We flew from Delhi to Varanasi. It was our first time on Kingfisher airlines, started a year ago by the owner of Kingfisher beer. Now, we normally wouldn't take time to talk about our airline experiences, but Kingfisher is so cool. We highly recommend this airline for any flights you plan to do within India. A very clean and modern interior. Even the food is great! OK, so there is that plug. We arrived in Varanasi late afternoon. While at the airport collecting our luggage, we met a Buddhist nun who asked if we were in town for the teachings. We were like, "Uh, what teachings?" The Dalai Lama was going to be in Sarnath (10 kms from Varanasi) to give some teachings. We took this as a good omen for the trip.
We jumped into a cab and drove into town. After checking into our crappy hostel/hotel, we stepped outside onto the cow crap-filled streets and headed down to the Ganges
. We watched while Brahmin priests performed prayer rituals with fire and incense as bodies were being cremated a few ghats down from where we were sitting. The following day, we woke up at 5a.m. to take a 2 hour boat ride on the Ganges. The sunrise was spectacular (I think this was the first time we actually woke up to see a sunrise on our trip). Along the ghats, the river was full of people doing their morning pujas, practicing yoga, bathing and cleaning their laundry. It's amazing, humbling and disturbing to see people burning their dead, washing their teeth, washing their clothes and dumping their sewage in an one hundred feet radius. After our boat trip we met up with our hired driver who was going to take us to Sarnath, the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon, and where today, the Dalai Lama would be speaking. Our driver, Devesh was funny. We've even received subsequent emails from him after we left. Within two minutes of getting into the car to Sarnath he asked us, "So you married?" Babies?" He said we should hurry up and have babies, very, very important. He told us his 18-year old daughter was getting married in two weeks and the family was very excited because they would have babies soon. Like all Indian roadways, driving is about survival of the fittest and fastest. Devish put it more aptly, "In Indian, to drive you need three things: good brakes, good horn and good luck."
In Sarnath, we arrived amidst a sea of saffron and crimson ambling around the monastery
. We thought there would be thousands of people, but happily, it was a more intimate setting of approximately 400 people sitting underneath a tent and listening to the Dalai Lama, who was seated right in front of us only 50 meters away talking about awakening. We cannot be exactly sure what we was saying during the first morning lesson since we didn't have a transistor radio for the translation-a key component to any dalai lama experience. In the afternoon, the experience was far more worthwhile with a radio and the free chai being passed around by the monks. Much of what was discussed was at times over our head and not just because we were sitting down, but because his lessons on suffering were unfamiliar to us. Actually, by four pm the only things suffering were our butts from sitting down to long. We did meet several Buddhist backpackers and a few idealist travelers. That evening, we boarded our night train to Agra.