Monday, October 26, 2015

Holy Varanasi and the River Ganges

The plan for Friday October 16th was to take the overnight train to Varanasi, this turned out to be another adventure!  Thanks to help from Shridhar (a work friend of Sara's) we had several different train reservations, one in first class AC and one in third class AC, the idea being we would wait to see which bunks were confirmed the day of travel, and hopefully get the 1st class, but with 3rd class as a backup. That afternoon the plan was to take the train with the 3rd class bunks as those were confirmed, however the train was abut 4 hours delayed, and we were concerned it would be canceled, leaving us no way to get to Varanasi. We have learned the key to traveling in India is to be flexible and to have a backup plan!  The staff at our hotel were amazing, they let us stay in the room until 7pm, and spent a lot of time checking the train schedule and advising us on the best options.

Finally we decided to get on the later train, where we only had one fist class bunk confirmed, with the advice we could pay the extra fare on the train to the conductor and share the bunk.  So off we went to the train station. Thankfully our driver helped communicate with the porters at the train station (called Coolies) to carry our bags, and Gian also helped us buy the general ticket we needed to get on the train, as we only had the one confirmed seat.  Good thing we had these folks to help us as it was a bit chaotic, and very dark.  

We sat on the platform waiting for our train, and 15 minutes before it arrived the Coolie suddenly got excited and said quick come with me. So Sara went back to the ticket office and after providing several tips to different people got the money back for the general ticket.  We are still not sure what happened and since the ticket only cost $3 would have been happy to keep it, especially as when we tried to get on the train the ticket man needed some persuading, and for a horrible moment we thought the train would leave without us! 

Anyway we were on the train, and survived scrutiny by the train conductor who did not look amused to find both of us there. Our cabin mate Sabuj helped explain what was happening and told us we would need to pay a penalty later, which we expected. We have found everyone in India to be very friendly and helpful, which made an amazing difference.  So we slept together on the pretty hard narrow bed and were happy to get to Varanasi the next morning.

Varanasi is a fairly big ancient city which is very crowded and noisy. The guide book says Varanasi “ takes no prisoners “ so we knew it was going to be complete sensory overload. Varanasi in on the Ganges river and is considered to be one of the holiest cities in India. Many people come to Varanasi to pray, bath or cremate their dead family members. Having your ashes sent down the Ganges is considered to be very special. There is a long strip of ghats along the Ganges. The ghats are long stone steps on the banks of the Ganges. We spent the first afternoon (Saturday 17th) walking along the river Ganges and just taking in the scenes. It was still very hot, and after walking several hours up the river we negotiated a boat ride back to our hotel, which was right on the river Ganges.  That evening boat ride was amazingly peaceful, which we needed after such a busy day.

Sunday 18th we got up at 5:30am and took a two hour dawn boat ride. It was wonderful to see the sunrise over then River Ganges, and the bank was busy with people praying, bathing and generally going about their daily lives. We rested for the rest of the day, as the temperatures were in the upper 90Fs, and it was very humid. That evening we walked to Dashashwamedh Ghat to see a special Hindu ceremony called the Ganga Aarti which is performed by 7 Brahman priests. Another amazing experience.

The next few days were travel back to New Delhi and then to Kathmandu, where we spent a few relaxing days before starting our trek in the Himalayan mountains.  It is currently Sunday October 25th and we are in Namache Bazzar at 11,400 feet after three difficult days of hiking.  Our next post will be about our trek in the mountains!

Click here for a slideshow of Varanasi

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