A Travellerspoint blog

Varanasi

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm..... And breathe

So if after reading my blog so far you have thought, " Hey India can be really fun and Ya know what, I may just want to travel there too someday.." well then this entry is gonna get a little real.
Second overnight train.
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I'm not a fan but for me this one was better than the last. The train was running late and we had to change platforms but at least it wasn't as crowded as Delhi.

We got to our seats and people were already sleeping in our spots and Monty got them to move. The pillows and sheets were disgusting anyway so we just chuck those right out. Thom and I were better prepared after our first experience so we had our own silk sleeping sheets ready. Thom took the top and I took a middle one. I literally popped some benadryl put on my headphones and listened to some Radio Lab podcasts as I curled my small day bag all locked under my head as a pillow.

I only woke maybe a few times. Once mainly when an official man whipped open the curtains and turned the light on and demanded our tickets. "Monty?"
Back to sleep. I really don't like the trains and you just do your best to get through them, without having to use the bathroom if possible. Our cars are air conditioned though that is really the only perk.

The next morning I woke several times and went back to sleep, once when a tout was shouting at our sleeping bodies to buy chai. We just ignore it. When we got off and I could speak to some of the other members of our group who were in the bunkers a few sections down from us they told me all the excitement I was really glad to have missed. While not part of this story thank god, they could hear it happening.

Some drunk guy was pissing off his bunk. Ok, while thinking of the lack of personal space you get on a train that alone could have been a story. People complained, how or to whom I don't know how that works but they did. Drunk guy threatens people saying he is part of some mafia Then Monty said he could here the guy calling his friends telling them to meet him on the train at the next stop. Next enters police with riffles and Drunk guy starts crying and saying he misses his son??? Police threaten him but feel bad because now he is so pathetic and let him wait until the train stops before tossing him out I guess...
Trains....they really are such a good time

Last bit about trains. We also unfortunately found out that one of the girls in our group got things stolen from her bag on the train. She had it with her on her bed by her legs and the wall on the second bunk and someone had the balls to snatch it, take only her jewelry, a plastic water bottle and her prescription sunglasses. He left the receipt for the jewelry she had bought in Jaipur and her passport thank god by leaving the bag on the bed below hers. At first she just thought she must have kicked it over in her sleep but later realized things were missing.

Ok Varanasi, so I didn't think I could be more surprised by traffic in India but this city wins the crazy award so far. At least the part we had to drive through to get from the train to the hotel.

Varanasi, once known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a historical city in northern India. The city is sacred to Hindus and also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In many ways Varanasi epitomizes the very best and worst aspects of India, and it can be a little overwhelming. However, the scene of pilgrims doing their devotions in the River Ganges at sunrise set against the backdrop of the centuries old temples is probably one of the most impressive sights in the world.

Unfortunately we arrived and everything had flooded. I mean all the ghats, the steps that lead to the Ganges were completely covered by water!!!!
They said this hasn't happened in over 11 years at least. So our experiences of the Ganges and Varansi will not be what one might completely expect and unfortunately no pictures to match what you will classically see there. But you can google image it that any day :-)

When we arrived at our hotel we we greats with a nice refreshing drink and leis of marigold flowers.
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After lunch we walked to where the Ghats were suppose to be but everything was under water so Monty brought us up to a rooftop for chai so we could see the Ganges.
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The Ganges is a sacred river to Hindus along every fragment of its length. All along its course, Hindus bathe in its waters, paying homage to their ancestors and to their gods by cupping the water in their hands, lifting it and letting it fall back into the river; they offer flowers and rose petals and float shallow clay dishes filled with oil and lit with wicks (diyas). On the journey back home from the Ganges, they carry small quantities of river water with them for use in rituals (Ganga jal, literally water of the Ganga). When a loved one dies, Hindus bring the ashes of the deceased person to the Ganges River.

