Sunday, 12 February 2017

Varanasi the City of Death - Part 5 Third times the Charm

Day 5 at Varanasi. I managed to wake up early in the morning of 430 am only to find myself alone. The three girls figured I would never manage to discipline to wake up although I did told them I would try. I guess they assumed try as a little effort put in while in my case when I say try I really mean it.

5 am in Varanasi
Walk to Assi Ghat in the early morning was peaceful. For once Varanasi was quiet without the horns and pons of the auto rickshaw nor bikes. I got there just slightly past 5 am in time to see the Puja which was half way though.
The fire line up by 7 devotees with background chant by the girls from both stage was a breath taking experience. Behind and in front where the Puja ceremony was being conducted they were flanked by tourist both foreigner and local.
Morning Puja Ceremony in Assi Ghat - Varanasi  
Serene Songs by girls for the Morning Puja at Assi Ghat - Varanasi

I recognised one guy from the hostel and he sat with me by the river just absorbing the morning ceremony in Varanasi. While the Puja in the morning was very similar to the evening one it was more serene as lesser people wake up in the morning and the morning dew was more pleasant then the sweat infested stench during the evening. People gathered around during the prayer and after some of the more devoted soul would take a morning bath in the Ganga as the sun rise in the horizon of the Ganga river. Bright orange ball rose and as the heat came in we started walking back to the hostel.
The Morning bath in Ganga River after puja - Assi Ghat, Varanasi
Two kids in Varanasi - Sunrise
I went back to sleep but still woke up in a few hours just in time for the last minute breakfast at 10am. At near 12pm I saw the girls in the hostel. Showed them the photos I took and they blamed me for not making the meeting a sure thing. If they knew I was going they were sure to wake up. The uncertainty of whether or not I was going made them decided to sleep in.

Food at Kerala Café - Varanasi
I invited them to join me for lunch at Kerala Café which was surprising since they had not eat there although they had been in Varanasi for a few days. It was very popular as a Café that served authentic south indian food, cheap beyond words and clean. I brought them there and for once they broke the rule of sticking to fried rice or fried mee …. They were a very typical Chinese Girls.
Yogurt Rice at Kerala Café - Varanasi
They tried for the first time Dosa and Chole Bhature …. They love it …. Still acceptable to their tasebuds and stomacs …

I decided to go for lassi … a long walk to the Blue Lassi place and invited them again after lunch …. Sceptical as they were they came along despite the heat and grime. I soon found out that they had never been into the Ghat wondering. They always stuck to the main road and were now afraid of it for it was noisy and dirty and full of cows and auto rickshaw trying to run you down.

Water Buffalo - Along the Ghats of Varanasi  
I brought them into the Ghats … walk around got lost walk more and just reveal in its splendour. The girls love it and for the first time in days they saw the actual Varanasi. They now understood why I go walking every day in Varanasi … just wander about and discover hidden passageway and the beauty of innocent kids playing around the Ghats.

We reach the Blue Lassi eventually after a very long walk. Two of them had not tried it before but the Taiwan girl had. The PRC girls had not even seen the burning Ghat. My my … At the Blue Lassi we picked up another group of PRC and they all bonded chatting in mandarin. I kept silent mostly enjoying the Lassi but one of the girls could not accept the taste of it. They were thrilled to have conversation with new people in mandarin since their English was not that good and everytime a dead body pass by and I nudge them but they had missed to see it.

Eventually we left the blue lassi place and this time I had a group of 6 following me to the Burning Ghat. 5 of them had not seen it before. Steal your heart I say and no photos.

As expected along the way to the burning Ghat we picked up a local guide. Friendly, young and very polite. He was feeling me, asking questions and sorts to see how much could he gleam out of the huge group of 7. I told him I was Malaysian and have been to the burning Ghat 2 times now and this is the third. For them behind me a first. He knew the standard scam will not work.

When we reach the Burning Ghat it was either the abandon building or the inner lower area. I headed towards the inner lower area only to be stopped by our self-declared guide. Family area he said …. Come with me and see with good viewpoint. 

