A Travellerspoint blog

India

Sunrise and Train Rides

Sunrises anywhere are a welcome treat when traveling. And mornings for the three of us have been when we are at our prime (mind you we do the least amount of sleeping of anyone on this trip). We set out for sunrise on the Ganges first thing this morning. It is noticeably more quiet in the morning, however the usual suspects are still out trolling the streets- but this morning there was an elephant strolling through. It's starting to become less of a novelty to see all the creatures about...

Sunrise was a sight to see over the river. Just such a peaceful time.

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Sunrise on the Ganges

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The Ghats in the morning time

As promised- we hit up Phulwari (coming from the ghats, take your first right at the circle with the Baba Blacksheep sign. It is on the right about 50m in, in a courtyard, the face of the building is quite ornate. There were gentlemen selling yarn out front of it when we were there). After porridge with banana and pomegranate, boiled eggs, banana pancake, and a side of peanut butter for Ging (a lovely treat that she has been missing given her reaction!!) we decided that our mission for the day was to head to a silk factory as Chewy had told us that Varanasi is known for their silk work.

The lovely G6 really hit his stride his first day in India as he realized that his Hindi was much more fluent than he had thought it was going to be. Given this- he had managed to find a small shop in the bazaar (read: a lovely old gentleman's home) where he bough silk bed covers yesterday. We met up with him, Skinny and Curly to go check it out as we had tried to find some after breakfast and had gotten (a little) lost again. After a couple of chais sitting cross legged on the floor of this man's "shop", we had found what we were looking for...

We decided to return the favor to the boys by suggesting they come with us for dinner before our train to Orchha (an overnight train, so we figured we should have a bit of a feed before). It is becoming quite apparent to us that we seem to find a place in each city we are in that we latch on to. In Varanasi- its Phulwari. As predicted we order chana masala, palak paneer and a mixed veg curry. G6 orders ungodly amounts of food; Curly keeps it consistent with more pakora and Skinny has been sick for a few days and is only consuming processed white grain products. As explained to us by Chewy, liquor licenses in India are quite expensive, so most restaurants do not serve any alcohol. Not that we were after any- but just as a heads up.

Things got interesting after dinner. The Aussie Trio had made no secret of the fact that #1 the streets were a little hectic to navigate (the three of us are now seasoned pros we have been up and down this road so many times) and #2 they have zero interest in walking back to the hotel to head to the train. So as quickly as they decided that- we left, on thinking we had 30 minutes to hike back to meet the rest of the group.

The traffic was pure mayhem. Rush hour on steroids. Everything and everyone on any mode of transport possible piled together, beeping their horns. The three of us crawled over rickshaws, pushed through crowds, and snuck by the token cow n the middle of the madness. When we finally got to "our street" the traffic seemed to clear and we were able to stop at a cart to try out (and buy) cookies which looked and tasted much like biscotti. At this point- B brought it to our attention that the clock at the restaurant was wrong... We had 3 minutes to complete our journey, which was about a 15 minute walk away. Famous last words? L: "Moto-rickshaw?" B "Nope. Run."

So off we went. The three of us in our flip flops, with half a kilo of cookies, running through the streets of Varanasi. Now if we thought we were getting stared at before, we had no idea. The only thing stranger than 3 Caucasian girls in Varanasi is 3 of them running through the streets weaving in and out of people, around bicycles, passing rickshaws, all while laughing and carrying on about how ridiculous we must seem to all of these people. We made it back just past 5pm, but the Aussies... were no where in sight. Assuming every man for themselves is fine until you realize that three men might miss the train to Orchha and be stuck in Varanasi because you tried to be nice and take them to eat somewhere out of the ordinary.

Good news is: they appeared, only a little late. They had turned in completely the wrong direction when they got to the main street and luckily had the sense to catch a rickshaw to get them back to the hotel. Even better news: the Traveling Trio is now kicking ass and taking names in India.

Off to Orchha,
L, B & the Ging

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Posted by ellie nicole 12:11 Archived in India Comments (2)

Ganges and Ghats

If you haven't read the post on our first thoughts of India- I suggest you do. It will help frame a little more of our story from there...

After an early start (we are becoming Creatures of the morning... 630am dance parties and all) we decide to venture out to find out what India is all about. After a bit of a detour (we zigged when we should have zagged) we finally got to the ghats (Ghats are stairs which lead down to a river, and the ghat on the banks of the Ganges are quite significant as they hold spiritual meaning for life and death for the Hindu people. Many people will come once in their lifetime to take a Holy Dip in the Ganges to wash away their sins).

Much like the streets, anything and everything imaginable is on the ghats. Cows, dogs, beggars, goats and street children alike. Newly married couples are being paraded down the ghats by drums and dancing. New wives shrouded in red hooded saris, adorned with gold and jewels, are tied by a long scarf to their husband who leads them to the Ganges to be blessed. The three of us watched, confused, until we are told by a passer by what was going on (it's always so awkward staring at things that you know are being done for a purpose but you're not sure what).

