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tappers’s Travel Diary

Monday, 08 May 2006

Location: Varanasi, India

MapWell, well, well...

So much has happened since i last wrote - but thankfully all has been fun & have had no major traumas as yet!

After two days in Delhi - i decided it was time to get out so decided to head east to Varanasi, the holiest city in India and located right on the banks of the river Ganges! Arriving at New Delhi train station in the middle of the night was NO FUN at all - imagine the scene of platforms that stretch for about a third of a mile (no lie) and a train that has more than twenty four carriages!! Plus you are trying to find your carriage & seat number when the train stops for only a few minutes - the biggest problem being the 1000s of people pushing for the same train!!! But thankfully i am a Canterbury boy so just used my excellent pushing skills (and sharp elbows) to get myself onto the train just in time for departure! The overnight train was not so bad, and at least i had a bed to sleep on.

Train arrived at Varanasi 2 hours late, and i hopped on an auto-rickshaw to the hotel. Only problem being that the streets on Varanasi are nothing more than a labrynth and no vehicles are allowed near the river front. So after a time i just had to shoulder my pack and walk through the maze of streets to find the hotel - thankfully it wasn't too bad & the sight of the first site of the river Ganges was truly mesmorising!

Varanasi is the complete opposite of Delhi - in the fact that it is very religious and traditional, the people have a strong sense of family and a seemilgy strong connection with nature. Varanasi consists of the river ganges - on one side is a desert leading into jungle, and on the otherside is the city and the ghats which lead into the river for people to bath, swim, and wash! Behind the river are the endless streets consisting mainly of houses and shops! The city itself is very strange in the fact that it has little tourist infastructure which means that everything is very traditional, and it seems as if you have walked into a world untouched for hundreds of years!

Many strange sights were seen on the riverbanks - including an Indian guru who wouldn't stop shoving a real live cobra towards my face, i will admit that it was terrifying. Add to that the rabid dogs which roam the streets in packs, making all wildlife experiences so far very unpleasant!

The most interesting and spiritual part of the ghats is that you have the oppurtunity of watching the bodies of dead Hindus being bathed in the Ganges and then burned on huge funeral pyres of sandlewood! The wood is carefully weighed so that only the exact amount needed to burn the body will be used (roughly 200kg). To see the shrouded bodies being burned constantly throughout the day and night is not as freaky as you would think - and is actually quite a calm and contemplative process. There are seven types of bodies that can't be burned: children, pregnant women, snake bite victims, leaprosy victims, smallpox victims, diseased people, and animals. These bodies are just tied to a stone and dropped into the Ganges - which means that there are literally thousands of bodies under the water not to mention the man eating crocodiles and dolphins (thats right - i said MAN EATING DOLPHINS!!) Why anyone would want to swim in the Ganges is beyond me as it is really dirty and does smell!!

Th only problem with Varanasi was the constant power blackouts which could occur at anytime and last four hours on end - trust me trying to sleep in 48 degrees heat with no fan is an impossible task.

In Varanasi i also took a boat ride on the Ganges, and took a trip to the ancient city of Sarnath where buddah is said to have preached his first sermon - this was a beautiful area consisting of a large stupa carved in designs of animals and swastika which was also encased in gold (little of which remained). Monks make pilgrimage from all over the world to partake in puja at the stupa (basically walking circuits of its base whilst in deep meditation).

On the last evening in Varanasi i watched the ceremony of the ganges - which involved seven monks chanting, dancing, waving fire and incence in celebration of the river. This was finalised by placing hundreds of candles into the water to float down stream - a very beautiful sight!! Thougn the walk back along the ghats in the pitch dark was slighlt scary as you coulnd't see the homeless Indians sleeping on the path!

Am now back in Delhi after taking the horrendous night train - 18 hours in total, which was 100% dull BUT at least i am here in time to catch my flight to Goa tomorrow!