I know that place …. Full of people asking for money. No one will ask you for money he said …. I guarantee it. I told him that if at any point in time if anyone … anyone asked for money I will walk away and everyone with me as well. He kept his word and we went up to the abandon building having a fantastic view of the Burning Ghat

Burning is learning.

He would explain so much about the Ghat and I gave up translating to Mandarin as the new group had a better grasp of English.

No women of the family member is allowed at the burning Ghat. This is because once there was a husband that was cremated and the wife jump into the fire after him.

There is two cremation location in Varanasi. This one is for natural cause of death. No pregnant women, kids or people with leprosy are cremated here.

These people are tied with stones to their body and dump into the Ganga river

People who are died due to unnatural cause such as accidents and such are cremated at another place in Varanasi. These souls do not go to nirvana but are rebirth into the cycle.

No lighter, matches or any fuel is used in the cremation process. Only wood and the source of the fire is from the Shiva fire maintained since ancient times.

He showed us the Shiva fire.

The fire is kept alive by a family … the honour of the job passed down from one generation to another.

Usually the people are burn according to their cast. The high cast burn above the platform and the lower cast burn below near the ganga river but as a few days ago the river level was so high all cast was burned on the platform.

The people below sieved the ashes of the dead before casting them out to the sea. They are searching for gold within the ashes.

As he explain, occasionally he would have to stop and speak to some other vultures and shoo them off. He kept his promises and never once were we disturbed while observing the Burning Ghat. He politely ask if we would visit one of his shops and that there is no obligation to buy anything. He also gave his word that there will be no one pushing us to purchase things. I kindly asked the group and they agreed.

Weaving Shop in Varanasi
The shop was a shop which made silk and Kashmir cloths. Price quoted was definitely extreme and while I question a lot to gain knowledge from the shopkeeper I had no intention of buying. One of the girls ended up buying a pillow case … beautiful silk embroidery but not before driving a hard bargain. Our guide I suspect gain a small commission from any sale the shopkeeper gets.
All in all I think she spend less than 800 rupee for three items. As we walked out the shop my soul was touch and I gave our guide a humble 100 rupee for taking care of us. He said no money. Being honest he said he gain 5 % commission for anything we buy in there. I gave him the money anyway thanking him. I told him … if at any point someone ask me for money while you were around I would have never given you any money. Since you kept your promises this is for you. Thank you and goodbye. We parted ways and by this time it was already evening

A walk back to the evening puja area where we see it for 10 minutes proved too much for the girls to bear. It was so hot that we were all bathing in our own sweat and could barely breathe. We ended up splitting with our new found friends and left to head back to the hostel. I did not expect today to be a full exploration day but it happened and I was glad.

It was now time to pack up and get ready to leave the next morning for Bodh Gaya.


Friday, 10 February 2017

A Day Trip to Sarnath

Day 4 at Varanasi. Dad says I am staying too long at Varanasi and that I needed to move on. That was weird …. For I always thought I was moving too fast even when I stay for 6 days since it was always less than a week. Still this was one place that I did not get bored of exploring. The air-con room choice was a good one for without it I would have probably had leave already. Comfort was there and interesting places to explore Varanasi was indeed a tourist heaven.

Day 4 and I had did my homework the day before slowly telling people about Sarnath and have now convince at least one person to join me on my trip there. I wanted more people to share so the Tuk Tuk ride would be cheaper. Morning breakfast and Jerrad from Chicago said yep he is in and with that more and more people joined in. Leon woke up at 10 and said he was in too and with that we had 3. Waiting downstairs for everyone to gather and more and more joined in … Total number 5 of us.

Tuk Tuk negotiation time as we head out of the hostel. 5 big guys and we played hard ball bargaining a single Tuk Tuk to take us to and fro to Sarnath for only 100 rupee a peson. I had known the going price was 200 rupee single way which adds up to about 400 rupee return. We were paying 500 return and it was a pretty good deal for 5 of us. Only thing was we had to squeeze into the tuk tuk for a half an hour ride. We also had a crazy driver … almost hit multiple people, bicycle and played chicken with a bus and also almost got hit by a bus … but we survived.

