Sunday, April 6, 2014

Varanasi - A walk along the ghats

We didn't get up for sunrise, so we did our tour of the Varanasi ghats in the full, blazing heat of the day.

We may not have seen the magical-ness of 'sunrise over the Ganges', yet..

So what did we see?
We started by taking a tuk-tuk to Assi Ghat, a slightly terrifying trip through Indian traffic for about 15 minutes or so. Because the driver tried a quick one ("I need another 20 rupees for parking") when we'd arrived, I accidentally left our bag of supplies (Water, a mandarin and two bananas) behind in the vehicle. Just happy it wasn't anything more valuable!! Given that the cost of the items was about 20 rupees, he should have been happy, since I didn't give him the cash.


We were admiring the ghat and the river when a young guy started talking with us. He was a high school student who wants to study science in university (go science!), and he said his father worked for the nearby temple.
Assi Ghat
Rear of the temple
A little later, the father joined us and we got a small tour of the temple, culminating in a visit to their family's clothing shop. So we're not sure the temple work story is accurate.. But we extricated ourselves and it was only a little awkward. "These clothes are very nice and if we were shopping, we'd come here and buy. But we're not really shopping today, sorry.." seemed to do the trick.

They were very nice, and this was definitely not a "take the tourists into a closed room and intimidate them" scenario.

We continued on our walk, past cows and goats and the ever-present sleeping dogs. No cats were spotted. Seems India is not a cat-loving country..?


Posing on some old stairs

Inspiring to see

We saw both people and cows cooling off in the Ganges.
Cool cattle

Taking a bath / cooling off / doing laundry

We were hot and thirsty, as some fool had left the water behind in the tuk-tuk, so we looked around and spotted a cafe called Everest, so we ascended it's heights (quite a few stairs) in the heat (did I mention it was HOT?!) and got some refreshments.

Having had a cold Sprite and bought a not-so-cold bottle of water, we continued on.

Along the way, we expected to be accosted by touts and aggressive beggars, but this never really materialised. We had several offers of "Boat?" and one guy offering a variety of narcotics "Hashish? Marijuana? Opium? I have good opium!", all of whom received the same answer: "No".
The drug guy got several firm "NO" and "Absolutely not!" replies before he got the message and continued on.
Later, we walked past an area with a distinct scent in the air, and a chilled-out tourist guy sitting with some locals. We presume he's what one of what a hotel review we had read called "stoned zombie" tourists.. I wondered if he would eat street food if/when he got the munchies..

We made another refreshment stop at a riverside guest house's cafe - blessedly air-conditioned, but with staff that could do with a refresher course on hospitality. At least the water was cold here. After cooling off, we continued on..

We walked past, in the more northern parts of the ghat areas, a snake charmer with a live cobra in a pot.
That was pretty cool. I thought snake performances were illegal in India (seems I'm right) - Naomi says they might be, but being India, no-one cares.. probably true, if the level of adherence to traffic regulations are a guide.
We didn't pay him, just glanced nervously at the snake as we walked away..

One part of the ghats is the cremation areas - deceased locals are brought to the ghats to be burnt.
We walked past one such area where we saw a (covered) body being carried into the Ganges, possibly to have it's earthly sins washed away before being cremated.

Near the end of our walk, at Manikarnika Ghat in the more northern sections, there was a big burning area, lots of stacked firewood everywhere and some fires well under way.

As we approached the area, a local man told us that we mustn't take photos. He said an Israeli guy had taken photos that morning, and gotten into a fight with the bereaved. No-one was hurt, thankfully, but we imagined that there were emotional bruises on both sides of the conflict.
So we made sure to leave cameras and phones packed away in this section. It was crowded, hot and smoky, so we wanted to get away quickly at any rate.
Here's a photo taken by someone less culturally sensitive.

On the way out of the ghat area, slightly north of Manikarnika Ghat, we found ourselves in a warren of tiny backstreets. (Zoom in on this satellite view to see what we mean!)
If it had been dark, say after sunset as guide books recommend as a "good time" to visit the ghats, it would have been a scary place! In the daylight, it was okay, merely a little confusing. We asked friendly-looking locals for directions a couple of times, and were soon out onto an actual road, where we jumped in a tuk-tuk and headed to the mall near our hotel.

It was time for a typical Indian lunch...

I only saw the other veggie burger options after we'd ordered, so I will forever wonder about them..
So good to have more than one veggie option!

Interestingly, given how big McDonalds advertises their "100% Aussie beef" in Australia, here it's "no beef/pork", the only non-veg options are fish and chicken:
Hindu- and Muslim/Jew- friendly