The City of......
Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
122Trip End Ongoing
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We got on the boat at the Assi Ghat which is one of the biggest and important as this is close to where the River Assi meets the Ganges and pilgrims come to worship a Shiva lingam (phallic image of Shiva) under a peepul tree. The fog and mist was still upon us so it was hard to see much or get clear pictures on the way up the river. We stopped mid-way to purchase floating candles and marigold flowers to make a blessing and place in the river. The thought was nice but with the wind, no sooner did we place them in the water they were blown out or dumped over
Heading back down the river, the sun had risen and the fog cleared enough so we could see things a bit clearer. Mostly men where bathing in the river but a few women as well. There were also lots of men doing laundry in the river, beating the clothes against flat rocks that had been set up for that purpose. Up from the river there was a general hubbub of activity going on as well as lots of people just sitting and talking. Getting off the boat we had about an hour to kill before breakfast so started off on foot to walk down the ghats
Heading back to our hotel (Hotel Haifa) near the Assi ghat (a nice step up from the night before), we processed our Ganges River experience over breakfast. I think the general consensus was that it was not as bad of an experience as we thought it would be. The guide books I think have exaggerated to some extent and perhaps focus a bit too much on the cremation ghats and floating dead bodies (which we saw none)
After breakfast we hopped into some tuk tuk’s for a hair-raising ride around town to visit some temples, a silk factory and then of course a silk shop. As we made our way around town we all took turns riding shotgun in the tuk tuk and I have to say sitting in the back is probably scarier than the front. In the back you can’t see the front so think you are always going to crash into the thing be it a vehicle, person or animal. We visited the following temples;
1) New Vishwanath temple which was about 200yrs old and housed inside the campus of Benares Hindu University –
2) Durga Temple built in the 18th century by a Bengali maharani. It was beautiful outside and in as it was stained red with ochre. This was my favourite temple of the three because there were so many people coming for blessing and offers. It was amazing to sit there and listen to the sounds (bells ringing, chants, general chatter) and then to see all the different colours (saris worn by the women, flowers for offerings). There was a newlywed couple there being blessed which was interesting to watch.
3) Bharat Mata Temple (Mother of India) built in 1918 with the main feature being a marble relief map of the Indian subcontinent
Our last stop was the silk factory to see how both handmade and machine made silk was produced. The factory was in many different small buildings in a small alley. The buildings were very cramped and with little to no daily light. The workers looked very bored though I sure very thankful to have the job. You could hear some indie house music coming out of some buildings giving me hope that listening to music helped pass the time. Afterwards it was the obligatory stop at the silk store. The owner put on quite a show by whipping out bedcover after bedcover of really beautiful silk. Unfortunately most of us on this trip either don’t have the budget or travelling for much longer and not able to carry stuff like this around. After convincing him to show us scarves he got a better reaction and a few of us in the end bought some scarves. Having given away all my scarves in Africa and falling in love with a handmade pashmina I caved hook, line and sinker. We tried to bargain but the best we got was 10% off, but then having to pay by credit card another 3% was added back on; so not much of a deal in the end. But I love my scarf!
Since we had been up at the crack of dawn and had to repeat the next day for a 400km/13hr drive (if all goes well) we had an early dinner at a pizzeria overlooking the Assi ghat. Pizza already you say? Well yes, the logic there being get it when you can as there are not a lot of places where you can get western food and while I love a good curry/dal it can get a bit boring when you have it for breakfast (yes it’s true), lunch and dinner.