Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don't Fall In

Day 415
I was up before 5 am and down stairs for the beginning of my tour 10 minutes after 5. After a short motorbike ride I was at the Ganges. I had booked a sunrise boat tour of the ghats. The concrete promenade was surprisingly busy with people considering the early hour. The boat I was in was really rickety and I shared it with a Spanish couple with limited English.

The Ganges is one of the holiest rivers in India and Varanasi is the city of Shiva making this the most sacred place in India to bath and to die. Dying here liberates Hindu's from the cycle of birth and death. In font of the hats ancient religious traditions take place in public.

After watching some sari clad women bath we moved onto a more crowded ghat, filled with children splashing around. We also passed some people preforming yoga. Next up came the clothes washing ghats. These were not very busy. Some people gave offerings of flowers and candles to the gods. There were only 3 people in our boat, but others were overloaded with tour groups. I'm glad that I had more privacy. I have no idea how they managed to get any good pictures.

Manikarnika is the main burning ghat, about 50 bodies are cremated here each day. After being carried on a bamboo stretcher thru the tiny ally's of old Varanasi and then doused in Ganges water. The type of wood used is dependent on how much money the family has. The wood wallahs (I don't know what else to call them) are experts at figuring out just how much wood each body needs so that none is wasted. It's possible to watch the cremations from above, but I had decided against this the night before. It seemed like an intrusion to me. Instead I got some other peoples pictures off of the internet. Up close photography is not allowed, so once again I borrowed some I found online. Women are not allowed to attend the cremations as they are considered to be too emotional. Not everyone is cremated. Children and pregnant women are floated down the river itself.

The ghats cover about a 7 km stretch. Thirty sewers discharge into the river along this same stretch. The Ganges is so polluted that the water is septic, no oxygen exits. Just the thought of getting in the water is repulsive to me. When its hot like it is here even small sores can take ages to heal and get infected easily. Even now I'm nursing an infected blister and an infected bed bug bite, or cluster of them. I think that if the Ganges water touched them my leg would fall right off.

Recently the government has been trying to clean up the river. They've opened three sewage treatment plants and an electric crematorium. These don't work very well thought. They often cause blackouts. I think that there were at least 6 a day here during my stay. When this happens sewage backs up into the streets. India hasn't smelled great from the beginning, but Varanasi stinks. There are sever programs in the works now to help. Hopefully they will soon be given approval and they will be put into action before edit is too late.

After an hour on the river and some stunning pictures I rested with a cup of chai while waiting for my guide. I was then whisked away on a motorbike to see some temples.

He told me that the first place was the monkey temple, but I don't think so. There were monkeys and people praying, I just think that it had another name. No photos were allowed.

I was also given the wrong name of the second temple. It was called Tulsi Manas, but I only figured this out with my guidebooks help. Photography was also prohibited. This was a modern temple built in 1964. The walls were engraved from top to bottom with verses from the Ram Charit Manas, sorta like the Hendi Bible.

The last temple was the Durga Temple and also the monkey temple, but I didn't really see any monkeys. The whole building is a blood red color and the spire was quite nice. It was built in the 1 century. Durga is the mean form of Parvati (Shiva's consort and Gfaneshe's mother) so goats are often sacrificed here.

THe last stop of hte tour was the mandatory silk facotry. I've seen so many of these that I didn't even bother with a picture. I was asked if I wanted to give it a try, but I knew that there would be a large tip in that so I declined. I felt bad at the showroom because he kept pulling out scarf after scarf and there wasn't anyway I was buying any. I think that I already own enough scarves to open up my own shop! When he realized that I was a lost cause I helped him fold everything up.

On the way back ot the hotel a puppy got too close to the motorbike and I nicked it a bit with my foot. I felt terrible, but I'm sure that it was ok. When I got back to the hotel it was time for breakfast and I ordered there to save time. Afterwards I headed to the internet cafe to work on the blog for some time. When I was done I was hungry again and spent some time looking for a specific German bakery. It took me quite a bit of time as there were several misleading fakes. The fondue was good, but I couldn't have any ice cream as it had melted during the power cuts.

After showering and resting a bit I got myself packed up and headed out. The power was out again so one of the hotel guys was kind enough to walk me to the main street as the alley was so very dark. I wanted a tuk tuk for speed but ended up with a cyclo instead. At the station I couldn't find my train number anywhere and no one as being helpful. I finally did the Indian think and just pushed my way to the front of the line using my pack to shove people away. At one point a man shoved me really hard and it didn't hurt but I decided to use it and acted very injured. I got to the front in no time. I was told to sit and then come back in an hour. This wasn't good, my train was meant to leave in 5 minutes.

What could I do besides sit though. I picked a piece of floor with everyone else where I could see the train info board. After about 10 minutes a security guard came and told me to move to an area where there were more westerners. He then went and found out that my train was very late. He suggested that I go to platform 5 where there was a ladies only waiting room right next to the station masters office. Once there I found out that I my train should arrive around 10:30 pm. Just about 2 hours late.

I then sat in the ladies waiting room. One girl just stat there and starred at me. She didn't ask for money nor did she look like she needed it. After about an hour of this is was getting really creepy. The power kept cutting out and I would grab my things close and hope for the best.

At about 10:15 I asked about my train again and was given a platform number. I never heard and announcement. Soon the train was there and in no time I was on board. I had oped for a ladies only compartment. A man came and asked if I would like to join him, but I declined. The other woman in my compartment said tearful goodbyes through the window. I felt quite bad for her.

After locking all of my thinks up on the upper birth I fell into a restless sleep. With the lateness of the train I had no idea what time I would actually get to Satna and I didn't want to miss it.

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