As I sit here and write this post several days after returing from Varanasi there is a torrential downpour going on outside. The sky is dark and is frequently lit by bright flashes of lightening. The little area outside our guest house is ankle deep in water and slowly rising; thankfully our room is two steps up off the ground. It has been raining for an hour or so now and frankly I am surprised there is still power.
It is Monday night which is pasta night (we skip bitter gourd night) and we had a cosy dinner in the staff kitchen grateful not to have to wander the 70 or so metres through the rain to the dinner area... not that the kids would mind, they spent half an hour or so playing in the rain when the storm first started.
Ok... Varanasi. Our second full day in Varanasi was spent in full tourist mode. We started the day in Sarnath the place Buddha gave his first sermon to his five key followers. Apparently, it is one of the four most important sites on the buddhist circuit. It was quite interesting and I learnt a lot... but really... not my thing. After Sarnath we headed back to the Ganges and wandered through the little lane-ways browsing in some of the little shops before we had lunch on the rooftop terrace of the Sita Guesthouse. I would highly recommend it as a cheap and cheerful place to stay. You can eat a meal for $3 and enjoy the most amazing view of life on the Ganges. We saw people bathing and washing their buffalos and others resting by the river in the heat of the day. It was so quiet and peaceful compared to the busy chaos of the mornings and evenings.
Afterwards we wandered through the alleyways perusing the all the little shops with their oh so cheap clothes... no need to negotiate here. I picked up some much needed cool clothes to wear back at the ashram. 2 skirts, 2 pairs of pants, 3 tops and a dress... all for less than $30! ...love it.
Later in the afternoon we hoped back on the tourist path. First stop was to see the hand woven silk fabrics which Varanasi is famous for. We were taken into a dark house where several looms where set up in a dark room. Apparently much of the silk in Varanasi is woven by hand due to the unreliable power supply... I would suggest worse than Gurgaon. I definitely would not call Varanasi silk a fair trade item. Young boys as young as 11 are recruited to learn the skill while there hands are still young and nimble. It takes 7-8 years to become a master and by that time there eyes are fading from working long days in dark rooms. After seeing the work being done we were taken into a showroom and the pressure was on to purchase. First item was a silk bedspread... as lovely as they were they are just not my style and they were insisting that several hundred dollars was a wholesale price...I don't think so. So rather, we looked at simple silk scarves... though there was hundreds of designs... so overwhelming. We settled on a simple scarf and Ray negotiated the price down but in my opinion we still paid through the nose... I would not have bought anything at all after seeing the work conditions but I felt obliged after they unfolded about 50 quilts and even more scarves which they were going to have to refold once we left.
After seeing the silks we headed back to the Ganges for an evening row boat ride up to the cremation ghats. It was a lovely evening and such a scenic journey as there where several ceremonies being conducted on the banks on the Ganges. With the kids in tow it was probably best that we viewed the cremation ghats in partial darkness as it can be quite graphic. At the main cremation area several fires were burning and a few bodies were being brought into the river for their last wash and last drink from the mother Ganges before the bodies are cremated and the pelvis of the woman and breast bone of the man are thrown into the river.
Our guide explained in detail about the ceremony and why it is how it is.
Apparently there are five people who are not cremated: the holy man, the pregnant woman, the child, the leper and the cobra bitten man. The first three are not cremated because they are already holy, the leper is not cremated as his burning body will disperse the disease into the air... and I cannot remember the rational for not cremating the cobra bitten man... I will have to google it.
So what happens to their bodies I here you ask..?.. Well they are taken out into the middle of the Ganges thrown overboard and weighted down. The middle the Ganges is surprisingly deep and I can't imagine how many thousands of skeletons there are down there.
Afterwards we headed back up river taking in the ceremonies with hundreds of other people watching from their row boats.
The rowboats are larger than your average rowboat and hold 10 or more people yet one small man manages to row them up river against the current. Ray had a turn at rowing our boat and managed to make a nice circle, before handing the helm back to out oarsman :)
The next day we had planned to head out and experience the last of the Varanasi sites including the temples and the university museum, but instead we decided to absorb the creature comforts of the hotel before we headed back to Delhi. Ah well... just left something for us to see next time.
One other thing I have to say about Varanasi is that I have never seen so many backpackers with dreadlocks in all my life... I reckon in Varanasi there is more dreadlocks per capita than any other city in the world!
I have some amazing photos and footage from our time in Varanasi... I will try and upload it all soon.
Please email us a note if you have a chance... we love contact form home...
Until next time