t get back to sleep. As I step carefully off the train, I am delighted to see something I was expecting and waiting for….. so many cows everywhere! We grab a few tuk tuks and cram our backpacks and bodies into the tiny vehicles and head to Hotel Haifa.

img_0601 After everyone is settled in, we embark on a 45 min walk into the old town area of Varanasi.  The usual chaos is all around us, and we add cows, cow poop, and goats into the mix. Sarah from New Zealand has a knack for stepping directly into the cow poop. Poor girl.

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So it really feels l like I’m in India now! The smells in Varanasi are much more pungent…like a combination of garbage and petting zoo.  Varanasi is considered the spiritual capital of India, and lies on the banks of the holy Ganges River. It is a centre for pilgrimage, as it is believed death in this city will bring one salvation.

img_7121Our first stop is a shop called Blue Lassi, which is famous for an Indian drink of the same name. If you have not tried a lassi, go out and do it! It consists of yogurt and water, and can be sweet or savoury.  This shop makes the best lassis I’ve ever tried…I choose the chocolate one, and it is so rich in flavour.  While we sit in the shop, a procession goes past and it is 5 or 6 men carrying a dead body wrapped in colorful blankets and scarves.  They are heading down to the area where bodies are cremated, and it is a bit disturbing and fascinating, mostly because we don’t see anything like this in Canada.

img_6515 Varanasi is known for its high quality silk, so we make a stop at a shop selling many beautiful scarves, clothing, etc.  I would love to purchase one, but I know I already have so many scarves at home that I hardly use! But it’s fun to check out the wares, and watch everyone choose their treasures. The shop owner feeds us samosas, so it keeps everyone happy.  Rather than walk back to the hotel, we decide to take a cycle rickshaw, which is like a tuktuk but is human powered by pedalling.

img_7125I climb into one with Patrick; the seat is very tiny for two bums, and it feels quite high up.  This is a great view to take in the chaos around us, and I almost feel like I’m in a parade…waving and smiling to everyone.  I’m finding that the people in Varanasi seem much friendlier than in Delhi. This ride is fantastic; the most fun I’ve had so far.

This evening, we take a short walk to Assi Ghat, the one of the most popular ghats in Varanasi.

img_6512 A ghat is an area with steps leading down to the river. There are officially 87 ghats in this city. This ghat is very lively with locals and tourists, lounging on the steps.  And cows leisurely strolling around-they have quite the life-nowhere important to be. Apparently, they have owners and are not wild, as I had thought.

img_0482Normally you can walk along the ghats, but the river has been too high recently and it is not safe.

img_0481We board a large wooden boat, and are now floating along the Holy Ganges River to catch the sunset. It is a bit cloudy, so it is a hidden sunset. I’m a little nervous, as I have been seasick in the past and I didn’t want to ruin such a beautiful experience by barfing over the edge of the boat.

img_0505Once it gets dark, they bring out the tiny baskets that have flowers and candles in them, and we are to release them into the water for good wishes and good luck.

img_7122 We have to keep relighting the candles, as the wind keeps blowing out the flames so this is a bit of comic relief. But once they are all in the water, it is quite a sight-small floating lights, meandering down the river. I wonder where they’ll end up ……

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Our destination tonight is Dashashwamedh Ghat, which is one of the most amazing ghats. Every night, a group of priests have a spectacular prayer ceremony.

img_6539The ghat is jammed packed with people who have come from all over India and the world to see this, and there are also hundreds of boats that dock to watch from the water.  I can’t even estimate how many thousands of people are here! We watch from our boat in the water, enjoying the display of song and dance with fire and incense burning. A man comes onto the boat and dips his finger into some kind of dye and places a mark on our foreheads that is called puja tilaka.

img_6544This is done during prayer rituals and is meant to act as the third eye in Hinduism, which helps you see spiritual reality.  He blesses Cassie and me for “many children”. Haha I think this one is a little far fetched for me, but thanks!! Although I did not get seasick, I do feel a little dizzy once I settle into bed.  We need to get some rest for a very early morning coming up…..

 

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