Tag Archives: holy

Varanasi, part deux

21 Nov

good morning mother ganga

It has been a great couple of days in Varanasi.  My favorite parts (and pretty alI did) was walking along the ghats, people watching and going to the festival in the evening.  But, I did take a morning boat ride on the Ghanges.  Here are some pictures from that:

morning boat ride

morning boat ride

For those of you who have never been to India, it is hard to describe.  But I made a some observations that capture a little of what India, or Varanasi, is. Varanasi is…..

  • Straight razor shaves on the street
  • Boys flying kites
  • Dips in the ghanges
  • Shared fear (and laughter) of being trampled by a cow
  • Holiness everywhere
  • Marigold strands
  • Boys diving into the river
  • Women smiling back at me (after I catch them staring – and return the stare with a smile)
  • Cobras in baskets (oh hell no!  how do you know it won’t come towards me???)
  • Grinning sadhus in orange
  • The stench of piss and cow shit
  • Skinny little dogs everywhere
  • Shrines and little temples tucked into every street
  • People, strangers, who genuinely look out for me in crowds
  • Beautiful, bedazzling, colorful saris
  • Pollution and trash everywhere
  • People sleeping just about anywhere

The last night I was there was the big festival.  There were 24 Brahmins (priests) performing the puja on the water front – though every ghat had their own ceremony.  During the afternoon each ghat was preparing with laying out the oil lamps and mandelas on the pavement.

oil lamps for the festival

even though the river is polluted….

pouring oil in to prepare

I found a spot in front of the main stage but that was definitely one of the most crowded areas.  It was so busy and crazy!  Thousands of people started to fill the ghats two hours before anything even started.

The area I was started to fill up quickly, but fortunately the people around me were looking out for me- from the sassy teenage girl tapping people on the shoulder who stood in front of us and elbowed me in the side reminding me to pray to the group of twenty-something men who simultaneously made fun of me and offered for me to stand in front of them so I could see (and who immediately stopped their laughter and jokes once the puja started) to the policeman who wad basically hitting people with his baton to get them out of the walkway but exchanged smiles with me and made sure I could see!

and this is before it got crowded!

the masses

Following the ceremony, I attempted to walk down the ghats to see some of the oil lamps but the crowd was intense and I was immediately being knocked around by the crowd.  I heard a voice next to me saying ‘just stay with me, follow me’.  Not wanting to be trampled by the crowd, I put my trust in this guy and he safely pulled us to the side out of the crowd of thousands trying to go in either direction.

This guy introduced himself as babu, but that is the word for little boy [which cracks me up every time I hear someone shout ‘hey, babu!’] so I didn’t really believe him but he invited me to a small Shiva ceremony that he and some friends were going to have soon.

Though it sounded sketch, I thought I would check it out.  The shrine turned out to be right on the ghats but hidden away – I passed it a dozen times but never noticed it before.  When I got there three men were preparing for the ceremony – putting flower strands on all the ‘statues’ [my bad in advance for not knowing the correct terminology].  Babu had me help light oil lamps which lined the shrine and sprinkle marigold petals in the main area.  A family came in at one point and made an offering of rice and prayed.  But Babu and his buddies were waiting for the Brahmin to show up to perform the ceremony and since it was late I bide my farewells (it was about 10 at that point and I felt strange being in the shrine with a bunch of dudes, holy as it might be).  But I wish I had pictures of the shrine to show you as it was so beautiful.

And that my friends was my adventures in Varanasi!

family that befriended me



8 Nov

Stepping out of my guesthouse and into the narrow alley ways was …. well, it was a bit of a shock.  Glad I had been to India before!  It took me a few minutes to get my bearings and to remember to ignore or just say no to so many of the requests coming my way (music lessons?  tea?  silk?  hashish?  boat ride?  see the cremations?  see my store, no you don’t need to buy?  where you from, madame?  how are you today?  need a male companion?)

alley leading down to the ganges

I got directions from my guesthouse to head down to the Ganges – and there I headed.  I got turned around in the many alley ways and ended up on the main road – full of stores. It was a pretty insane re-introduction to India, though it got me on my feet pretty quickly.  I was followed for a short distance – though as soon as I stood next to the police (which seem to be at a lot of the intersections) he disappeared.  I guess it pays to not be super friendly sometimes!  🙂

I tried to make my way down to the Ganges – but got stymied by a procession of people (which I later discovered — when I saw the beginning of the procession — was a typical procession of people headed down to the Ganges with a body to be cremated).  But eventually I made it down there — and then spent my time wandering the ghats –there is a total of 80 of these bathing steps that go into the Ganges.   Here is where a lot of the propositioning came about while I walked along the river.

boats for hire

not sure what this is… but one of the many religious icons on the ghats

clothes drying

bathing in the Ganga

mural along one of the ghats

boat ride for pilgrams — they loved waving up to me!

