Goodnight Ganges

We arrived in the 5,000 year old city of Varanasi mid afternoon where we were met by our guide, Santos. Another stud! We walked with him to a car and immediately drove to drop off our bags at our hotel. So, I mentioned driving was bad in India before; driving in Varanasi is worse! On our drive we commented on the driving and he informed us there are no true traffic laws in Varanasi, only three rules:

1. Good horn.
2. Good brake.
3. Good luck!

Ha. He wasn’t kidding! We even hit a pedestrian while driving! Not badly. But it was the weirdest moment. Our driver suddenly turned the corner and this man who had been crossing the road couldn’t help but walk into the car. Neither the driver nor pedestrian looked particularly pleased with each other. Bryan and I just gave eachother a—did that really just happen—look and smuggled a serious fit of laughs. Only in India would someone hit a pedestrian and drive away.  Awkward...

We arrived at the hotel early evening, went and grabbed a bite to eat (we avoided the train food…as would most), and headed out to see the Brahmans put the river Ganges to sleep—something that is done every single night! I love religion in action. I love seeing the devotion people have to their Gods (33 million in the case of Hinduism) and beliefs. Seeing people worship and live faithfully to their beliefs was one of my favorite parts of Israel and was definitely one of my favorite parts of Varanasi.

Everyone in Varanasi kept telling us “Welcome to the real India”. You know, I love the "real India". Of all the touristy things we did I'm going to be bold and say it: Varanasi was my favorite. Yes the Taj Mahal was a must—but seeing the people living true to their beliefs was something special; it was truly beautiful.

In the time we dropped our bags off and eaten the weather changed dramatically to torrential rain. The rains don’t stop the people from putting the Ganges to sleep, neither did it stop us. We headed out with Santos with our rain jackets in hand. What had just recently been sweltering hot streets was now mid calf deep rivers of water.

We drove as far as we could, then we walked. I had to hold my skirt up as we waded through the spontaneous rivers. We walked about a mile to the river. Beautiful. Amazing. Incredible. I loved every second of it.

Varanasi is one the most sacred places within the Hindu religion. In Hinduism, everyone wants to die in Varanasi. It is said that the cycle of reincarnation only ends when if you pass in Varanasi. The river itself is particularly sacred: every individual must bathe in the Ganges at least once in their lifetime. Bathing in the river cleans one of all of their sins. Thus every day you can see people bathing in the Ganges. The banks of the river are all lined with stairs so that people can enter the river and be free of their sins. Only in a few spots are the stairs replaced with flat concrete in order to do laundry and dry their clothes. It is interesting, apparently it does not work to bathe in the river at night (after the ritual), however, as the Brahmans put the mother, or the Ganges to sleep each evening.

It was amazing to watch this ritual of putting the Ganges to sleep. Santos informed us there was a much smaller crowd because of the rain; Bryan and I couldn’t help but think how devoted everyone was as hundreds of people still came out to see the river put to sleep.

The blessing and ritual began; Brahmans in matching apparel with pink shirts together led the practice. The Brahmans each stood on a temple and together went through motions with objects that represent the five elements of the body turning 45 degrees and repeating each motion in order to put all parts of the river to sleep.

They used fire, incense, a duster-like object, and a number of other items. There too were other men who stood nearby with gongs playing a steady beat the entire ritual; one particular man with a gong was so into it that he even looked as though he was jamming to his beat. You could tell he really loved it; I loved it too!

The rain seemed forgotten to everyone as we all watched mesmerized.  

And of course we got quite wet:
Hot right?!

As we left we were again surrounded by eager street vendors and can I just say street vendors are some of the most brilliant and comical of people. So many vendors approached us and practically shoved items in our faces,

“You like?”
“No thank you.”
“No look—just look. You don’t have to buy anything.”
“No thank you.”
“You want post card?”
“No thank you.”
“I give you special price.”
“No thank you.”
20 minutes later….same person
“You want now?”
“No thank you.” …

Then there was the sweetest little boy wanted me to buy this strange incense stuff; I said no thank you to which he responded “come back tomorrow?” Though I told him “No thank you” about one hundred times he remained persistent. Finally I said, “Maybe” to which he immediately responded with a stern face “No maybe. Promise”. He was a little stud. Here’s the thing. I’ve been advised numerous times to just ignore street vendors and they’ll go away. But I can’t. If someone addresses me I cannot ignore them; I feel too rude. I think it’s snooty. I’d rather say “No thank you” a million times than to ignore anyone!

We waded back to the car. And to be honest, it was rather refreshing to have rain after all of the heat.

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