Day 69

Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
Trip End Dec 17, 2008

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Where I stayed
Shanti Guest House

Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Friday, August 29, 2008

Travelling to Jaipur and Agra convinced me that I would like to travel again, so the next weekend we packed up and got onto a train to Varanasi-a city that is considered to be very holy because it is at the junction of three holy rivers.  The guide book described Varanasi as a bustling city that can be quite overwhelming.  Maybe it's because we are used to Delhi, or because it's not tourist season, but we had quite the opposite experience.

We planned the trip with four other people, Lisa, Rob, Eric, and William.  The train was set to leave at 18:30, 7:30 pm right? So we left the house at 5:45.  At the metro I called Lisa to see if she was on her way, instead she had been locked in her apartment by her roommates!  So she called all of her roommates and they were in class about 30 minutes away.  Finally her landlord downstairs heard her knocking and crying out, and came to unlock the door for her.  But it was a combonation lock, and the landlady was not used to them so it took them 20 minutes to unlock it.  She told us to go ahead to the trainstation.  We get there at 6:30 and realize that 18:30 means 6:30 not 7:30! We were already late!  So we run to the train (with no sign of Lisa behind us).  Rob stayed behind to where he could see the train incase it started moving, but also look for Lisa.  Finally at 6:40 Rob sees Lisa and the board the train.  Then we wait... and wait.. and wait.  The train didn't leave until 7!  But I guess it was our luck anyways.  We then slept all night to wake up at 8 am in Varanasi. 
We got a rickshaw to our hotel.  None of the rooms were available yet because it was so early, so we took our stuff up 6 gruling flights of stairs to the rooftop restaurant for a deliciously cheap breakfast (I had baked beans on toast with a fried egg ontop!).  We hung out until noon when our rooms were ready.  Andrew and I split an AC room with our friend Eric, which was a lot of fun, it felt like a sleepover!  Eric was sick the first day, so he stayed in the hotel room.  Andrew and I went out with William to explore Varanasi.  Unlike the guidebook said, we found it very peaceful.  Because it's right after monsoon season the waters were really high, so we couldn't walk along the river
It forced us to walk along these little alley ways that dizzingly weave in and out through the city.  They are so small you can put your elbows out like a chicken and touch both walls.   There were a lot of music shops everywhere, for the sitar, tabla, guitar, whatever you want.  I talked to some of the music shop owners and have been convinced that I want to try to take sitar lessons here in Delhi, but I'm having some trouble finding them.  We also found the spices district, full of curries and masala and cardamom and any sort of mixture you want.  There were also a lot of clothing shops.  Now I know where all the hippies at home get there clothes, Varanasi!  Picture any steriotypical cottom baggy shirts and pants wearing with dredlocks and scruffy face and that's who we saw in Varanasi, it was a lot of fun.
We also found a little park (a rarity in India) that was along the river.  It had a tree and benches and everything.  William climbed the tree and then some men yelled at him saying that he had to take his shoes of first (aparently it was an auspicious tree).  It was very peaceful.  Then we went back to the hotel (eating some really good street food for dinner along the way).  Some of the others went to the river at night, but we were exhausted and stayed in the hotel on the rooftop talking with Eric. 
Then next day we went on a boat ride in the morning at 5 am to see the sunrise on the water.  It was cool to be able to see the city form the river.  Rob asked that if he rowed the boat we could get the ride for free.  Both him and Andrew tried, and they couldn't even get it to go forward against the current! I guess those guys work a lot harder than it seems.  We spent the day wandering around the city and relaxing.  That night we went to a great little restaurant that had a live performance of a sitar player.  It is owned by this older man who obviously just loves his food and talking about it.  It took us about half an hour to order because he made everything sound so good.  "First I take the chicken then I season it with cardamom, salt, and pepper, then I lightly fry it with some olive oil, then I add it to a sauce... NO water or oil added!"  We had a great dinner, and the sitar in the background was a lot of fun, it just made me want to learn how to play even more. 
The last day we woke up and packed and checked out of the hotel.  I had been debating on wither on not if I wanted to see the burning ghats- the place where they burn the dead before putting the ashes into the holy river.  Some of the others in our group saw it already, and said that it was a very powerful experience.  Varanasi is known for the burning ghats, it is said that something like 90,000 cremations a year happen in Varanasi, because the river is so holy here.  I decided (at the last minute) that I did want to experience this.  So Eric and I went over the ghats and were guided around by a little old man who worked there collecting wood.  He described to us the process.  He told us that we are not allowed to take pictures of the process, which we obviously respected.  First the family walks the body to Varanasi covered with cloth on a bed of wood.  Then they buy the wood here, which can be very expensive 100,000 Rs for the "best" wood.  Then the body is washed in the river, and taken up to this platform, where there can be as many as 8 cremations happening at once.  Here the body is covered with wood.  A flame is kept inside a building that has been burning for the past 3,000 years.  They take some of the flame and use it to light the wood.  Then the ashes and bones are placed into the river in a ceremony
It was a very intense experience, to say the least.  While we were there there were 8 bodies being cremated and I guess I didn't expect it to be that hot ontop of the platform.  There were families surrounding the platform, baking in sweat from the heat of the flames.  You can see the bodies beneith the wood as the flame dies down, it occured to me that I don't think I've ever seen a body in real life before.  As we were up there, three other families brought bodies up to be prepared for cremation.  It all seemed very surreal.  We only stayed for a couple minutes graciously thanked the man, and met up with the rest of the group.
We then got back onto the train to come back to Delhi.  Our train ride back was not as pleasant as the way there.  We had seats next to the door and while we were sleeping a man stole our bag (literally right from underneith Andrew's feet) and jumped off the train.  Andrew saw him do it, but it happend so quickly.  We were both pretty shaken up by it, but now we have realized that we are only learning more from it.  The only things of value in the bag was Andrew's cell phone and old shuffle iPod.   Other than that it was only our clothes. Although it was sad to loose our things, it was more of a feeling of being violated. 
That's probably why it has taken so long to update the blog, because I was still trying to deal with having been stolen from.  In the morning we talked to the girls sitting next to us on the train about theft on the train. They all had their own stories.  One girl said her dad had everything he had taken from him when she was three on the train, and it really upset her.  Another girl had been molested in her sleep on the train.  There were six groups that went to different cities this weekend, and out of the six, three had people in them who had things stolen from them.  Travelling has been great,  but obviously some parts are really difficult.
We have decided to stay in Delhi for the weekend to recooperate from the last too weekends, and frankly I'm really looking forward to it. 
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jumazio on

Bucket list
I just saw (Netflix) the movie Bucket List and now going to India is on my bucket list. So I am learning from your experiences. I may come with some rat traps (the spring SNAP) type to put in my handbag so if some body tries to stick his hand in my handbag then would make me smile. What a cool trip. And I have always wondered where the DavisHippies got their clothes or even where the DavisHippies come from, now I know. Also the black cow like thing in one of your pictures looks almost Exactly like my mother in law.
Oh and we have all decided that Heather is a really good writer.

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