Varanasi

Varanasi is all about the River Ganges. We were on the river for sunset yesterday and were there again for sunrise today.

Departure from the hotel was set for 5:30 am so we were awake at 5:00 am to prepare. We had coffee in the room and I ate a banana to provide a base for my morning medication.

Traffic was lighter at that early hour and our tuk tuks had few delays on the way to the river. They dropped us near the river and in the same location as a couple of large tourist coaches. We joined the crowd walking the rest of the way to the river and down the ghat.

We paused for a while to watch a lone priest moving various objects around in a seeming reprise of parts of the ceremony from last night. There was a woman behind him pulling on a string to ring bells on the frame above. There were people around but not in anything like the numbers of last night.

At the foot of the ghat we boarded our boat, the same one we had been on last night, and took to the water. We cruised out a little way to watch the action on the shore as the eastern sky lightened and the sun rose illuminating the city on the western bank. There was mist or smoke in the sky and it was heavy enough near the horizon that it took some time for the sun to make its appearance. There were already people along the shore bathing in the river, a process that is more about religion than hygiene.

Once the sun had risen we went back to shore. Along the way we passed another Hindu morning ceremony using apparatus similar to what we had seen last night with a gong instead of a bell.

We climbed up the ghat and took an excursion through the narrow winding passages, too narrow to be considered streets or even lanes, of the old town. Despite the early hour it was already becoming busy with people setting about their daily business. Pedestrians, cows, dogs, bicycle carts with loads of wood for pyres or bricks, and motorcycles all mixed in the narrow passages. At one point we encountered a queue of people that seemed to extend for 100 m or more around various turns. Ruby informed us they were queueing for access to a significant but small temple.

By then we had completed a loop around the streets and found our way back to another point on the river where our boat was waiting. We had no real idea where we had been and would have been completely lost without a guide.

Back on the water we cruised about for a little longer, watching the groups of early morning bathers. By that time there were more of them and most of them appeared to approach the water with enthusiasm, splashing water on each other to help ensure proper coverage. Some immersed themselves completely. Many went in fully clothed and took off some of the clothing once it was wet. We saw a few soaping themselves or their clothing to ensure a proper cleaning. Except in rare parts where there was debris floating on the surface, the water looked clear but what microscopic or dissolved contaminants it contained we don’t know.

It was close to 8:00 am when we went ashore again and walked back to find tuk tuks waiting to take us to the hotel. We ate breakfast there and then went back to our room to rest.

Majella went out in the middle of the day with Bahareh to explore the shopping mall. She returned without having bought anything but Bahareh was a more successful shopper.

We went out mid-afternoon for a short walk. Majella wondered about buying ice cream from a vendor on the road. I was dubious unless they were packaged which she subsequently said they were. Instead we bought cornettos, about half the normal size, and a Cadbury chocolate at a store in a nearby side street.

At 6:00 pm we all met in the lobby to go out for dinner but first there was an opportunity to change any larger denomination Indian currency (500 or 2000 rupees) for 100 rupee notes which are widely accepted in Nepal. That was a precaution against the money changers at the border not being open. Because I had withdrawn from an ATM on Saturday when the hotel could not do a card transaction I had several 500 rupee notes that I traded for a fat wad of 100 rupee notes.

Dinner was at Lemon Grass, a restaurant in what seemed to be a better kept part of the city. Majella asked about the Hong Kong chicken and was persuaded to have Afghan curry chicken instead with her mango lassi. I ordered Banarasi chicken, which the waiter suggested was dry, with a Kingfisher beer. We had steamed rice to share and could really have managed with just one of the meals. Majella’s curry was mild but more than she could manage. My chicken was moist enough to mix with the rice and a bit spicier than hers. I managed to eat it all but was feeling quite full.

There was an option to go to the supermarket on the way back but we had enough provisions for the journey tomorrow and had our tuk tuk go directly to the hotel. We needed an early night so we could be in the lobby at 4:00 to go to the train.

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