Drinking lassi down in Varanasi

After a rather epic journey from Nepal in great company, Marine and Romain from Nice and Mikesh from NZ, encompassing bus, taxi, auto-rickshaw, train (unreserved 2nd class ie. the Indian local carriage, hard seats, no lighting and lots of curious locals) and another auto-rickshaw we reached the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges, or Ganga as they say here.

We were forewarned via Lonely Planet and fellow travellers that Varanasi would be intense. So we booked a hotel a little above our regular cheapo option: Hotel Ganges View, and very nice it was too. A proper bed and a room adorned with peacocks, lots of peacocks. Duncan likes peacocks. A lovely haven from the noise, smells, hawkers, and Delhi-belly incite-full lassis that I was to encounter.

Walking along the ghats is fascinating; a people / goat / buffalo / cow / dog / cricket match watching paradise.

And then you reach the burning ghats, wood stockpiled in anticipation of the impending cremations. Apparently sandalwood is the most expensive. And there they are; in front of you, loved ones being cremated after being doused ritually in the Ganga and covered in wood and garlands.

It didn't shock, it was quite peaceful but we didn't hang around for long as it felt a little intrusive observing, that however is probably just my western paranoia.

The following morning we woke at dawn and took a boat along the banks of the river, a hive of activity. Morning worship, bathing, clothes washing, shaving, yoga, meditation and more worship. Lots of worship.

That night it was Diwali, the Hindu 'Festival of Lights', leading Lord Rama home from exile. Everyone was out in their Sunday Best, new clothes and sarees, bought especially for the occasion.

Our hotel and most buildings lit butter lamps and neon lights and the fireworks continued until dawn. A dawn which was rudely interrupted by my first bout of Delhi-belly - it had to happen. The hotel kindly extended our check-out time for me to recover, and then to Agra and the Taj Mahal!


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