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Published: June 16th 2017
Geo: 25.282, 82.9563
Jan 1-2 Agra to Varanasi
Train- 3AC – interesting experience. Two extra people per cabin at this level and therefore much more cramped. We did manage to get some sleep but what we thought was a 9 hour train trip turned out to be 13 hours. Not sure if the train was delayed along the way (we did stop a long time at a couple of places) or if I wrote the arrival time down incorrectly. No matter, we arrived in Varanasi safe and sound. Got an auto-rickshaw to our guest house – Sahi River View Guest House. We are right on a minor ghat-Assi. A Ghat is a narrow street, leading to a set of steps descending to the western bank of the Ganges River. The Assi Ghat is a good location, much quieter than further up the river and the bigger Ghats. I definitely would not want to be along one of the burning Ghats – the smoke would be really bad and there is likely activity at these 24 hours.
We did walk all along the Ghats yesterday and saw several of the burnings/cremations underway. It is such a holy ritual for Hindus. I felt a bit uncomfortable
– not because of the cremations but because we are outsiders and this is such an important thing. I don't know enough about Hinduism to totally understand but I do know that to be die means you will past directly to heaven – no need to be re-born and keep trying to get there. It is called 'moksha' which means liberation from life and death. What I don't know is why that is – i.e. who decided this was the case? If anyone knows the answer to this, please share. Otherwise, I will research it more and add the info when I have it.
Tid bit: Varanasi was once called Kasha which means City of Life. It is thought to date back to 1200 BC and in the 8th century Shankaracharya, a reformer of Hinduism, established Shiva worship the principal sect. The city was looted and mostly destroyed by Aurangzeb (he was a very bad guy) so most of the buildings, even in the old city are about 200 years old – relatively new for India.
We searched and searched for the Brown Bread Bakery restaurant because it was an ‘our pick' in the LP guide. We asked directions from several people
and while left and then left again were clear to them, the streets in the area we were in were narrow alley ways chock full of shops and it was very easy to miss a ‘left'. We tried a rickshaw (man-powered) who insisted he knew where it was but he took us to the Mona Lisa German Bakery (interesting name) so we had him take us back to where he picked us up. WE did finally find the BBB** and it was not worth the effort we put in to finding it. The LP guide we are using is from 2009 and I think the BBB has probably seen better days. It looked very worn and it was not very clean so we decided to head back to our guest house and eat there. Right before we got there, we saw a sign for the Pizzeria Vaatik Café and decided to check it out. It was a pleasant garden balcony overlooking the Assi Ghat and we had 2 of everything – 2 pizzas, 2 black teas and 2 slices of apple pie for dessert. It turned out to be a very ful-FILLING event. We found our way back to our
guest house and crashed for the night.
***On our second day in Varanasi we accidentally came across the real BBB. Turns out there are several copy cats and their name is very similar. I am sure the new version of LP has noted this. Richard had an XL coffee lassi and I had tea and chocolate cake with ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce. Yum!
Day 2 - Varanasi
We took our time this morning with a leisurely breakfast and checking email. Then we headed out again onto the streets and alley ways of Varanasi. The sun was out so everything looked very different. It is amazing how much difference a little bit of sunshine makes. We walked along the Ghats again and headed up into the old city at the Manmandir Ghat. We found the Dolphin Restaurant which on the roof of a very nice guest house. As we were ascending the steps someone ignited a firecracker. I was only a few feet away from it and besides being WAY to loud, it scared the sh…. out of me. I was upset and the staff at the guest house was very concerned. I think they shoo-ed the perpetrator away. We ascended the
god knows how many flights of stairs to the rooftop and enjoyed a lovely lunch. Once again the food was delicious. We ate a lot and lingered in the warm sunshine before heading out again to wander. It is very easy to find yourself going around in circles in these small alleyways. You start to realize it when you start passing the same shop keepers. It's fun and I am guessing the shop keepers are rolling their eyes thinking how dumb western tourists are. We haven't had a lot of hassle here from touts and hawkers contrary to the warnings I have read. The boatmen only ask once or twice and then leave you alone. The beggars are a big more persistent but we have seen worse. The kids selling postcards and flowers are cute and fun to talk to. We chatted with the same little boy we bought postcards from yesterday and a young girl who liked the bag I had (from an Ayurvedic store where I bought face cream that will get rid of all my wrinkles in 2 weeks!). I gave her the bag and she was very pleased.
We are now back at the Shahi and are
relaxing until it is time to go eat again!
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