Sunday, 21 September 2008

19 - 21 September 2008: Varanasi

The train ride to Varanasi ended up being a mammoth 20-hour journey. Fortunately, the snoring walrus sleeping on the top bunk didn't stay on the train for too long, and we were grateful for the earplugs. During the day, we read our books and enjoyed endless cups of chai (tea) and Parle-G biscuits. The food-wallah was keen to practise his reading, so he kept borrowing Jen's book even when she was reading it herself!

Arriving at the hotel in Varanasi, we were surprised to find it was a gated compound complete with swimming pool, restaurant and internet café. Relaxing in this paradise, we organised a sunrise boat tour of the Ganges for the following morning.

Varanasi is one of the holiest cities for Hindus, and pilgrims come here to bathe in the Ganges or to cremate their dead on the river banks. People also come to Varanasi to die, as death here means liberation from the cycle of birth and death. The city has numerous ghats (bathing steps leading down to the water) along the bank of the Ganges.

This morning, we rowed away from the ghat in the early morning light. We offered a floating candle filled with flower petals to the river in return for wealth and a happy life. This seemed a good investment for 20 rupees (25p). As we passed the main public cremation ghat we saw a body wrapped in colourful fabric, waiting for its turn to be burnt.

The Ganges is in a very poor state of environmental health. The water is septic and full of rubbish and sewage. Regardless of this, 60,000 pilgrims take a holy dip in the river every day. We witnessed pilgrims getting ready to take the plunge less than 10 meters away from a dead cow floating in the water (see photo below - the dead cow is in the middle right of the picture). Other wildlife include a dead fish and a man doing yoga in the water (see below left).

Unfortunately our tour didn't end there. Our 'land' guide was a very strange character. Andy made him cry when he asked what his wife did for a living. He replied that she was a housewife, but then went on to explain (at length) about the great achievements of his son. His eyes welled up with pride. Our well-intentioned guide also tried to force convert us to Hinduism, lecturing us for several lifetimes. He even started using the f-word at one point.

We had a couple of frights today. In a blackout, Andy fell down some stairs but was completely unhurt. Jen also walked into a glass door but luckily bounced. We start our trip towards Nepal tonight which is just as well as we think our insurance company would have us extradited. We should be at the border crossing tomorrow morning. If all goes well, we might well be in Pokhara tomorrow night.


Anonymous said...

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Nautitte varmasti pokharasta, se on länkkärille rentouttava taivas varanasin jälkeen. Jos tarviitte mitä tahansa apua, soittakaa pranitalle(asuu kathmandussa) puhelinnro on +977(toi on vissiin maatunnus)9841492275. toi on kännynumero eli parasta viel ehkä kysästä paikalliselta että onko se noin vaan vai tuleeko tohon lisätä viel joku nro. Nauttikaa Nepalista!