Varanasi, the Holy Place of Hinduism, Sunday, 12/2/18

Had an easy departure from Delhi this morning.  At the airport, security guards were checking tickets & passports at the outside doors before we could even enter the terminal building.  Once inside we found the Jet Airways domestic check-in.  It was a long line and took about 20 minutes before we reached a desk.  At the desk, they informed us of a chance for a cheap upgrade to Business Class, so we jumped on it.  It was great, with decent food, lots of room, etc.  It’ll be make it hard to go to the back of the plane on our later flights.

Our tour contact and driver are waiting and we are quickly delivered to the Radisson Hotel. Enroute, it’s obvious this is a more rural & agricultural area, at least on the drive into town.  The hotel, is nice, and we had two hours before we were picked up for our evening activity.  While we’re killing time in the coffee shop, I decided to walk next door to a silk weaving factory, recommended by our guide Delhi (he grew up in Varanasi).  Inside, there were the anticipated sales rooms, and a large room with some very old hand-operated looms for weaving the silk brocade patterns.  One of the looms was a two-man job, but they all looked very complex and time-consuming.

I was by myself, so I had time to watch them work and admire the patterns they were weaving. Eventually a salesman found me and walked me into a sales area where he explained some about their products.  The family had been in the business for 7 generations, and the work is beautiful, but it’s expensive.  I had to leave to catch our guide for our evening tour, but planned to visit again when we returned to the hotel.

We were picked up at 4:30, beginning the trip to Evening Aarti.  We had no idea what we were going to watch.  Our driver worked his way through some crazy traffic, dodging cattle, people, bikes, motorbikes, cars, and buses, as we drove toward the Ganges River. We had to get out and walk the last kilometer because of the huge crowds.  We finally came in full view of the river and all the activity.  It’s impossible to describe the sounds, and scenes on the bank as everyone prepared for the evening prayers.

Varanasi is the place where Hindu believers want to die and be cremated.  Our first activity at the river was to board a small boat which took us up the river to a Ghat (riverbank area) where bodies are being cremated. Cremations are taking place 24/7. As the boat moves closer, our guide describes the activities taking place…..washing the body before cremation, building the pyre and the burning, throwing the remaining bones into the river after the cremation, and so many other significant traditions for the mourning families.  It’s a dramatic sight as the sun sets.

Our next stop was to float off the bank in sight of the evening prayers, delivered by sets of priests in several different sections of the riverbank.  This was all taking place simultaneously, and each group had amplification and big crowds were ringing bells, and taking part.  The colors, the sounds, the smells, and the energy from the whole thing was amazing.

Our guide helped us leave a little before the ceremony ended to beat the crowds.  But the crowds departing were still crazy as we walked out, dodging all the oncoming motorbikes, rickshaws, and tuk-tuks, all going every direction.  Crazy!!!!

Back in the car, our driver worked his way back to the hotel.  It took about 30 minutes.  We went next door, to the silk-weaving factory to check out the products, eventually buying a few beautiful items.  Back in the room, we prep for our early trip out in the morning.  We’re scheduled to be picked up at 5:30 to travel back to the Ganges to observe the Hindu pilgrims bathing in the river.

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