Another long train ride took us through the arid North to Varanasi.
As many know, Varanasi (also called the City of Shiva) sits on the Ganges River which is considered Hinduism’s most sacred river. The city itself is big and dusty and was very hot while we were there (rivaling Delhi’s heat with temps in the 40’s again).
We stayed in the old part of the city which sits along the shores of the Ganges and is an absolute labyrinth of narrow walkways (no cars or rickshaws are allowed in this part of the city). The architecture is a crazy mix of crumbling buildings surrounding the many different temples throughout the old city.
The walkways are filled with all sorts of shops that sell everything from tea to silk. There are also tons of paan vendors who sell a product similar to chewing tobacco but is made from the betel nut and is apparently fairly addictive (one gent told us that your can order you bit of paan with a dash of opium… ). You can tell the heavy paan chewers as they all have stained red teeth and you have to be careful where you’re walking as there are splashes of paan spit everywhere…yuck!
Walking through the old city, you encounter tons of animals. There are dogs, goats, monkeys and cows everywhere. The cow is considered a sacred animal to the Hindu’s and so they’re permitted to roam freely throughout the city. It’s kind of humorous to see people walk past these giant animals and pet them as though they were the family dog. With all the cows wandering about, you also have to keep a diligent eye out for the mountains of dung just waiting for you to step in…
The Ghats (stairways down to the river) themselves are very cool. It’s amazing to watch the locals live their daily lives on these stairs doing everything from bathing and laundry to burning the bodies of their dead.
Every day at sunset a ceremonial blessing of the Ganges is held on the main Ghat (Dasaswamedh Ghat). The ceremony is beautiful with one of the holy men singing and others performing rituals in sync. There were hundreds of people in attendance and being surrounded by so many devout Hindu’s who were singing and praying all around us was somewhat surreal.
You can also buy a floating flower to release into the Ganges as a blessing for your family so I felt that I had to do my part.
Varanasi has many silk manufacturers and the push to buy silk items is huge. Admittedly, it’s insanely cheap in comparison to other parts of the world and most of it is made on hand looms which takes an enormous amount of time and energy. We were taken to see one of these looms and it was mind blowing to see this man in a dirty, tiny, dark room making something so beautiful.
Unfortunately, the experience of Varanasi is lessened a little with having to once again beat off the touts (many of them children) trying to sell us every conceivable thing and who just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You end up having to almost yell at them to make them leave you alone and then the next one takes their place.
Two days in Varanasi was enough for us but that said, we’re glad we came to check it out. We’re now going west again to see one of the wonders of the world in Agra….the Taj Mahal!