Friday Oct 14, 2005 - day 15 - Varanasi - Kathy: 141 photos, Bob: 95 photos
We had an ungodly early wake-up call at . We rushed to
get ready, and went down to meet our bus.
The goal was to see the sunrise and ritual bathing at the
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
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
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
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
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
Our city-guide used a laser
pointer to show us which mountain 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.