So Varanasi is the city of ‘learning, earning and burning’ (a direct quote from our guide this afternoon who actually nears a slight resemblance to one of my favorite people). Learning because one of the oldest colleges in the world in here (as is one of the largest in Asia); earning because of everyone here is trying to make a buck and the city is famous for silk production/weaving and burning because of the crematoriums, ghats and the fact it’s where people come to die. It’s also a holy city for more than a few religions and the holiest for Hindus.
This afternoon after getting off the train and figuring out an annoying hotel mix-up situation, we met our guide and went to see a Dhamekh Stupa, the ruins of a buddhist temple commemorating the place where Buddha gave his first sermon, we also went to a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple and an archeological museum with both Buddhist and Hindu artifacts while admiring a few mosques along the way.
By the time we were through with our basic tour our guide took us to the Dashaswamed Ghat for a hindu ceremony where we watched holy men say goodbye to the sun and thank the Ganga for her gifts. It was much more ritualistic than what we saw in Rishikesh and fun to boot and while we did see more over-enthusiastic tourists than we wanted dressed as pilgrims at least the Hindu practitioners making their way through the crowd offered up the kitsch and blessings for donations–because if you’re going to have foreigners co-opt your culture, you might as well make a few bucks off of them.
We went for a walk through the markets and after making it back to our hotel ran into yet another 3 weddings. When you’re not stuck in a hellish, never-ending car journey Indian weddings are delightful. Music, fireworks, music, dancing and food. Very fun.
What’s not so fun is staying in a hotel where the wedding is being held because the loud street closing music and dancing and firework festivities go on until at least 4 am and people get downright rowdy. We had people knocking on our door, kids ringing our doorbell and running down the hall giggling and all sorts of trash outside our door when we finally left our room at 5:30 am to meet our guide for a tour of the ghats in a boat on the Ganga.
So we barely slept but got to watch the sun rise on the Ganga–that’s pretty much a fair trade in my book. I mean really–how can I get mad at wedding mayhem when it has been such an integral part of my repertoire?