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Published: October 31st 2008
Here I am again, in India! Varanasi this time.
I arrived about a week ago and landed in a guest house that looked really nice on the internet but is somewhat more basic in person.... I wanted a room big enough to do yoga, I got it, but of course it's also big enough for other critters to live in too... Mostly ants, but also a nice gecko that probably eats the ants. But it's fun when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is try to find the gecko! It's a little game. The place is not a 5 star hotel but the family offers 5 star hospitality. So I decided to stay there. It's a real indian experience, with 4 generations living together. I wanted to take hindi lessons there too but unfortunately I have been sick since I got here and haven't found the energy to learn anything...
I spent a lot of time sleeping in my room, but I also managed to visit a little bit of Varanasi. The highlight was certainly the boat trip on the river during Diwali festival. Seeing the ghats from the boat, lighting candles and sending them off on the water, watching the ceremony, and mostly seeing the burning ghats in the dark with all the temples around is a sight that can't easily be described. It's all the atmosphere that comes with it, the feeling of surreality.... Varanasi is a city where people come to die and you can feel it in the air (actually the smell of the Ganges may have a little something to do with it...). It is a powerful place, and I yet have to spend more time around the ghats to experience it.
Varanasi has also an incredible number or cows, buffalos and dogs. And an incredible number of riskshaw drivers! All have commission in different hotels and shops so it can be difficult to go anywhere you plan on going without being shown some silk shop or other place, but I have to say, the silk fabrics are truly fascinating. It apparently takes 7 to 12 days to make a saree, that is a long time, but the result is fine art. Mr Yadu, my rickshaw driver, will take me anywhere I want. And I can be totally confident that I am in good hands because he has a little notebook with many references! I thought it was pretty funny that he carried that little book, but it seems like every riskshaw driver has one!!!! But Yadu-ji, with his few teeth, all almost black from chewing so much paan, knows everything about Varanasi and he always waits at the same place, and if ever I need him and he is not there, I can just wait for half an hour (as he says), and he will eventually come... But for longer trip, I can phone Mr Khan... He has an autorickshaw and will take me to Sarnath fo the same price he was taking people in 1994. He showed me his notebook and his 1994 price list... His "palace on wheel" have been running for 25 years and he has 20 notebooks at home.
This is the little stories I always liked about India. The creativity. Of course a lot of times I know that these people just need business, and will do anything to get a few rupies, but sometimes it comes for free, like the sweets that the guy at the internet cafe gave me, or the tabla player who started playing in his shop while his business partner was praying loudly for the festival, or the big smiles from the rickshaw drivers that just say Namaste and "we like to see Westerners in indian clothes"! It is all part of the little surprises that India gives to travellers. It can be overwhelming but it is never boring!
Yesterday, my friend Joe that I met in Rishikesh last spring arrived in Varanasi. It is fun to share stories and travel together for a few days.
I better go to bed now, tomorrow we will g for the early morning boat ride on the Ganges, to see the morning puja. More later...
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