My best moment though was when two young girls called me over to talk — we talked about school (their favorite class is english… and science.. and math…. and all of them!  when asked which class they did not like?  none of them!  um…. something tells me they weren’t telling me the truth! 🙂 and we took some pictures.  they were very cute.  And I thought that they were going to be my first interaction that did not have an ulterior motive — but no, one of them called over their dad to see if I wanted a boat ride.  But – none-the-less,  they were pretty great!  I told them I would share their picture and their names with my students!

my new friends!

peace, yo

Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in India for Hindus.  They pilgrimmage here to wash away their sins or cremate their loved ones.  I saw lots of people washing in the water (who knew Indian men liked tiny tighty-whiteys so much?!), doing their laundry and of course – cremations.  Also, you can take a boat ride out on the Ganges – which I hope to do during morning time.

Turns out that I am here during a big festival, the Ganga Mahotsav.  Last night was a large event – a musical concert and then a large puja on the river front.  I was sitting alone on these stairs trying to figure out what was happening – and a family came and sat next to me.  Mom offered me a cookie (though Lonely Planet has me all paranoid about accepting food from people b/c of some folks were drugged on trains and all their stuff was stolen) and the son told me about the festival.  They had traveled 3 days to get here with the goal of bathing once in the Ghanges.  They were perplexed why I would be traveling alone – but were happy enough to sit with me and tell me about the puja that would begin.

The actual ceremony was pretty amazing — full of lights and chanting and bells and incense.  I would say there were thousands of people there — out in boats or up on the stairs.  I found a seat right below where the puja was happening (that was after I was totally ripped off by some lady to put a diya (earthen lamp – candle with marigold in a banana leaf – i think….) in the water. She then proceeded to do the same with every tourist in the area…. but the upside was she lead us to a river front seat).  in a few nights, there is the culminating event – which will have thousands of diyas floating down the river and chants and incense — the program says that it will ‘make you believe that you are in heaven, witnessing a celestial happening’ – definitely something to look forward to.

preparing for the puja

Today was spent taking care of business — found an ATM that worked (well with the help of my new buddy, a security guy at the bank who laughed at me ‘reading’ hindi (which is what happens when you see the same screen in english and in hindi OVER and OVER again!), got a new SIM card for my phone and spent 4 frustrating hours trying to figure out trains and the rest of my trip (so much for doing with the flow!  who knew, in a country of a billion people, you should make your train reservations WELL in advance!  like 3 months in advance…. not quite sure what will happen since i am waitlisted for every possible train I wanted to take….)

I picked up a great book today that i cannot wait to sit on the steps of one of the ghats and read tomorrow – called The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.  I can already tell it is one of those books I want to read slowly so that it will not end.  But — I will leave you with this image about the Mother Ganga (ghanges):

“No – I urge you not to dip in the Ganga, unless you want your mouth full of feces, straw, soggy parts of human bodies, buffalo carrion, and seven different kinds of industrial acids.”

Oh, India – where else would that be one of the holiest sites?


20 Oct

Yesterday, I visited Bhaktapur, a medieval city outside of Kathmandu.  It is a beautiful old city surrounded by rice fields with 3 main squares.  There were lots of narrow cobblestone streets to wander through, finding small statues and temples along the way.

I got a ride there with one of my friend’s co-workers – who dropped me off and told me to head straight to the gate (you have to pay $15 to enter — which is pretty steep — but the main part of the city is protected and they do  maintain/restore the buildings with the fee). I wandered in among red-brick houses until i reached a square–over a cup of milk tea, I was able to figure out where I was. From that point, I ambled for close to 3 hours — following a walking tour suggested by lonely planet which provided me with a great overview of the old city.