After the cremation of the deceased at Varanasi's ghats the bones and ashes are thrown into the Ganges. However, in the past thousands of uncremated bodies were thrown into the Ganges during cholera epidemics, spreading the disease. Even today, holy men, pregnant women, people with leprosy/chicken pox, people who had been bitten by snakes, people who had committed suicide, the poor, and children under 5 are not cremated at the ghats but are floated free to decompose in the waters. In addition, those who can not afford the large amount of wood needed to incinerate the entire body, leave behind a lot of half burned body parts.

Later that evening we took a cycled rickshaw ride through the crazy streets to a market area.
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For as important this place is for Hindus there were tons of Muslims shopping about. Many of the women covered completely in full black burkas.
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Monty took us to a great textile shop where the owner educated us on how to tell the differences between machine made fabrics and hand woven cashmere and silk for example.

Next Monty was able to get us in to a small area where the daily worships that is usually done on the ghats was being held due to the flooding.
Aarti is a Hindu religious ritual of worship, a part of puja, in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more deities.
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Aarti is generally performed one to five times daily, and usually at the end of a puja (in South India) or bhajan session (in North India). It is performed during almost all Hindu ceremonies and occasions. It involves the circulating of an 'Aarti plate' or 'Aarti lamp' around a person or deity and is generally accompanied by the singing of songs in praise of that deva or person (many versions exist). In doing so, the plate or lamp is supposed to acquire the power of the deity. The priest circulates the plate or lamp to all those present. They cup their down-turned hands over the flame and then raise their palms to their forehead – the purificatory blessing, passed from the deva's image to the flame, has now been passed to the devotee.
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The purpose of performing aarti is the waving of lighted wicks before the deities in a spirit of humility and gratitude, wherein faithful followers become immersed in God's divine form. It symbolises the five elements: 1) ether (akash), 2) wind (vayu), 3) fire (agni), 4) water (jal), and 5) earth (pruthvi). Communal Aarti is performed in the mandir; however, devotees also perform it in their homes.
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The next morning Monty arranged for different things for people to do based on what they wanted. This is where Thom and I got to meet Amrendra Jha, a university music teacher with his Ph.D in Sitar! He took us through narrow local streets to a music school.
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There he showed me the classic female Tambura. As amazing as it was it is really too big so the only Tamburi he had already made was at his house. We sat and talked music as he showed us his sitar and explained about the wood and his family and job at the university and all the students he had taught from around the world. His wife brought us some chai and we felt so special getting almost our own mini private concert.
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I was so pleased to have obtained my instrument through him in this way.

Thom didn't know (but I did) Monty had arranged for him to come play that night for Thom's Birthday.

We headed back to the hotel to get ready for the Ganges. Some members of our group wanted to swim in the Holy River. Thom and I opted not to chance the cholera epidemic that could come with the blessing but did tag along for the ride. You see if the river had not flooded we could have maybe just stepped into the water from the ghats or enjoyed the river from a nice boat ride.
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Instead the boat took us only 30 feet off shore and you had the option to pour the water on your head from a bucket. Damion and Peter really wanted to swim. They had asked Monty if he could get them the orange cloth that was traditional for the holy men to bathe in. Ummmm don't think anyone was planning for it to be such a small loin cloth! Here is the boat man showing them how to wrap it. They had quite an audience from the shore. I'll spare you the after shot.
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So first the boys
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Then the girls
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I'm glad to say that so far everyone still has all of their toes and fingers...lol

Back to shower off and then off to Thom's birthday dinner!
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Sitar, Tablas, and Tamburi
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Birthday Cake
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Monty helped me to get a new journal for Thom since he filled up the one he brought.
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And Monty got Thom and book on Karmasutra too
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Posted by Kelly Rose 01:23 Archived in India

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Most likely the finest party you have ever had. Filled with fantastic guests, fine drinks and deliscious foods. The entertainment was top quality and personally arranged - how nice. One glorious celebration for fifty-seven years of progress. Now I know you had a Happy Birthday. What on earth (OR where on earth) will you be celebrating for your fifty-eighth?

by Mom and Dad

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