Varanasi (fka Benares)


Boats on the Ganges

Or maybe Banaras.  I’m not certain which former spelling is correct.  I’ve seen it both ways.  However, since it is now called Varanasi, perhaps the fka spelling is a moot point.  Varanasi sits on the confluence of two tributaries of the Ganges, the Varuna and the Assi, hence Varanasi.  The Varuna appears to still be a river but, as we went across the Assi, our guide said that it is now a “sewer outlet,” which doesn’t sound good whatever it might  mean.

The day began as promised at 6:15 am.  Joan and I had the presence of mind to save the steamed rice and yogurt from our room service dinner to eat as a pre-breakfast before starting out.  A relatively short ride to the hopping off point to walk down to the edge of the Ganges. At 6:30 am, the walk was very atmospheric:  Fires, smoke, chai stands doing a brisk business and many people walking towards the river through the half-light of dawn.

Rajesh told us that in Varanasi one has to use all one’s senses when walking and be able to look in all directions at once.  So very true; as you approach the ghats (the steps and associated platforms that lead down to the river shore) there are steps of all all rises and runs and irregularities as well as lots of trash, cow poo and other squishy things.  A third eye would have been helpful.

We were on the river for at least an hour and it was wonderful.  To see the shore with all of its humanity, semi-dilapidated palaces, guest houses, cremation ghats, and moored boats from the river as everything was beginning to wake up was peculiarly moving.  I’m glad that we were on our own little boat instead of one of the kind of bus boats; it was very insulating and nice.

We had purchased two little lanterns before we pushed off from shore:  Little pie tin shaped containers filled with flowers and a tiny candle.  You light the candle and set it afloat with your wishes.  Both Joan and I thought of our loved ones who are no longer with us as we set our frail craft on the waters of mother Ganga and watched them drift away.

Back on shore, we plunged into the narrow lanes of the old town, or Chowk Bazaar.  And, when I say narrow, I mean really narrow.  And when Rajesh said dirty, he meant really dirty.  Lots of cows and associated cowsh.  Also very atmospheric.  Lots of trash but a street sweeper on almost every lane, cleaning up.  It must be an endless task.

We took a spin through the expansive grounds of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), of which our guide is a graduate (2 BAs: Accounting and Finance, and Education; a MA in Accounting and Finance).  Apparently, Prime Minister Modi was going to visit the university today to be present at some “giveaway” of stuff to people with disabilities.  However, I just read in “The Times of India” that the PM’s movement plan* was somehow changed and, perhaps, the stop at the BHU helipad and transport to the DLW was being changed by the SPG team camping there.  The article went on to explain that the IG/DIG Varanasi range SK Bhagat admitted that a temporary helipad had been erected at DLW.  Whoa!!  And this is the English edition.

Back to the hotel for breakfast and a short rest before heading out to Sarnath at 10:45. Sarnath is a holy place for Buddhists as it is where the Buddha first preached to his five friends.

Back to Varanasi for a trip to a silk weaving establishment where we saw gorgeous brocades being woven on hand looms.

Back to the hotel for lunch, where we still are as I type this.  Resting up for a 4:45 pm departure back to the river for another boat ride to watch a ceremony of some sort.  Perhaps more details will be forthcoming or perhaps not; it all depends on my energy level tonight.

*I would be happy with any kind of a movement plan.


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