Varanasi - A Holy City

Thursday, October 22, 2015
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
After a VERY long sleeper train ride without much sleep, we made it Varanasi this morning at about 7am. We took our first auto rickshaw ride from the train station to our hotel. Luckily all of our rooms were ready and we had a couple of hours to shower and nap before we started our tour of the city. Let me tell you, we were more than ready to get our room. Jaime didn't get hardly any sleep on the train ride, and I fell asleep ok, but woke up about 2am to use the restroom and couldn't fall back asleep. The restrooms on the train were ok Just super smelly, so again it was nice to arrive at our hotel. We didn't have time to actually nap, just freshen up. 
 We then met our group for an early morning tour of the city . Our hotel is just a few blocks away from the River Ganges, so we walked down the road to the Holy River. We walked along the ghats and saw many people bathing in the river. This is what they do to cleanse themselves. People come from all over just to be able to wash themselves in the Ganges. This is also where people cremate those who have passed. Out of respect, we of course did not take any pictures of this, but we did see several fires burning and our tour guide confirmed these were families cremating the deceased. Then, priests come and do a ceremony and the family then spreads the ashes in the river.
 Our tour guide is full of such amazing information and has explained the Hindu religion and customs so well, I wish I could explain it better and do it justice. But it is quite amazing to see the dedication and respect Hindus have for both the living and the dead. Now, this has been the hottest day so far. Since we are by the water now, we have noticed quite the concentration of bugs. Fun story: last night after our boat ride, we got back to our hotel room and I had a major itch on my head. So i scratched my hair, and a rather large grasshopper jumped out of it. I had already taken my contacts out and didn't have my glasses on yet, so I though some dirt or perhaps a leaf flew out of my hair so I bent down to pick it up. That was when the grasshopper hopped, and I screamed which of course freaked Jaime out, he had no idea what was happening. But, he took care of it for me . ;)
 Anyways...after our walk along the river we went to a little shop in this tiny back alley and met with one of Kuldeep's (our tour guide) friends who taught us the details of shopping for fabrics in the market. We learned out to tell the difference between real silk, pashmina, and cashmere. They even gave us free samosas and Chai Tea. It was super fun and of course an opportunity to buy items. Which we did because this shop owner was not pushy, just super nice and accommodating. I think the free samosas and tea put everybody in a buying mood. Every single person bought some souvenirs from here. We then went to a restaurant as a group for a "snack" which turned out to be quite a large meal. Jaime and I were both super hungry, but thank goodness we shared this plate. We got a taste of a ton of different Indian dishes. (See picutre) And it was about $5 US for the meal and our two sodas. We are getting pretty spoiled with the cheap prices here. I am dreading paying American prices for the Indian food at home. Ha ha. 
 We then caught a cycle rickshaw back to the hotel and got ready for the sunset boat ride on the Ganges . This was quite the experience. So calm and peaceful on the water. We learned more about the morning and evening rituals that happen on this river and the fact that people from all over India come to this very site to be a part of it. We got the chance to release a candle and marigold flowers onto the river. You set this in the water and make a wish. Very peaceful and calming. To end the evening we pulled our boat up to one of the ghats and got to witness the evening prayers. There were literally thousands upon thousands of people here. In boats, and on the land participating in what Kuldeep said was basically a long prayer worshiping the Mother Ganges. He also said that this happens every single night. Very cool to see all of this firsthand. By this time it was about 8pm, and since I had been awake since pretty much 2am, I was done for the day.The bugs were also out of control. Most of the group went out to dinner, but we were still full from lunch and Jaime was super tired as well. We called it a super early night. We have to wake up at 5am to be ready for the sunrise boat ride, so it all worked out. Looking forward to the morning ride on the Ganges. 
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Sounds amazing! That sucks about the bugs though :(
I guess you'll get that anywhere there's water.
Great photos!