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Adventures in Varanasi – Episode 1

19 December 2012 India 2 comments

Varanasi: On the shores of the Ganges

By the end of 2003, I was leaving for almost 2 months to India and Nepal. Part of the time, I was about to travel by myself, especially at the beginning when I went to Punjab and Nepal and late on, my girlfriend, Adriana was supposed to join me, together with another friend, Elena… The plan was to meet directly in Varanasi. I came by plane from Kathmandu, they came by train from Delhi… My first contact with the Indian railways was a real shock. Arriving in India with the classical image of completely full trains, of people traveling on the wagons, I was about to change my impression over night. The round trip Delhi – Amritsar was the top of luxury – with rail attendants that came every 10 minutes to bring us food, desserts, newspapers, or a casual shoulder massage …What else to say, pure luxury…I arrived back to Delhi, I went straight to an internet cafe and I wrote home “Indian trains? Legends… They are Pure Luxury”… I was about to find out later that it was a special train named Shatabdi, that was a premium train J

Two weeks later, I fly from Katmandu to Varanasi. For the ones that do not know, Varanasi is a sacred town… the holy river Ganges runs through it (known under the local name of Ganga) and thousands of people come here in order to die and be cremated – apparently this leads to a serious improvement of karma. On the other hand, Varanasi is a first order center of the silk industry – to whomever you might tell that you went to Varanasi they will ask how much silk you bought, not how well you improved your kharma.

I reach the hotel called “Surya Hotel” (“surya” means “sun”), a peaceful place with a beautiful garden, full of waiters that come to bring you food and squirrels that come to take it away from you. Minding the maddening world from outside, Surya seemed indeed a tranquility oasis…So, only good impressions:) Meanwhile I was texting back and forth with Adriana in Delhi:”You landed, everything is OK ?”. “Yes, everything is OK” (translation – d – we’re just getting back to ourselves after an 8 hours flight on an Aeroflot full of Indians) “You got the train tickets. What hour will you arrive at?” “We did, everything is OK, we get there 9 o’clock in the morning tomorrow” (translation – we went to the Delhi train station, it was a chaos that was hard to comprehend there, so eventually the people from the sahib helping office (also called the “foreign tourist office”) took pity on us and gave us some tickets, God only knows what class..). I go to bed relaxed, tomorrow I will have to go to the train station for the big meeting …

The second day morning, train station Varanasi Cantonment, almost 9 o’clock.

I enter the train station. It is big, monumental, probably a leftover from the time of the British. The huge hall at ground level is full of cows and people that sleep deeply on the floor. I find the information bureau. I ask innocently: “Sir, do you happen do know when the 9 o’clock train from Delhi will reach the train station”… He looks at me, through me, silently…”The 9 o’clock train?” “You know, it comes from Delhi…”. The same intelligent look…I look on the board again, it looks like in the old-times schools, where something is written in Hindu with chalk … luckily, the numbers are the same as ours… I see that something arrives at 9.00. Aha, this is it, train 2561. “Sir, do you happen to know if the 2561 train arrives on time”. I receive some senseless mumblings. A guy in the back says to me – “Sir, be aware that these fellows do not know the trains neither by the hour, nor by the number, but by name. The train that is in your interest is called Swatantra”. I look back at the information guy: ”Do you know when the Swatantra train will arrive” “Ahaaaaa” the face of the brave clerk of the company with the biggest number of employees in the world (Indian Railways) lightens up “Swatantra is going to be late” “Don’t you know for how long ?” “No, but it is running late”. “I could go to theGangesto take a walk and then come back”. “Sure, Sir”.

Aha, I am going away. I send a text to my Swatantra girls …”Where are you?”. “We don’t know”. “Isn’t there any ticket controller, somebody who could know?”. “No”. “OK, when you get close toVaranasi, write back”. I jump in a rickshaw and I run towards theGanges.

The stroll on the shores of theGangesis fabulous. Everything, but absolutely everything cannot but let you know that this is a sacred place – hundreds of people are dabbling in an stinky water, thousands of cows are walking on the shores, there are Pujas being made all over and the walls of the buildings, true palaces, are painted with the images of Vishnu, Shiva, Rama & co. It doesn’t take long and I end up with a companion… A smart guy, pretty good English speaking one, begins a conversation…he tells me what’s going on here or there …He tells me that he envies us, the sahibs, we are like butterflies…”Why like butterflies?” “You fly all around, you do not have any troubles, you see a lot of new, interesting places”…He is probably right. Finally we touch the hot subject – his brother has a silk store, wouldn’t I want to visit it ?… No, but I do promise that during the following day I will take a walk probably in the same surroundings together with two girls, surely they will want silk! I also reach the place where the dead are cremated. I make a contribution for the acquisition of wood. Thousands of poor people crawl to Varanasi and they do not have enough money for cremation…Wood is not much and is expensive, so lots of times some of the bodies wait long enough until they are burned…and then they are only partially burned because not sufficient wood was gathered…so they take the unburned body parts, either a hand or a head and they throw them in the Mother Ganga…

 Varanasi Cantonment train station, 14:00 o’clock

I go back to the train station. Almost the same atmosphere – cows and deeply sleeping guys. The information clerk – the same. I go directly – “When does the Swatantra train arrive?”. A signal is heard from the platform. “Sir, the Swatantra train just entered the Varanasi train station” he says smiling and 100% formal…I run towards the platform….a long train, about a kilometer long, enters the train station. It is the famous Swatantra…lots of hours late…By fortune, I am standing near the door where Adriana and Elena come out …Karma again. “How was it?” I ask while filming their first steps on Varanasi Cantonment platform. “Awful” screams Elena…They are not alone, they are almost dragging after them two Germans, green faced that are barely standing up straight. They ate lassi on the train and spent afterwards entire hours in the toilettes …I take their backpacks and all 5 of us get into an Ambassador cab. Ambassador is the national car inIndia, massive, resembling a Volga, it is the copy of a Morris Oxford III model, a car produced inEnglandin the middle of the 50’s… Ambassador continues to be produced inIndiaeven in our days. I tell the driver the hotel and the ride price as well so we skip the negotiating stories.  We reach Surya where we find a room for the Germans as well, some bellboys almost have to carry them and their luggage.

Meanwhile, the girls run to the gardens. They traveled more than 13 hours in a “sleeper” wagon where they were the center of everyone’s attention, as they had never seen European girls before…But what is sadder, they are not going to get out of this oasis…Tea, food, squirrels…nothing can convince them now to get out of the Surya hotel…Oh let it be, tomorrow morning we will go see the sunrise over the Ganga.

Photos of Varanasi:

Varanasi

Varanasi

Varanasi train station

Varanasi: Swatantra train

Live from the Swatantra train

Varanasi: On the shores of the Ganges

On the shores of the Ganges

On the shores of the Ganges

Varanasi: the Ganges

On the shores of the Ganges

Varanasi: Ganges

On the shores of the Ganges

Varanasi: On the shores of the Ganges

On the shores of the Ganges

Varanasi: On the shores of the Ganges

Varanasi

Varanasi: Suraya

In the back yard of the Surya hotel – me, Adriana and Elena

Până acum există "2 comentarii" la acest articol:

  1. daniels says:

    the way to travel in India is hire a tractor with a trailing trolley behind, stretch out in it and go bumping across the countryside. Bathe and do “it” in the open…

  2. Anirudh Singh says:

    Varanasi has always been close to the hearts of Indian and Tourists !
    Nice Story

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