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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Varanasi

After a great night's sleep on the train (really, that's a great way to travel!) we arrived in Varanasi. Varanasi is known to be one of those places that you will either love or hate, truly an India experience.

I loved it!

Varanasi is considered one of the holiest cities in the world. The city was  built along the Ganges and the city is filled with ghats (holy bathing steps that lead into the river). One of the ghats is known as the "burning ghat" where the deceased are cremated. I was informed that actually only the wealthy are able to afford cremation. I had always thought everyone in India was cremated.

Upon arriving in Varanasi we tried again for our ongoing tickets to Jaipur, Agra or New Delhi with no luck.  Sadly this meant half of our total time in Varanasi would be spent trying to figure out how to leave Varanasi.

We checked into out hotel which was really nice. The room was very clean, had hot water and a great view. In addition the staff was extremely friendly and helpful.  We spent our day wandering around to look at some temples. We ended up hiring a rickshaw and the driver took us to the three main temples and then waited for us at each stop while we looked around.

The city is packed with Ayurvedic clinics and yoga classes. A must see city on any yogi's tour trough India. There is a small cafe called Aum cafe that serves auyervedic snacks and meals. They also offer ayurvedic massages and they do piercings. I had decided that I wanted to get my nose pierced (something I'd been thinking about for quite a while but wasn't allowed to do while working at Starbucks). This cafe is run by an American women so I thought it would be a good place to go. We went and enjoyed a snack but we weren't able to get appointments for anything until after our planned departure from Varanasi, so I had to sadly go on with an undecorated nose.

We went to a travel agent after our tour of the temples to see if we could get some help with our transportation situation.  It turns out part of the problem was that we were doing our tour during the Kumba Mela, a big event with yogi's and spiritual seekers from all over the world travelling to the Ganges to bath in the river. It's a ritual that only happens once every few years. I don't know that much about it but I think the location changes regularly as well so it only happens in each city once every 12 years or so. Anyway, this event created huge problems for Angela and me. The travel agent suggested we hire a car to drive us to Agra. We felt defeated and decided this was our only way out of Varanasi.  We both would have been happy to stay in Varanasi longer, but there were no hotel rooms available past our scheduled stay. We paid our fee to the travel agent to hire a car and then went to our hotel. We told our concierge what we were doing and he asked how much we paid. When we told him (I can't remember the price now but I think it was around $150 US each) he got really angry and told us to go back to the travel agent and demand our money back. He then helped us to call another agent who would give us a more fair price (which I think ended up being more like $100 each).

We settled all that and headed out to dinner. We found an Arabian place that served hummus and pita. I was so happy to get some hummus, that was the best meal I'd had in a long time! (Now that I'm home I'm making my own hummus and using my favorite beer in it!)






The next morning we took a boat on the Ganges to see the ghats. We went all the way down to the burning ghat, and then came back. Angela and another girl who had jumped in to our boat got out at the main ghat to walk back through town. I decided to stay on the boat because I thought it would be faster and I still needed to shower at the hotel before our long car ride to Agra. As the boatsman slowly rowed me back I could see some storm clouds coming our way. I saw flashes of lightening but they were far off in the distance so I thought we had plenty of time before the storm would reach us. At one point I looked over to the ghats and saw Angela walking past!  She was walking faster than the boat was rowing!  The storm came hard and fast and the boatsman rowed to the side and he and I jumped out of the boat looking for cover. Angela and I ended up under the same cover and tried to make our way back to the hotel. We were drenched!

We got our stuff together and checked out of our hotel. We found our car and settled in for a very long day...

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