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rglongpre’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 29 Jan 2008

Location: Varanasi, India

MapI woke up early as the train was stopped only to find it in the middle of nowhere. I was able to get a few photos of dawn and villagers by the train tracks. We were there for almost two hours, at a village called Surjawan. After the first hour, the train moved up the track about 100 metres and then fifteen minutes later decided to retreat about 75 metres. In the predawn, I saw a few children out with a small flashlights scurrying around as though trying to catch frogs or something. As dawn approached I saw small fires being lighten in the open buildings barely visible. Soon I saw smoke curling out from the edges of the roof which looked like it was canvas in the faint light. As it got lighter more people came out including two small girls who gathered a number of plastic bags which they used to build a small fire in order to warm up. Men and women appeared and relieved themselves not far from the tracks. It was interesting watching a village come to life. Eventually we finally got moving.

We arrived in Varanasi at 9:00 am., where our rep had been waiting for us since 4:30 in the morning. Yes, we were more than four hours late in our arrival time. We went straight to our hotel. Well, straight is a loose term. We squeezed between all manner of transport until we could go no further then we set off on foot down alleys that even a rickshaw couldn’t go down in order to reach our hotel on the banks of the Ganges River. We had a break until 3:30 before we had to go on our preplanned tour.

Not able to wait and needing to get out for some exercise, we took a walking tour of the ghats going south of our hotel. It was unbelievable! You just can’t imagine the power of religion until you see it in action here. Following our stroll along the ghats of the Ganges River, I took a rest for an hour before our tour and felt better. Yes, I was still slightly under the weather with my stomach.

Our guide took us to the largest university in Asia, a Hindu university. In the centre of the university is a temple to Shiva, the New Vishwanatha Temple, the largest such temple in Varanasi. While there, I learnt about the symbolism (Sanskrit characters) that represents the trinity of Hindusim and the quaternity of Hindu life. On the way back to the Ganges we stopped for a quick photo of a red Hindu temple, the Durga Temple that wasn’t open to the public, a temple to one of the Hindu goddesses. We could see that the temple was very busy with services. Next on the agenda was a private boat ride on the river, just Maureen and I with the guide and the boatman. Usually, the Ganges River tour is done in a boat with about fifteen to twenty people. It was dark before the ride was over. We watched as people set little candles on a bed of marigolds, afloat on the Ganges River, watched the fires of several cremations, and near the end of our tour, stopped off the shoreline in order to listen and watch a performance called Puja. The performers stood on low, small altar-like platform at the edge of the ghat. They performed an interesting series of movements with bells and oil lamps while musicians played traditional instruments

As we returned to our guest house, we passed tiny temples where the Aarti was being performed by a solitary holy man with no one listening, no one noting the rituals. It was time for a late supper so we went to the rooftop restaurant to eat. The sounds of the bells, the chants continued. The day has almost been overwhelming if that is possible – the power of religion and the weakness of humans.