Friday Oct 14, 2005 - day 15 - Varanasi - Kathy: 141 photos, Bob: 95 photos

            We had an ungodly early wake-up call at 4:15am.  We rushed to get ready, and went down to meet our bus.  The goal was to see the sunrise and ritual bathing at the Ganges.  I told Sujay that if God had wanted man to see the run rise, He or She would have made it come up two hours later.  He laughed. 

            When we got to the river, our guide bought some small coins worth about a penny, and gave each of us a stack.  We were told that it is a good thing to drop one in the baskets of each beggar.  These are the poorest of the poor, the sick people, the lepers and people who have come to Varanasi to die.  So as we walked down the tall steps in the dark, surrounded by chaos, we dropped coins into the pots of the poor.  It was much quieter than the night before.

            We took a few photos, but there wasn’t much light, so our cameras weren’t working well.

            Our group got onto the same kind of row boat we were on yesterday, and we were taken out onto the Ganges again.  From the boat, we could see various people, Sadhus and others, performing rituals like the ritual bathing. 


From the boat, we could see that the cremations were still being performed, and from the distance of the boat, we could take a few photos, but only if you’ve got a good zoom feature.

Of course, all these cremations require a great deal of wood, and we saw it stockpiled in huge piles everywhere by the riverbank.

After fifteen minutes, we could see the beautiful sunrise over the Ganges and fishing boats in the distance.

            We rowed up and down the west bank, taking photos of the ghats and watching the people doing their bathing. 


The ghats are steps leading down to the water where people gather and bathe.

            Eventually, we got off the boat near an old temple that had sunken into the mud because of years of flooding.  Someone called it the Leaning Tower of Varanasi.

            We started walking down the very narrow streets of Old Varanasi, which was a twisty maze of tiny crowded streets.

It reminded me of Old Town Jerusalem, but we also had to share the narrow streets with dogs and cows.

The streets were so narrow that we mostly had to walk single-file.  At one point, this nearly became our demise, as a big bull came walking very fast from a side street, nearly skewering some of the people in our group with his horns.

            Eventually we arrived at a special security checkpoint.  There were dozens of military soldiers armed with automatic weapons.  They were guarding a special protected area of the old city that contained the holiest temple of the Hindus.  Right next to this holy temple, there was one of the holiest mosques of Islam.  It turns out that the Hindus built this big, beautiful temple at that very spot, thousands of years ago.  Then the Muslim invaders came in, destroyed the temple and built a mosque at the same spot.  Later, after the Muslims got kicked out, the temple was rebuilt, but I think this destroying and rebuilding process happened several times.  At any rate, the temple and mosque now stand side-by-side.  The armed security guards ensure the temple is protected from Muslim militants who might want to blow it up again.  The thing is, the Muslims need to be able to enter the area to get to their mosque.  Therefore, no technology is allowed in the secure area, including cameras.  So we had to leave our cameras with Sujay, who waited outside the secured area with everyone’s bags.

            The temple was beautiful, with a massive tower at the top made of solid gold.  I wished I could take photos, but of course, our cameras were not with us.  We were not allowed to go into the temple.  Because it is considered so holy, only Hindus are allowed to go inside.  The best we could do is stand outside and peer inside the door.  What we saw was very beautiful and ornate.  The area was also very crowded, with hundreds of Hindus going in and out of the temple through the crowded streets.

            The mosque next door was also big and beautiful, but it was surrounded by massive thirty-foot (ten meter) high steel fences that looked like prison bars.  (That is just my estimate).  At the top of the fences was some serious looking prison-style barbed wire.  This fence protected the mosque from the Hindus who might want to damage it for revenge.  You may recall the incident a few years back where a bunch of Muslims bombed a passenger train or something, which sparked off a wave of violence where the Hindus tried to destroy a mosque.  At least that’s how I remember it.  I could be wrong.

            After our walk through Old Varanasi, we went back to the hotel and had free time.  Well, you know us:  I am married to Kathy “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” Peterson.  We decided to go back to the old town to go shopping for tourist trinkets after a short rest.  We talked one of our travel companions, Dorothy, into coming with us.

            So at the arranged time, we met Dorothy in the hotel lobby, and we hailed a motor-rickshaw, also known as a tuk-tuk.  At the end of the block, a strange man got into the front seat next to the driver.  He turned around and introduced himself as the driver’s brother.  He told us his name, but I don’t remember it.  On the ride back to the Old City, we got out and started walking around.  The man came with us, following us around and leading us around.  Some people might have been annoyed at this, but this guy was actually very friendly, helpful, courteous and kind.  At one point, we saw an old lady speak to him in Hindi.  He spoke back, then he walked over and helped her cross the street, which was every bit as much noise, chaos and confusion as before.

We thought that was very nice of him.  It still amazes me how cows and bulls can just sit calmly amid all the confusion of traffic, especially this city’s traffic.

            We told him what kind of shopping we wanted to do, and slowly, he led us back into the maze of Old Varanasi. 

I’ve got an Indian friend in Bahrain and her name is Deepti, so when I saw a dress shop called “Ruf and Tuf Deepti Dresses” I knew I had to send her a photo.  Maybe the Universe was telling me that Deepti is waiting for me to send her photos, and yes, she is “rough and tough.”  At least on her children!

Before long, we were hopelessly turned around, but he was there to guide us.  He kept a long distance ahead or behind us so that we weren’t feeling crowded or bothered by him.  He was not trying to sell us anything.  With his guidance, we visited several shops, but I don’t think we bought anything.  Well, Kathy bought a cheap Sari for a friend.  Eventually, he guided us back to the tuk-tuk and we asked him to take us back to the hotel by way of a shop called “The House of Kashmir.”  I was disappointed in the shop, so we left.

            We freshened up at the hotel then proceeded to our next destination.  Originally, we were supposed to visit a Buddhist temple called Sarnath, but for some reason, it was closed.  Therefore, we decided to switch our days around, and instead we visited a temple dedicated to Mother India.  I think this temple was commissioned by Mahatma Gandhi or something.  Gandhi somehow was involved anyway.  The “temple” was nothing more than a huge three-dimensional model of India and its surrounding areas, all to scale. 

Our city-guide used a laser pointer to show us which mountain was Mount Everest, and K2 (Kaytoo?), and where the Earthquake in Pakistan was.

            Afterward, we were taken to a silk factory.  There were four guys slaving in ungodly heat and humidity working on a piece of silk.  This was truly a sweat shop and we all felt sorry for them.  Right next door was the showroom, which was air-conditioned for the shoppers.  One of our companions, Harriet, modeled one of the beautiful Sari dresses for us. 

Strangely enough, their prices were not outrageous like the other shops.  Kathy and I actually bought some silk scarves to give as gifts.

            After that, we had the rest of the evening free, and it felt wonderful to just rest for a change.