Sunday, December 5, 2010

Varanasi, Day 20

We had to get up at 4:30 in the morning for the sunrise cruise on the Ganges. It was well worth it. The only downside is that it was very hard to take pictures from a moving boat and not have them come out fuzzy. Sigh, I wasn't awake enough to remember I could change the settings. Oh well.

Our way down to the river was a repeat of the night before but with fewer people. Our guide had arranged a boat for us and we bought some small offerings to be floated on the water at sunrise. Our oarsman rowed us upriver and then we floated down. Everyone seemed to be doing their own thing. Bathing in the river is a big thing and some went in fully clothed, others disrobed. Yogis were calling out chants at the different Ghats that we passed. It was very serene and peaceful.


As the sun started to rise, we lit our offerings, made our personal prayers and floated them on the river. Further downriver is the area they do cremations. Huge piles of wood surround the area. I thought I would be very upset by this, but to my surprise, I was not. Maybe it was the mindset I was in this morning. There was a cremation ceremony going on as we passed by. They do not allow photographs past the woodpiles but I doubt I would have taken any anyway...just didn't seem right.

We arrived back at the Ghat and our next stop was to be the Golden temple by way of the narrow and winding alleys of Old Varanasi. We shared the way with pilgrims, cows, residents, and tourists. It was pretty busy. Along the way I was blessed by a priest.

The Golden temple is known as the Kashi Vishwanath temple and is the most famous of the Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple was destroyed and rebuilt several times and its current structure is believed to be dated back to 1780. The temple spire and the dome are plated with 1000 kg of gold donated by the Jatt Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, in 1835. Security near the temple was extraordinarily tight. No cell phones, no keys, no pocketbooks... only a wallet and glasses if you needed them. Two lines were formed just to get into the outside area... one for women and one for men. I don't think I have ever been felt up quite like that before besides the wanding! Since we were not Hindu, we were not allowed inside. It was teeming with people. On the way back where we picked up our belongings was a very nice shop... I bought some lovely silk and cotton blend scarves to give as gifts.

Back to our hotel for a shower and breakfast. The afternoon was to be spent sightseeing and then back to Delhi for dinner. We went to Sarnath and first stop was the Archeological Museum.. see post of Day 19. Sarnath was considered the first place Buddha went after his enlightenment and where he gave his first sermon. Dhamek Stupa was built to commemorate this spot and house relics of Buddha and his disciples. It is 128 ft high and 93 ft in diameter.
Buddhists come to visit this place for circumambulation of this sacred stupa and to worship the Buddha. Tibetans Buddhists circle the Stupa chanting the mantra 'Om mani padme hum'. The first discourse of the Buddha was on the 'Wheel of Law'. The wheel symbolises samsara (world), the eternal round of existence which goes on and on. 

The whole area was busy... the following day was a big Buddhist festival and all the temples were being decorated. There were streamers and garlands of flowers everywhere. Monks in colored robes were quite in evidence. Large stone slabs have been carved with Buddha's first sermon in more than a dozen languages.

All along the roads in Varanasi we passed schoolgirls coming going to or coming home from school.

Our next stop was one of the big Benares silk making factories. The textiles were gorgeous. The saris were spectacular but I resisted. I did buy some silk pieces though. We were dropped off at the airport for our flight back to Delhi. I was hoping for some time for last minute shopping but it was not to be. Our flight was delayed by 3 hours and we did not get back till late. This would be officially our last night in India... at least one were we slept in a bed.

Tomorrow.... Agra.

1 comment:

Rayna said...

That photo of you being blessed by a priest was quite something!