A Visit to Mother Ganges

Trip Start Aug 03, 2008
Trip End Aug 18, 2009

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Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Well, the food took a turn for the worse as I lay in bed all day long not able to move except when I had to run to the bathroom. The pain of India has sent in. It happened the day after we arrived in Varanasi. We arrived from Agra looking forward to finding somewhere to take meditation classes. I had actually convinced Bill to give it a try, well, I learned that I just had to ask. So how exactly did we get from Agra to Varanasi because as Bill puts it, I have to have my word on transportation. We sat in the Agra station waiting for our train to come with all the other tourists with our ticket in hand that we had purchased the day before. Bill went to figure out where the train car that our tickets would be after we put all of our bags down. As I waited, I kept noticing everyone going to this table and getting info, so when he returned I told him to go ask them. He's standing there for a while and then he follows a guy and I sit there and sit there until Bill quickly says, "They've cancelled our ticket saying it's no good, and told me I have to buy new ones." And then he was gone as I sat there trying to figure out what that meant, but I saw Bill walk back up the other way and back and still had no idea what was going on. By this point, I was glad our train was late, which I later learn is generally the case in India, and I told him to go talk to that guy. Finally, Bill comes back and we have new tickets in the sleeper class even though we had paid for the 2nd class tickets. We were downgraded as it turns out we had bought waiting list tickets as the car was full though we hadn't realized that. So I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the sleeper car, all I did know was that there wasn't any AC.

So the sleeper car looked a bit like the AC car we had to Agra. There are three seats that when all laid down become a three bunk bed car. When you're sitting, the second bunk folds to be the seat back. When we got on this train, everyone still had the seats out, we were so tired wondering how would we get any sleep. Finally, one of the guys asked if we were ready to get sleep and put the beds down.

I ended up climbing up to the top which I wasn't looking forward to and Bill took the bottom one so he could look after our bags. I ended up lucky as I was able to get more sleep as Bill was woken up many times by people either wanting to sit or a security guard taking a break breathing cigarette smoke into his face.

So by around 12, we FINALLY arrive. Once we try to find transport to town, Bill argues once again with all the drivers. They just mob and surround you, we found the best way is to go to the pre paid government booths but this booth turned out to be a guy standing with a receipt book. So rather than see Bill almost punch another guy, we took the receipt and off we went to town.

Bill had picked out a hotel from Lonely Planet, and when we arrived, it seemed like everyone one else on our train had picked out the same hotel. Therefore, no AC rooms where left. After a long train train ride with no AC, knowing that they other travelers were in the higher classes, I wanted to scream with envy. Man that monster can be evil because even though we could still get a room, I was so angry.

We managed to get showers, and head down to the restaurant as we were in no mood for finding any food. The only problem being that the hotel was painting, so being hungry, I was getting high off the paint fumes. But we got food and the basics were taken care of. It's amazing how hard that can be when traveling, just simply trying to find somewhere to sleep, eat, drink, and get some clothes washed. It makes you really appreciate home where those are the things I normally take for granted.

Anyhow, we decide to take a walk along the famous Ganges that can cure anything or at least they throw everything in there hoping it does. From the Lonely Planet description, I get the feeling that the narrow alley ways of the old city areas sound a little like the walk ways of Venice. The only difference being the trash, the shit, the smell, the motorbikes, the cows all walking along these narrow walkways leading to the Ghats that take you down to the Ganges.

We walked a little ways along the ghats at the side of the Ganges until a group of girls came up to us trying to sell us a candle in a flower that we could lite and put into the river to bring good luck to anyone we wanted. They followed us for quite a ways, one of the girls tried to teach me a bit of Hindu, but she said the words so fast, they went in but never came back out. We came to another Ghat and decided to walk up hoping the girls wouldn't keep following us. The same girl gave one last sale attempt, but I still kept saying no. So instead her reply is, "You have very bad luck now."

However, at the moment, we had good luck as at the top of that Ghat was a meditation center. At first, I was a little unsure as we saw a sign but had no idea how to get in. Some other people saw us and started calling for the guy to come out. Next thing I knew we were being ushered into a garden by a white guy in a white tank top and white looking hospital scrub style pants as he was finishing up a bowl of soup.

He introduced himself as Leo. He also explained that he could teach us meditation and we could do about three lessons and then he'd send us off as he put it, "You don't need to be addicted to me." But we could find a starting point on how to meditate. I looked at Bill to see what he thought, and he seemed to like him as well. So we set up a class time for the next morning. Leo also told us there would be a festival that night where the Indians would throw statues of their gods that they made into the Ganges. That sounded interesting to.

Bill and I went back to the hotel to regroup, found a restaurant from Lonely Planet near the area of the ceremony, and took off to find a rig shaw to take us. Things were going fine until the road was block for the festival and we had to start on foot for the restaurant. The problem being, we weren't entirely sure were it was because we just thought the driver would take us and didn't bring the book with us.