Sarnath was a simple place like all Buddhist places. The dear park had dears in it. Like a zoo. The temple which I had no idea exist was there marking the spot where Buddha gave his first sermon after enlightenment. There was an entrance fee of 100 rupee and a stroll around the park was serene and peaceful. Some might find it even disappointing for there is not much to see.
Sarnath with its many temples built near the UNESCO heritage site

The Ruins of Sarnath

The simple temple which marks the Spot where Buddha gave his first Sermon after Enlightenment  

Dear Park - Sarnath

Sarnath - India
Left after about 2 hours and head back to the hostel with the same tuk tuk.

I spent the day just relaxing and hiding away from the heat. Night time and I went out to look for a train ticket to Bodh Gaya which ironically brought me back to the Ghat. Got the ticket at a high price of 530 rupee and headed back to the hostel.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Varanasi the City of Death - Part 4 Temple Tours

3rd day at Varanasi and I woke up to a lazy start. I did manage to catch breakfast barely and thinking I was late and would miss the temple tour organized by the hostel apparently I was still in time 10 minutes late. I was the first one to sign up and soon Maria from Germany join as well. Temple tour and only the two of us.

Of all the tours in the hostel, sunrise tour, market tour, Ghat tour, Yoga, Food tour, and everything else that would spoil you for weeks and more I only joined one tour which was the Temple tour. In a way I did most of them myself but temple tour was one I wanted to join to get more history and story out of the guide. 100 rupee was not much but then again you could pick up any local tourist guide just walking around for that same price.

With only two of us it was good as well for I would not want to be wandering trying to listen in when there is another 20 people around. We visited the first temple … Durga temple.

My Hindu mythology history is not one of the best. Other than knowing there is one with three eyes and one with an elephant trunk and one that is praise for his dancing I was more or less clueless about the story. How does all the god and goddess fit together and what is the whole story about them. I guess I was a bit high on my expectation in thinking the guide would have the over picture of the story. It was like asking a greek person to tell the greek god and goddess the whole story from the beginning like a book.

Each temple and its gods has its own story but a short version of it, linked spareodicly but never as a whole big story. Like having excerpt of a big picture but no one really knows the whole puzzle.

My brief understanding was this

Durga was the mother of gods …. And she is associated with the colour red which means power. Is she the most powerful one of all of them …. No Shiva is … so Shiva is above her ??? no she is equal …. So who is she … no idea …

Then there is Shiva … the almighty with the third eye whom is married to Parvathi which is also known as Kali the goddess of anger.

Then there is Lakshami which is a goddess of wealth but also the wife to Ramsati but also a derivative of Durga …. 

Who is Ganesa then ??? The one with the elephant face ….

And the monkey god is called Hanuman …. Who is associated with the colour Orange.

Once upon a time there was a poison in this world and in order to save mankind Shiva drank the poison and turned blue hence the colour blue is associated with poison.

White is associated with Shanti which means peace …..
Durga Temple in Varanasi
I made no sense of the story telling during the temple tour like in a way no one Indian is able to tell the whole story of their religion. In a way I guess it’s the same for all religion for as many faithful as there are most people do not know the true story behind the bible or the Quran or the Sangha. Some know more than other but most do not know much beyond what told by ear. The one who knows best would be the scholar and dedicate his life to unveil the history and myth and tearing his head out when there is contradicting evidence.

After temple tour it was a lazy day for me. Only till after chai time when I felt hungry did I went out hunting for food. I was craving a Thali and the Kerala Café that I had been going to every day for lunch and dinner had all the good stuff except Thali.

Before I knew it I was back in the Ghat getting further and further away from the hostel. I ran into Leon a Singaporean staying at the hostel in the same room and he joined me for dinner. Dinner done I was too lazy to explore and we headed back to the hostel but though the Ghat in another alley exploring along the way.

I told Leon about the morning Puja ceremony which was supposed to be good and he aspire to try and wake up to catch it. 430 am in the morning.. to wake up in order to catch it by 5. I decided to sleep in that night as well only to wake up in the morning later looking at Leon pictures of the Puja. It looked amazing and then I decided the next day I would do it too.