The Ganges River....."OF DEATH....."
So we left our driver and opted for trains after all. Well the train was planned all along, but I feel better if I say we got rid of him and his "DRIVING OF DEATH....."
The train was an all nighter, but that was OK because we both had a bunk-beds and slept all the way to Varanasi. We had a few tense moments when none of our ticket info matched the train that pulled up at the appointed time, but a few questions and a sprint down the platform had us set right. Varanasi looks and feels like a very old city. We are staying in a part of the old city, and found it quite the challenge to locate the hotel we had set our sights on. It only took a Tuk-Tuk from the railway station and a 45 minute walk with our back packs through a veritible labrinth of alleyways.
The whole old city is off limits to cars. Not because they want to preserve the old buildings, but simply because they can't fit. It is a maze of cobbled side streets with; as far as I can tell; no maps. It is likely a good thing that I don't have my nose stuck in a map, if I had I would have stumbled into a watery cow pie long ago. The streets are littered with the nasty things. There is a cow around most corners, and the ones that don't have cows have either tonge waging billy goats, or crazy monkeys imploying facial aggression tactics.
Our hotel is great, cheap, has tons of cool travellers to talk to, and one of the best views in Varanasi. Right now we are in the roof top restaruant overlooking the burning ghats beside the Ganges River. From where we stand we can see the river streach in either direction.
It was rather sombering the other day, as we sat on the steps of the ghats and watched multiple families in various stages of relinquishing thier dead to the river. The final stage being burning the body on a pyre (we counted 15 different pyres) and then scattering the ashes in the river. That is of course unless you are one of the fortunate/unfortunate few who fit into a "exception to the rule". They are: Holy Men, Pregnant women, children, lepers (people with Leprosy.....It still exists here), and people who have been bitten and died of a Cobra bite. If you are among this privleged few (or many... as it would seem) then you forgo the intire burning ritual and they tie a rock to your wrapped up body and throw you in the river whole. Which is all good and fine, unless you use bad rope or didn't attend boy scouts and the rock falls off. Which apparently happens often. Then the body floats back to shore. If your body makes landfall on the city side of the river they wrap you back up, tie on another rock and try, try again. If however, your body catches a current that carries it to the far shore..... well if you really need to know email me, it's a bit much for the blog. - Nate
Varanasi is certainly something else. It is just as colorful as the rest of India, if not more. I have spent hours wandering along the ghats taking pictures of holy men, chilren and water buffalos bathing, women doing laundrey and laying it to dry on the ghats and all manner of animals.
It is possible to experience sensory and emotional overload here. There are so many children begging and dogs on the verge of death. Ahhh it is heart wrenching! I wish that I could start a foundation for the children here. I see far too many working when they should be enjoying thier childhood. There are also many old men and women walking around barefoot begging with little whisper voices. There are so many social problems that I don't even know where to begin. There are many beautiful aspects of their culture as well though. I love watching boys walking home from school with their arms around eachothers shoulders, kids singing at the top of their lungs, the smell of cloves in the air, strings of flowers hanging in the trees and floating down the river. I love to watch the the shy looks that children give me turn into huge broad smiles when I say "Hi". This is a precious country dispite its hardships.