Things went figured south when my stomach started to have a sudden bad reaction to the malaria pill and I start throwing up by the side of the road. Though looking at the side of the road here with all the trash, shit, and smells that go with it is enough to make you want to throw up. So we figure now we should try to get back to the hotel, as I turn around and see one of the statues being parade by with tons of Indian men dancing behind it. My head starts to whirl.

We keep walking trying to find another street where we can a find ride back, but just as we are finally about to get a ride back, I start to feel better. We'd already come this far, I didn't want to turn around just yet. So instead of a ride back, we get a guide from that group that takes us back to where we started and then through so many alley ways, we knew we would never have found the restaurant on our own. But finally after another 25 min walk, from which we were told would be 5 mins, we made it to the restaurant intended.

We climbed our way up the stairs to the rooftop restaurant, where we ate and ate once the food finally came. As in India, there's a good 45 mins before you get your food waiting period. And then your food comes one by one. But nonetheless, we ate and had a pretty good view of the river. The only problem was not much happened as the boats just sat along the river. Towards the end of our meal, some of the statues did make there was onto the boats and we could see some where in the water and that was it. So we decided to call it a night and make our way back to the hotel so we could be up for our morning mediation class.

I never made it to morning mediation class as I stayed close to the bathroom as the pain in my stomach grew more intense as the day went on. Bill tried to call the mediation place, but the phone numbers we had didn't work. So he walked down there, and Leo gave him some medicine for me and said meditation would probably help. Bill arranged for later that afternoon, but by the time that came around, I was throwing up as well. So Bill walked back to give the message, and Leo wasn't there yet but his house mate took the message. Later, that night, Leo called to check up and we said we'd try to make it the next day for the afternoon session.

I finally made it to that session though my stomach was still gurgling away. So Leo is a Dutch man living in India who started teaching meditation on a beach called Silence Beach. And so the place he owned was called Silence Hall which seems quite fitting. He realized there was a need for people to find a way to see their "true potential" in this crazed world. What I'm starting to realize after his classes and other meditation we've done is that the hard part might be actually knowing what you want. Meditation seems to help quite the mind to give it a chance to figure it out because if you don't know what you want, how can you even hope to achieve it? Yes, in India I'm finding my reflective or maybe even spiritual side, but it's hard not to because without it, you get lost in all this chaos. It's hard to find a spot in India that isn't chaotic from all the people on the street to the power regularly going out on that street as well. The cows milling along the road as I tried to avoid one, it pelted me in the stomach and Bill not knowing one was behind him got grazed along his back as the cow stumbled along swaying and then swayed into a rack of clothes later down the street. An Indian man rushes over to add that the, "Cow giving you cow massage, that's good luck." Or literally pushing it upon him.

After our first night without AC, Bill worked on getting us a nicer room especially because my stomach was feeling so bad. So we basically got a suite with a sliding door that separated a living room area from the bed which came in handy for Bill as I spent most of my next few days in the bedroom part trying to sleep out whatever I had eaten or drunk, who knows. Bill spent some time also walking along the Ganges and seeing other temples that he will describe as I slept and got up for our mediation classes and an occasionally room service order.


Varnasi is the holiest Hindu city in the world, because it is said that the waters of the Ganges here can end the cycle of rebirth. We stayed near Assi Ghat, which was the southern most one. The wide variety of people along the ghats is incredible. There is a whole village of homeless and holy people living in tents and wrecked boats along the stairs to the river. The private temples that once proudly decorated the river are chained up and falling apart. The people that you see hear cover the full range: swiming, bathing, washing clothes, washing cows, giving boat rides to tourist, and even cremating the dead. Yes there is a whole ghat dedicated to open air cremations. Harishchandra Ghat, has bodies wrapped in linen burning on piles of wood. There are about 6 or 7 places set aside and while I was there 3 piles of ashes were cooling down as a cow wandered across them looking for food. I guess, since the cow is holy it is good luck, but I was amazed that no one was doing anything to deter this.

The main temple in town is not open to non Hindu's so during my daily walks while Michelle rested I visited some smaller temples. The one that made the biggest impression was the Durga Temple. There were a steady stream of traffic entering this temple as I went. The high spire made it visble from some distance so I walked there and came up from the back. I was shocked, yes even in India, to see a huge pile of trash with some cows grazing on it. A group of children playing cricket in an area they had cleaned. Well dressed Indian's just walked through this to the temple to say a quick prayer and head home.

The only other really interesting thing was wandering around the narrow alley ways of the old town or Varnasi. These streets are hardly wide enough for a cow and believe me there are plenty of them pushing there way through, not to mention the occasional motor cycle driver, who feels that punching a hole in the exhaust does not make his bike loud enough, so he will drive around with his finger on the horn. It was interesting to wander through these streets, but I will always remember them because of Michelle. I described them too her and told her how I had gotten throughly turned around there she said they sound like Venice and I said not really. Later when she was feeling better we went to a resturant hidden in this maze of streets. After asking directions like 10 times we finally got there. On the way out Michelle takes the lead and we get out in 5 minutes tops. When we are back on the main street she says, "I guess you are right they are not like Venice, these smell like an outhouse and the trash is piled up everywhere."

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