As I mentioned, there are three main squares — each with great sculptures and temples.  But wandering the alleyways and back streets, where I rarely saw another tourist, was a real treat.  I wandered into one temple courtyard – which was being used by a spinner, a wood-whittler who was making miniature rocking horses, and several women winnowing rice (shaking the rice out onto tarps – i don’t know what winnowing means exactly).  An old man who was sitting in the shade invited me to have a seat, which I did — glad to be out of the sun.  I sat there for twenty minutes or so, sharing the silence and observing the quiet action.

From there, I wandered on  — in another spot near the river, I found a couple working with the rice — he was hitting the rice stalks and she was spreading the rice out onto the tarps.  He invited me to help winnow the rice (I think) and so I tried — doing it all wrong, she corrected me — but then told me that there were bugs (or something itchy in there) and so I might not want to.  Or so…. I think, maybe she told me.  Damn, wish i could communicate!

winnowing rice

rice fields

I had lunch in a former temple — the view of the Nyatapola temple made up for the high prices and the so-so food.  But it was fun to sit and people watch.  A woman from the Ukraine shared my table with me — she and her husband are in Nepal (Kathmandu and Bakhtapur) for 3 days and then onto Bhutan for 4 days — she told me that would be enough time to see Bhutan. (?!)

But all of these temples and such are great….  but what Bhaktapur is _really_ known for is it’s CURD!  (translation for many of you:  yogurt!)  You might be thinking – whatever — how good is yogurt, really?  Well, let me tell you — it is AMAZING!  I stopped in one place to have a bowl — and it was good.  it was really good.  But, then I read in the book that you should get it on the street at one of the hole-in-the-wall places — so I did.  I got another bowl of curd (for half the price as the other one) in a little earthenware bowl (sorry – no picture of this one!) and ate that bowl up too.  It really is so rich and creamy and almost sweet and kind of tart and really, just amazing.  i  wish i could have that every day for breakfast… and for dessert!

And then, it was time to go home…  it was my first time figuring out transportation all by myself on this trip!!  Katherine had always been with me the other times (on this trip) to figure out transportation.  So, taking a deep breath and reading (and rereading) my guidebook and studying the map, off I went in search of the bus station.  Following several sets of directions which I half understood “just go straight and then wait harpumph…”.  Finally, many people questioned later — I found it!  Or at least, the buddy on the bus (each bus driver has a buddy — a guy who collects the money and rides in the doorway and shouts indistinguishable words that might mean cities or… something) told me it was.  So off we went.  Fortunately, I recognized a lot of the journey – so at least I knew I was headed in the right direction!  I wasn’t sure where to get off — so I kept waiting for buddy to give me the signal.  I thought to myself that this is great practice in trust – in truly believing in people’s best intentions – and that they will look out for me.

We arrived in a bustling bus yard – taxis, buses, people, bikes, motos, carts with fruits and veggies, trash, stray dogs. Buddy gave me a  vague point to Patan and off I wandered.  I asked someone for the zoo (which is a great landmark since there is only one!) – but here in Nepal, you need to be judicious about who you ask for directions — as people will respond, even if they don’t know, as they do not want to be rude.

Heading down the street – I gradually started to recognize where I was and was able to arrive ‘home’.  And how great that was — to come back to a space that feels comfortable and warm and safe.  I realize how much I like having a home – a place to come back to.  Which, of course, begs the question — why would i give up my home for this year of travel?  Or what makes a home for me?  I suppose that answer is something I need to discover about myself this year.

To finish off, here are some little glimpses of my past days:

  • Roof top yoga, sun salutations with the rising sun
  • Three sheep and a lamb running down the street near my friend’s house (she lives in the city which begs the question – where did they come from?!)
  • early morning runs – seeing people playing badminton, basketball and out walking and running; kids heading to school, women preparing for their days.

I think that I am going to go to Jazzmandu tomorrow night — and then probably go to Pokhara next week for a visit (I was going to work on a farm but the timing is off for it to be really meaningful as I would only be there about 3 days there with transportation time and all…) and then Lisa and I will do something next weekend — so it looks like I will be making a move out of Nepal around the first of the month (probably head to Chitwan to see some elephants and maybe rhinos and tigers (!!!) and then down to Varanasi, India from there).  Part of me wants to just stay here – I love catching up with an old friend and spending time together – but it is hard to believe that it will be November soon!  Time to push myself and head into India – I know part of my reluctance has to do with heading out on my own and fear in the unknown.  I guess all the more reason to push myself into it!

Hope that you are all well!  I love hearing from you!

Take care — love  – aurora