made it to varanassi!
*We made it to “Varanassi!*”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varanasi (aka Banaras)
*We arrived in the dark, because the train was 3 hrs. late. We had a really funny train ride with a group of 60-something Sikh men farmers* on their way to a wedding in Calcutta. They were brothers and friends, and most of their wives had gone ahead of them, so they were having a good ol’ time and trying to get Sean to drink their cheap whiskey! They were a funny group of characters!
The train station here was crowded with people, though it wasn’t too crazy, or at least it was similar to the numbers of families sleeping on the hard floors of the Beijing train station, so it didn’t feel to unusual. We decided to have someone from the guest house meet us with an auto-rickshaw, because it was dark, and the auto-rickshaws can only go so far, then you have to wind your way thru narrow (like elbows-distance apart) streets–really like small alleys, and it’s very twisty and complicated, so it was great to just follow the tall skinny Indian guy who came to get us! I kicked over *several piles of cow poop* in the dark. Ick!….
We had a delicious dinner at the Ganga Fuji Restaurant, a below ground place that has classical music performance in the evenings. The man who owns it said his parents named it Ganga Fuji because the Ganga is a very holy river, and Mt. Fuji is a very holy mountain, and mountains and water together are a very good thing. Unfortunately, he helped a friend open a hotel up the street, but then the friend stole his hotel name and opened a restaurant there, too, which isn’t so nice, and so that has caused some confusion for guidebooks and travellers. So keep that in mind when you visit!
How it works in the old part of Varanasi is that there is a series of *ghats* along the river for a stretch,and many of the guest houses are along here. “Ghat”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghats , I’m not certain, but I think means a place with steps down to the river where people can pray and bathe in the ganges. Also at these ghats in particular is where people bring their loved ones who have died to be cremated, and they receive instant *moksha*, or liberation from the cycle of life-death (reincarnation.) Sometimes I think, why would you want to be liberated from it, it’s pretty interesting, but that of course would not be the honorable thing to decide for your family member here! We passed the “burning ghat” last night and this morning, where there are huge piles of wood. Nothing was happening as far as we could tell, just the people working on the wood piles. If you’d like to know more about the ghats here, there is a good documentary: _Ganges: River to Heaven._ I think that’s the right name. As I recall from the movie, the people “allowed” to work at the ghats are only the lowest caste people, because “higher” people would not deal with the dead bodies, etc. So all-in-all, Varanasi should be an intense place.
So far today we found the *”International Music Centre Ashram”* and luckily there is a series of Indian Classical music concerts this week, so we will go every night we are here. They guy there, Sudeep, also said he will help Sean track down and ancient instrument he is hoping to find (gopichand or ektala, I think, but I may be recalling it incorrectly). We met two Spanish ladies on the way who are taking a chanting class which we may go to tommorrow…..at any rate we are very excited about the concerts! We missed a super big concert/festival that was here 10 days ago. Alas! But we did see the Dali Lama so….all is not lost. ;)