Tuesday, March 22, 2011

India 2011 - Day 13+14 - Varanasi

This morning we are not too much in a hurry since our flight was around noon. Kingfisher is an Indian airline. Praveen checked us in as a group and altogether our luggage was over the weight limit. Nobody objected since it was not that much money per person.
Otherwise it was an uneventful flight. Soon we were in Varanasi, Hinduism's holiest city and a center of learning, civilization, and religion since time immemorial. Lacking in important architecture, elaborate palaces, and ancient fortresses, Varanasi is unlike any other Indian city, thanks to its role as a sacred place of pilgrimage.
We visit Sarnath, birthplace of Buddhism in the sixth century BC. First we enter the temple Mulagandha Kuty Vihara which was inaugurated 1931 and is located in Isipatana Deer Park. The Murals on the walls were done by a famous Japanese artist Kosetsu Nosu 1932-1936. We learn that Gautama Buddha was actually a real person and the murals depict his life story.

The temple is part of the Bodhi Tree Complex. Many pilgrims visit this place and we try not to interfere.
This is supposed to be the actual tree were Buddha received his enlightenment (Bodhimandala).

Many prayer flags are hang up.
This says (excerpt): The entire Bodhi Complex constructed for the benefit of the humanity and to generations to come in next millennium was declared open on 17th December 1999 by the XIVth Holiness the Dalai Lama with the message to the world to restore and promote peace and harmony ...

After this we drive to The Gateway Hotel Ganges.

Wake-up call at 4:45 am. We leave at 5 am by bus for a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges River. We have a short walk to the river which is a bit of an eye opener.
It has rained in the night and we have to dodge puddles.

I think the pictures speak for themselves. You could not help but have a special feeling.

Hindu pilgrims perform their time-honored rites along the ghats (steps) leading to the sacred river. Doing this ritual bathing at least once in a lifetime is both a duty and a privilege.
Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges remits sins and that dying in Kashi (another name for Varanasi) ensures release of a person's soul from the cycle of its death and reincarnation.
Thunder and lightning had started and we did not feel too safe on the water.
We barely were on land again when it started to rain. Heavy drops.

After a few steps we found this overhang where two ladies were already sitting on the floor.
They were here first but ... sorry ....

I was close to the edge but was able to stay dry too. Suddenly I realized what it was what was dangling in front of my face. Yuck!!! The Indian equivalent (most likely homemade) of a fly catcher strip.
Back in the bus. This must be a wedding coach.
A school bus.
We visit the New Vishwanath Temple (also known as Birla Temple), located on the premises of Banaras Hindu University. Unlike the original Vishwanath Temple, the newer white-marble temple welcomes visitors of all religions.

When we leave the temple a snake handler would like to make money by having his photo taken.
After breakfast we visit Sarnath again.
The Deer Park where the Buddha preached his first sermon is now called Sarnath. It lay forgotten until a British amateur archaeologist excavated the site in the nineteenth century. He found stupas and a pillar originally erected by emperor Ashoka in the third century BC. The biggest stupa, called Dhamekh, was on the site where the Buddha supposedly gave his first sermon, sitting with the Brahmins from Kapilavastu. Later archaeologists discovered the shrine where the Buddha apparently had sheltered from the rains; they also found monasteries, which seemed to have been destroyed by a great fire. A temple built by the Sri Lankan Buddhist Anagarika Dharmapala now stands in place of the shrine. The ruins of the monasteries lie amid vast green lawns. The grounds also include a deer park and a zoo.

From the bus.
In the hotel. Cute.
In the evening we leave the hotel (just outside the gate) by rickshaw. The bus is not allowed in the old city at certain times. It will take us about 25 to 30 minutes. I feel sorry for our "boy" which was actually a middle-aged man who looked skin and bones. The double-seats are not made for two "western bottoms".
Our driver tried to point out different landmarks. Being in the middle of the traffic was quite an adventure. Lots to see left and right. He points out a shop in which a cow "lives". I think it was a clothing store. The cow wanders the streets during the day and then every evening she shows up and just lays down inside. There are so many interesting things like this.

Sorry about the many rickshaw videos. They are only short clips but I could not decide which one was relevant and which one was not. Each one seems to have something unique. As I said it was quite a long ride and it changed closer to the river. (feed-back encouraged)

As soon as we reached the Ganges it started raining again. Praveen found shelter for us in a restaurant overlooking the ceremonial site.
Poor tourists out there. These were lucky because at least they had tarps.
After a while some of us braved to take another boat ride because Praveen thinks we should see the cremations further down the Ganges.
This is the crematorium and we can see several fires burning. We can see people with a body waiting to have a turn. We don't go too close because we want to respect the holy place.
Just part of the city on the river.

Back in our shelter joining the rest of our group. A prime place to watch.

They use definitely more "holy smoke" then we do in the our Episcopal Church on Easter and Christmas.
You will not belief where this picture was taken. This cow was in the corner of our shelter (restaurant?). You can see one of the chairs.
A few pictures taken in the hotel in the morning before we leave.

On to the airport now to fly to Kathmandu. Only 6 of us are going on to that. We have to say good-bye to 18 and the guide. We had two wonderful weeks together. It is kind of sad.

1 comment:

  1. I would be a liability on any India tour. I hyperventilate and faint at the sight of snakes.