Saturday, July 25, 2009

Varanasi...Part 1

On Tuesday morning we headed from Sewa Ashram to the airport, we had a lovely taxi driver from Narela. He was quite chatty and explained to us such things that all leaves including tea leaves contain tobacco? thus we should only eat seeds... He also helped Ray put his seat belt on in a rather odd manner; he put it on the seat and then pulled the top sash over Ray's head so there was nothing around his waist... not sure of the logic there. Then he texted his son, who called him back to have a chat with Ray and wants to meet up with him next week.

I think the highlight of the trip though was when the boot of the little hatch back flew open and I literally grabbed Sam's backpack by a seam before it fell out onto the road.

We arrived at the domestic airport in one piece. Our flight left from the new terminal.... v nice compared to the old one. We flew spice-jet (low cost airline similar to jetstar) all the planes are named after spices... we flew on Fenugreek, one of my favorite spices. The plane next to ours was Mustard... I love it.

The flight was delayed but otherwise uneventful until the landing which was hard and unusually fast... I am thinking rookie pilot who came in too low too quick and only just caught the beginning of the runway. I thought we were going to hit the terminal it took so long to brake.

Varanasi airport is not what I expected, for such a busy tourist city the terminal is a tin shed which seams to have a black out every five minutes which stops the one rickety old and too short baggage carousel.

Varanasi itself is quite rural with lots of agriculture; mainly rice and sugarcane. Once again it is like no other city in India and it is odd that the city itself sits only on one side of the Ganges. The western bank is very crowded and very built up while the east bank is completely clear. Varanasi is said to be one of the oldest cities in the world dating back over 2000 years but very few of the buildings are more than a couple of hundred years old.

On Wednesday morning we got up at 4:30 am to get a taxi at 5 am to the Ganges. You cannot drive to the banks of the Ganges itself, rather the roads end about 200 metres from the banks with a maze of little narrow galis (lane ways) leading through the old city to the Ghats (flight of steps leading down to the river). It was already very busy when we arrived at the ghat at 5.30 am hundreds of people where bathing in the Ganges and others meditating whilst many a tourist was boarding the little wooden boats for a sunrise cruise... I think we will have another early morning tomorrow.

We found a place to sit on the Ghat close down to the bank of the Ganges and waited for the moon to cover the sun. There were a few pair of eclipse glasses floating around which we had a look through. With the odd smattering of cloud covering the sun we were able to take a few quick glances and photos without glasses.

We were very fortunate with the weather as cloud cover was predicted due to the light monsoon. There were a few clouds about but not enough to obscure the event. A few minutes before the eclipse is total the light and the colour of the sky turns an odd and eerie shade. It is not like sunrise or sunset but a light that is unique to a solar eclipse. 10 seconds before totality a cheer went up as the last of the suns light disappeared like a light being switched out. Sam and Hunter where both in awe of the black ball that hung in the sky with a hint of the suns corona radiating out and a few planets lit up in the night sky. We were able to soak up the experience for three and a half minutes. This was the longest solar eclipse the earth will see until 2132 and what an amazing place and atmosphere to experience it, honestly there are no words.

We have taken some great photos and footage but it cannot convey what it is like to see a black sun. Further west of us the sun actually rose totally eclipsed I wonder what that was like...

After the diamond ring appeared in the sky when the sun first reappears the experience is all but over. Even though the sun is still partially eclipsed for another hour the magic is gone.

After the eclipse we went for a stroll along the Ganges walking from ghat to ghat the further we walked the busier it got more and more people were bathing, washing their laundry and praying. At one point we passed a place which must be the public toilet. It was a paved area between ghats by which we walked which was dotted with hundreds of human poohs. Needless to say it stunk; but what I wan to know is whose job is it to clean that up.

Once we got to the main ghat the number of people was oppressive. If a traffic jam is bad a human jam is worse. We pushed out way up the stairs and out of the ghat into a market the led to the galis. The market was also human traffic jam, stepping over people changing into their dry clothes after there morning dip, people selling their fruits and vegetables, people begging for rice and others selling it to people to give to the poor. At one point as we pushed past the market stalls I grabbed Sam who was in front of me as he was about to step right in the path of a man with his cobra slithering in front of him. Needless to say Sam got the shock of his life and we tried out best to give it a wide berth. Only a month or two ago someone who lives by the ashram was bitten by a cobra and died.

We finally made it back into the less crowded galis and weaved our way parallel to the Ganges back from where we came. The galis are so interesting... so much to see and so much cow pooh to avoid. Ray the pooh magnet stepped in some slushy stuff and our guide said not to worry it is holy. When we got back to the ghat where we watched the eclipse Ray ducked down to the water to wash his feet but he could not wash his thongs... shoes are not allowed in the Ganges.

We then headed back through a crowded galis to the car and back to our hotel. We had planned to eat breakfast at a guest house overlooking the Ganges but on such a day it was too crowded. Maybe tomorrow.

(I have just added two posts so make sure you don't miss the one below this)

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