Friday, January 4, 2008

Varanasi - some impressions (part 1 of 2)

I've been out in Benaras, roaming around since 5:45 in the morning.
Coming out so early in the morning can be a bit scary, as the hotels
are generally inside a maze of narrow gullies. Getting out to the road
that leads to the bathing ghats on the banks of the Ganga river is
where the fun starts.

A popular tourist activity(especially with foreign tourists) is the
early morning boat ride on the ghat. I don't find anybody to share a
boat, so negotiate for 150 bucks for a 1 hour 15 minute ride. Well
worth the money. There is no great sunrise view here, but the serene
views of the ghats in the minimally foggy morning are excellent. The
boy gives some helpful explanations about the ghats. Corpses are burnt
at harishchandra ghat, using what looks like very less amount of wood.
There's apparently an electric crematorium as well.

Returning back from the ghats, I reach the entrance of the Vishwanath
temple. No mobiles, no cameras allowed inside. I keep my belongings at
a locker provided by a close-by shop. He refuses to accept money, but
insists I buy prasad. Being an atheist, I am equally determined not to
buy prasad. Finally I have to return. For the devout, Varanasi, has
many temples to spend the whole day on. There's a fort near Ramnagar
too, but that's easy to skip :-)

Very close to the hotel, an old man is making khichdi in a very large
cauldron. The thought of eating local khichdi instead of the regular
puri, samosa crosses my mind, and I promptly ask him what time the
khichdi will be ready. His reply is not coherent, but I get the
impression that he is displeased. Later, the hotel manager tells me
that the khichdi is made by 'khichdi baba', using donations to feed
the beggars at the ghats!

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