May 4-6, 2016
Getting to Varanasi
We got to our overnight-train just in time. There was a hiccup using Uber and the traffic was horrible, but we got to our cabin 5 minutes before the train took off. Sylvie was a bit underwhelmed by the standards of the train. She felt that AC class (2nd class) out of 8 classes would be ‘cleaner’. I told her “this is India”. That expression makes me thing of the saying “TIA”, which is all they said in Africa when things didn’t go smoothly or took a long while.
We each ordered Chicken biryani for dinner though Sylvie only touched hers since it was too hot. We got off the train two stations before our final destination because we thought it looked closer to where we were staying. We’re staying in the old part of town, just along the Ganges River along the Ghats. We checked into our nice room and each took a cool shower to wash off the beads of sweat that has been accumulating in the early morning heat.
The City of Varanasi
The city is not at dirty as Kolkata, but the constant beeping of cars and scooters is driving me up a wall. We walked along the Ghats most of our first day, constantly being harassed by locals. I was asked to purchase drugs at least a dozen times, not to mention the hundreds of offers for massages, boat trips, tours, etc.
Sometimes we get kind gestures of strangers who wish to take our photos. However by the way they are dressed they are probably tourists themselves that haven't seen too many white people in their lives.
Walking the Ghats
We observed a dozen dead people being burned at the Burning Ghat. It's a religious practice that Hindus have been doing for thousands of years. It is believed that there is an eternal flame that has been kept lit for 3,000 years. A family member burns the loved-one using this eternal flame and the only thing remains after 3 hours of burning is the person's karma. A caste of Indians are responsible for preparing the body for burning and then cleaning up afterwards. They filter the ashes in the ganges to check for stones and precious metals, which are then sold and used to help for the expenses for the poor.
To completely burn a body, at least 200 kgs of wood is the bare minimum needed. Apart from this, other essentials include Havan Samagri (offerings to the consecrated fire) and large portions of Ghee which helps in the burning process," says Chotelal Yadav, a shopkeeper at the ManiKarnika Ghat. SOURCE
Nearly 200 people each day are burned and then their ashes are released into the Ganges. There are some types of people who are already so holy that they do not get burned but are simply placed into the River with a heavy stone attached to them.
One Evening Sylvie and I took a private class to learn how to make our own Chai Masala. There are a shockingly large number of ingredients in the Indian-Famous Chai. We chatted up the owner and his friend for almost 2 hours. They were ver educated and well mannered (by Varanasi standards). I learned about Love Marriages vs. Arranged Marriages and women's role in the family. Like in the US women in larger cities here have freedoms that they don't get in the more rural villages. However by and large Indians are so much more "set in their ways" than the west. I will hold my comments here, but you can imagine how horrible I think this is!
On our last day in Varanasi we took a day trip to Sarnath.
- There were two bulls and one female cow mating on the burning Ghat. The female would attempt to run away (up and down the stairs through the crows of people). Sylvie and I were forced to literally jump out of the way several times to avoid being knocked over by the beasts. The next morning we learned that that someone had been critically injured.
- Many restaurants use the name of more-popular restaurants that have been featured in books like the Lonely Planet. One morning we went to The Brown Bread Café only to later discover that it was not the one featured in the Lonely Planet. Sylvie felt very cheated.
- As of writing this all 3 restaurants we’ve been to have had the same exact photo-copied menu.
- Earlier in the day we saw a monkey inside of a cardboard box shaking and looking very sick. It was very sad to see since the monkey looked so 'human-like'. Later in the evening we saw the same monkey dead on the side of the road just outside of the box. The monkey's leg was ripped open and its bone was exposed. The locals just drove over the animal with their motor bikes. I am hoping this happened once the monkey was dead, but given the low level of intellect and uncivilized lifestyle most Indians here live one can only imagine what actually occurred.