Sunday, 22 January 2017

Varanasi the city of death – Part 1

In a way I found out about Varanasi by chance. If it were not for meeting Stephano in Pokhara I would have never come here. Not doing research while travelling can make you miss amazing place when you are so close yet don’t know about it. It took two days of idle chatter before Stephano urged me to just google the place and see the pictures. First picture that loaded on google pictures and I was hooked. Varanasi it is and a re-route was planned.

After a good bath in the hostel all I wanted to do was rest in the nice cool air-condition room and sleep but chai time at 4pm drove me away from the journal entry and out into the common area to mingle with the hostel people.

Varanasi - Main Streets before entering Narrow winding Ghat
There were lots of people as expected in hostel like these. Friendly environment with lots of travellers mostly from English Native countries. One could observed and notice how some clicks will talk to you and answer your question but slowly tune out to ogle the pretty faces. The four British girls was fascinated with the two British boys but for some reason the boys …. Adam and Josh asked me if I wanted to join them to walk around the Ghats after chai.

Sure I felt refreshed enough just after a shower and a few hours of rest in cool room. I decided to take up their offer to go exploring Varanasi on the very first day. Ghats as they call them means steps in Hindi … steps to the river and there are 87 Ghats in Varanasi. This area is also one of the most interesting in Varanasi for it forms the old part of the city with narrow alley streets which keeps turning and ending up in dead end.

The streets were very narrow such that if you stretch out your arms you will feel both sides of the building. Still it was filled with people and cows and goats and dogs and all kinds of livelihood that goes by in this small world. Shops was like a boxhole barely two bunk beds put together. They sold and peddled all kinds of things from food to trinkets to lassi to temples to shrines to holy men to modern knock off made in china T-shirts to prayer items and so forth. One could get lost in here every day walking the same streets and still find new things to see.

Josh and Adam wanted to see the evening ceremony which was held by the Ghanga river every evening at 730pm. They asked locals along the way and people were always happy to help and point us to the right direction. Sometimes, if you asked the wrong people you will accidentally pick up a guide who would be so kind to walk you to where you want to go giving loads of history and explanation of the mystical Varanasi only to guilt you into a donation when you try to leave them behind.

Evening Puja at Varanasi
We got there in time and choose a spot to enjoy the ceremony. By this time I understood it was the puja ceremony but on a grander scale that what I have ever seen back in Malaysia. According to the locals it was a small one for apparently the Ghanga river is flooding right now and the water level is very high.

While we waited for the Puja to start more and more people crowded in, locals and local tourist and foreign tourist alike. The first glimpse of the Ghanga river for most Indians were always followed by a touch of water and a spray of water into the air or over the head with a silent prayer and a for the more devoted a wash of the face and truly devoted a sip of the muddy and highly contaminated water. Peddles were selling flower with candles to be offered into the river … some brought their own kind of offering and everything was dumped into the river while more people spill in to be blessed by the water.

The puja started with chants to incense dance to pots with lots of smoke dance to fire dance which had a cobra as an ornament. I can only say it was mesmerising like most lonely planet guide will tell you. We watch it for nearly half an hour and it did not seem to be ending soon but it was time to find something to eat and little did we know the night was still full of surprise waiting for us.

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