Tuesday, November 8, 2011


The last stop before heading back to Delhi was Varanasi, the holiest place for Hindus in India. The river Ganges flows through India and Bangladesh and is considered a holy place along the entire river. People come to bath in the waters to wash away sins, drink the water ( can I just say ew ), bring offerings to one of the 33,000 Hindu gods, and return the ashes of loved ones to the river.
The hot hoping times at the ghats, the steps leading down to the river, is at sunrise and sunset. We got to Varanasi in the afternoon, so hit up the river craziness at sunset for a boat trip downstream to check out the evening theatrics. And theatrics there was, mainly in the form of hundreds of brightly dressed Hindus, all coming to pray to their god of choice. My group and I wound our way through the masses of people praying, selling, and begging and hopped on our boat. We were rowed up and down the river and all I can say is, wow. It was CRAZY! My pictures and words can't even come close to what it was like there. It was huge mass of bright jewel-colored sparkly sari's, baskets of offerings, and small clay pots lit with oil being sent out to float down the river. There's music being played and people chanting. Dogs barking, children playing, and holy cows, well, being cows. The noise levels and visual stimulation were high and chaotic, yet profoundly beautiful that this mass of people were there to pray. We don't see that kind of religious fervor in the western world anymore, so to be able to witness it in India was a unique experience. It also helped that I was safely on a boat and not on the shore being crushed by the crowds. Plus, the picture-taking people-stalking was much better off shore with my handy dandy zoom lens, not that that's creepy or anything.
Another site we witnessed was the section of the river where the cremations take place. It was a little strange to sit there and see the covered bodies waiting for their turn and also see the fires, knowing what was fueling the flames.
In the morning we returned to the Ganges to witness the sunrise activities. In the morning everyone gathers to hail the sunrise and take a dip in the holy waters (again ew). Not quite as loud as the evening, but equally as crazy. Big baskets of offerings, mugs of holy cow milk, and flowers are poured into the river. People drink and bathe, women take the baskets and turn around and around letting the milk get poured onto the offerings, before placing the basket in the river.
It was interesting to come back to the river during the day to walk along the ghats. It seemed, almost still, quite. But you know, India quite, so still loud and hectic. I spent an afternoon getting lost in the twisted alleys and shops. I even accepted a motorbike ride from a stranger trying to show me the way to a bakery I was looking for. Rest assure, my stranger-motorbike-hopping ways will not continue back in the states, I will once again hold true to my momma's don't take rides with strangers rule again.
The last night in Varanasi also marked the last night the tour group was going to be together. We had an overnight train back to Delhi the following night and one girl was leaving straight from the train station and I was ditching the group to spend the afternoon with another friend before leaving India. My tour leader came up with a plan for the last dinner, but I didn't like it, so I found something else and changed our plans. Who's the tour leader now? True to my nature, in the holiest city in India, I found us a hookah bar and restaurant. For those of you who don't know what hookah is think the pipe the Cheshire cat smoked in Alice in wonderland, but with flavored tobacco (and yes it is just tobacco!). Now, I'm not a smoker, but I do enjoy some hookah. My plan proved to be a success! Everyone had a great time, until they stopped serving us at 11pm. Um, but guys, we're not done drinking yet. Pretty please Mr. Bartender, maybe one more? No, oh well, how about selling us a bottle of rum to go? No, well fine then! Hmm, now what guys?...which then resulted in me and several others wandering the dark streets of Varanasi at midnight looking for an open liquor store. Did I mention Varanasi is the holiest city in India? Yet here I am trying to do a midnight booze run. How do I get myself in these situations? Anyways, we failed in our mission. Tip: always buy extra booze when in India, they will not, under any circumstances sell you or any of your lovely dressed white girlfriends booze after 11pm.


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