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We wandered the alleys for the afternoon, trying to keep our bearings. Honestly the spidey-sense just could not kick in in this place. Once in the alleys by the ghats there are no panoramic markers to help aid your wandering. After weaving and hopping our way through crowds, mud and cows- we stopped and had a reprieve at Cafe Sala. It was a lovely bakery hidden away in the ghats. If I knew how we got there I would say, but there is no way I know how we got in- or out- of those streets! We enjoyed scones, boiled eggs and masala chai before deciding we should make our way back to the hotel to meet the group for our sunset flower ceremony and evening prayer.

Spidey-sense- fail. B and I picked a landmark to remember our turn home, and it turns out (we found out later) there are two identical "Baba Blacksheep" signs in busy intersections near the ghats. Predictably we got lost again, heading in the opposite direction of our hotel. We'll get this figured out eventually. We did however find a restaurant for some chai, which had our favourite breakfast items and chana masala and palak paneer on the menu... We vowed to go back.

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Our group took an evening boat ride on the Ganges to witness the evening prayer and flower ceremony. As I mentioned previously, the Ganges holds significant meaning for life and death. Many people are cremated on the shores of the Ganges, and then their ashes are sent into the river. It was a very different sensation to observe the cremation of life on open fire at the banks of a river which holds so much more meaning to a culture than it does to us. The ghat was piled high with wood and bodies cloaked by orange tarps lie in waiting nearby.

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The evening prayer was a spectacle. From the river, boats upon boats lined the shore to observe the evening prayer from the water. Spectators at best. On the shore- mass amounts of people packed into the open square we had witnessed the marriage ritual earlier in the day, together in prayer. Young children carrying large pots of hot chai hopped from boat to boat, serving us all steaming hot cups of magical goodness. Oh how we are starting to love our chai!!

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The Ghats during the evening prayer

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Chewy, lighting our candles for the flower ceremony

After the ceremony, we headed back to the hotel (Hotel Pallavi) and had a late dinner of Thali (basically a variety of veg curries and roti/chipati/naan). The hotel is in a decent location (off the main street, about a 15 minute walk to the Old Town and the ghats). It is relatively clean, they offer laundry service (which we took advantage of and were very pleased with), and has a wicked little restaurant on the corner beside the gate to the hotel which serves fantastic Thali. The beds are however reasonably uncomfortable- but when in Rome, right?

Another unforgettable day-
The Creatures of the Morning

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Posted by ellie nicole 12:01 Archived in India Tagged sunset flower hotel river varanasi ghats ceremony evening prayer pallavi Comments (0)

First thoughts of Incredible India

27 °C

How do you put into words an experience that cannot be compared to anything else you have ever encountered in your life? Emotions, smells, sights- all of these things which are used to convey a message- when everything is so raw it is impossible to lead a person to vicariously experience something through your words. That is India. Unless you have been here, you won't understand. And if you have- remember that feeling of awe and bewilderment you experienced the first time you encountered this shear mass of culture. How would you explain it?

Varanasi is dry and dusty, the buildings are all mostly a shade of brown or grey. Whether built that color or faded by the sunlight over time, the city is monochromatic. Cows are in every ditch, corner, sidewalk and street- completely unaware of the swarm of activity going on around them. The roads are lined with moto-rickshaws, pedal rickshaws, pedal bikes, motorcycles, scooters and people. People are everywhere, some in traditional Hindu or Muslim dress, others in Western wears, and they are mostly men. They are sitting in small open store fronts or crouching in the street having their hair cut and a blade shave. They are carrying crates of chickens or pushing carts full of fresh vegetables. Those not doing anything are watching. Patiently observing everything that is going on as they appear to be somehow isolated from the intensity buzzing around in front of them. The streets are dirty, paper and plastic garbage mainly, fresh and dried cow dung scattered through the street. In the base of the 5 to 10 story buildings are store fronts which seem barely large enough to fit whatever goods may be for sell or trade. Every third or fourth shop is selling cooked food from large metal pots over propane stoves- bright yellow curries, fried goods drenched in honey syrups or pots full of lentils and thick vegetable gravies. The air is filled with the sound of the traffic- horns from cars, rickshaws and bikes, the shouting of neighbors passing across busy streets, the crackle of food frying and the rampant clatter of feet in every direction.

We are being watched by every person in the street. Some curious, others friendly and a few judgmental passers by. We are a strange sight in a sea of Pan-Asian faces. Our light skin, different colored hair, our clothing, our laughter and chatter all attracting the attention of those who had not noticed us passing through their World. And we are passing through their World- we are staring as much as them- but less at their physical appearance and more about the way of life in a country of 1.25 billion people.

Side streets are narrow and dark, even in the day light. Monkeys scurry along the balconies unphased by anyone else. The city is one of the oldest living cities, streets are not built in uniform fashion; they wind left and right at a whim. Parts are muddy and wet from water being thrown from a nearby food stall, the signs for local business appearing possibly to have been completed 10-15 years prior- and neglected ever since. The alleys are as wide as your arms splayed open, and barefoot laborers are pushing carts full of bricks, and the smell of musk hangs in the dusty air.

And so this is India. I can't believe we took so long to get here.

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Speechless and excited,
L

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Posted by ellie nicole 22:06 Archived in India Tagged india varanasi impressions Comments (0)

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