Varanasi Days

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
Trip End Jul 15, 2008

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Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

September 5, 2007
Varanasi, India
We arrived in Varanasi about 5 AM without much sleep so it has been 24 hours of hard traveling. We are staying at the Hotel Haifa for 1100R per night with A/C and bathroom. The Hotel Haifa, for being within meters of the Assi Ghat on the Ganges, is not too bad of a place in itself; it's just everything around it. Everything in India, so far, smells of feces and dried urine and even though the hotel management has men on every floor on their hands and knees scrubbing 24/7 the odor won't go away. And it is always men doing the work, even if it is housekeeping like cleaning or washing clothes. This may account for the general dingy smelly state of India. Women apparently don't do any work outside the home. We did see a couple women on a road crew and in the post office, but assume this is a government experiment. We also never see woman driving any kind of vehicle on the roads even peddle bikes. Granted our experience is still very limited.
Varanasi is said to be the spiritual center of Indian Hinduism. And if living serenely in filth and chaos is a goal of Hindu spirituality this is certainly the place attain it. We've come to Varanasi for the sole purpose of seeing human bodies being burned on the ghats and the remains ceremoniously committed to the Great Mother Ganges. We are not disappointed. There is a great deal of ceremony involved in the preparation of the body and the fire; and after the cremation itself the family continues with strict mourning customs for many days afterwards. Cremation etiquette does not allow strangers to be present on the burning ghat during the cremation because that place is reserved for the male family members of the deceased and the funeral directors. Photo taking is not allowed, at least not up close where someone can stop you. But the whole ceremony can be viewed at a distance from roof top restaurants overlooking the burning ghats or from boats on the Ganges. Hiring a good boatman who can explain the process is the best way to view the cremations, especially since he can bring the boat up so close you could almost touch the bodies soaking in the water before they are burned. We paid our boat man 1500R which is much more than normal, but he did a very good job of explaining what was going on. We were easy marks also for the silk textile sellers of Varanasi, but Irina said the weaving and embroidery were of fine quality. So you know what you're getting for Christmas.
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