Varanasi (Benares)

After our wild dunk into the world of Indian train sleeper cars, we were whisked into the holiest Hindu city in the wold by a 27 years-old Japanese girl and her 20 years-old Indian boyfriend. They led us into the maze-like streets near the Ganges river. Down steps that almost make Angkor Wat’s stairs seem mundane…almost. After dodging cows, dogs, motorcycles, monkeys, bicycles and donkey carts we get to a point on the waterfront where the Raja Ghat is visible. Our friends point…it is over there. You can make it from here. Hmmm…

After the floods of the rainy season the lower half of the Ganges River stairs are covered in dense mud. At the time of our arrival, not all of the mud had been removed. The largest section of unremoved-as-yet mud lay between us and the Raja Ghat, next to which sat our guest house for the evening. So that is what my previous “Hmmm…” was referring to.
We got lost. Again.

Streets of Banares.
But this time instead of illegally breaking into the back of a train station, we had to crawl back up the riverside stairs, dodge more donkey carts/motos/bikes/monkeys, and just as we almost made it to what we hoped was our guest house, maneuver through a heard of water buffalo in an ally no more that 12 feet wide. Needless to say, we weren’t thrilled about where Lonely Planet had led us…
…until we actually found it!!! It was the best guest house that we stayed in. And nevermind the heard of water buffalo. In our lost state, we wandered in the back ally. The front ally only had donkey carts/motos/bikes/monkeys, no herds of large bovines. =)
The Ganges River

This city was amazing. So many different religions fit together like tiny puzzle pieces. Banares was everything I was told it would be. That documentary I saw in college was dead on! It didn’t even have to glorify it. The Ganges is the dirtiest river in the world.

In the waters of the Ganges you find:
* dogs and water buffalo lounging
* tourists taking sun-rise boat rides to view the Ghats (crematoriums)
* floating flower-candles
* burning pyres with wrapped bodies in them
* people washing their clothes
* people washing themselves
* bloated corpses floating in the water
* holy men sitting on the steps
* elderly people slowly climbing up/down to purify themselves in the river as they have done every day for too many years to count.
It was amazing!

Bathing/Praying Women
Woman selling prayer candles on river.
We took the boat ride. I watched a ceremony at night that ended with hundreds of flower-candles placed into the river. We visited Buddhist Temples, Ghats, and a Hindu temple and university. We took a bicycle tuk-tuk. And (almost the most exciting thing) we didn’t get lost finding the train station this time!!! And again, we were off. This time to Agra and the Taj Mahal.
FYI: for those who decide to travel to India, it is common for cows to wander in and out of random places. Just in Varanasi we saw cows in store front doorways, inside the train station, poking their heads into temples to escape the rain, and sleeping in the middle of the already over-crowded streets!!! That is right, sleeping. And people just go around them. It is part of the Hindu/Buddhist attitude of co-habitation.
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