Friday, December 13, 2013

Varanasi: A Summary

A few entries on our time in Varanasi…
It’s a lot harder to write a post about things that happened three weeks ago. This was the best I could do. A post from Bhopal will be coming in the next few days as the end of the semester is quickly approaching.

November 25:
After a long night, our train arrived in Varanasi. Every city we visit is very different from the last. Varanasi is no exception. The station was very crowded. We walked a short distance to get to the St. Mary’s Catholic Church, our home for the next few days. Varanasi is a holy city that sits on the banks of the Ganges River (Ganga). It is one of the oldest inhabited cities and it played an important role in the development of Buddhism. We met Father Emmanuel and then settled in for four hours of class on the history of India and the origins of Hinduism. That evening we went to the Ganga for evening prayers. The traffic in Varanasi is like nothing I’ve seen before: auto-rickshaws, rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians. We walked down to the Ganga from where we had parked. We walked in a long line, each of us fending for ourselves trying not to be run over. Eventually, we made it through the chaos and approached the ghats—the steps along the river. There was a lot to look at by the river—boats, kites, death rite rituals, tourists, people bathing. After hanging out for a while, the group reconvened for evening prayers. I associate praying with quiet and peacefulness, but these prayers were far from that. There were several men in front of the audience with a bell in one hand and incense in the other hand. They did a synchronized routine while bells chimed and music played. Since it’s difficult to describe, here’s a short 20 second clip of the evening prayers:

The ghats and river
 November 26:
I woke up at 5:00a for a sunrise boat ride on the Ganga. It was very peaceful, but also very cold. I dipped my hand in the river, so at least my hand is free of sins. There were quite a few other boats out on the river. People were already up bathing and doing laundry. We also saw a couple funeral pyres from a distance. Again, pictures work better than words:

Tia, me, and Meish on the sunrise boat ride

Boats on the river


Banks of the river
During the afternoon we visited four different Hindu temples—a Shiva temple, a Hanuman temple, a Ramayana temple, and a Goddess Temple. The Hanuman temple was the scariest because there were monkeys EVERYWHERE. But I think my favorite was the Goddess temple.

November 27:
I spent most of the day battling allergy-like symptoms, which I attribute to the smog and dust in the air. Father Emmanuel gave a lecture on Buddhism and then we saw Thai, Sri Lankan, Chinese, and Japanese temples. We also went to a museum that had a lot of statues of Buddha.

Here are some temple pictures:

November 28:
We had scheduled time to go shopping in Varanasi since this was our last day. I didn’t do any shopping, but just sat down by the river until it was time to go back to the church. We had an improvised Thanksgiving meal: mashed potatoes, curry, green beans, and cake and mango ice cream for dessert. Not too shabby. We went to the train station in the afternoon and made our way to Bhopal.

Thanks for reading!

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