Monday, June 15, 2015

India travelogue 4 - Scenes at the river Ganga

Barefoot anyone?

Even amongst this crowd heading to the river Ganga Ghats, there were two wheelers honking their way; at least no four wheelers attempting to wade through this human traffic! There were plenty of small shops: clothes, tailors, food, sweets, chaat, vegetables, fruits, oily foods, religious items, jeans, betel leaf with paan, grocery etc. Not one big shop I saw. I also observed that there was absolutely no one who walked barefoot - since this felt like an old city I expected to see people barefoot - the reason I would find later. 
Streets were dirty but with so many people you barely noticed what was there on the ground! And even with the dirt and large mass of people, the place was not smelly. 
There were many schoolgirls walking in gangs, many couples, many elderly people and few South Indians. Hadn't yet spotted foreigners amidst this bustling crowd.

I can't say the Ganga was a breathtaking sight; it was a river but since we've grown up hearing stories about the importance of the Ganga from a religious as well as geographical perspective you do pause a moment to admire the river. The Ghats were one beside the other - so if you land in one Ghat you could walk from one to the other without having to go back to the street to access them; they were connected in a sense. There are about 50 steps that lead you from the road to the river bank (that forms a Ghat); and these steps span out horizontally to the other Ghats; not completely connected but you will be able to find a path from the stairs to the next Ghat. Many people simply sat on the steps, gazing at the preparations happening for the Ganga Aarti (puja/ceremony).


Since the aarti would begin at 7pm, I had time to wander across the Ghats; I took the left side. As I went further I saw foreigners; some as a pair, some in groups of 3 or 4, some single with an Indian guide but very rare was the case of a single foreigner. Some hotels (not 5 star ones) were located right next to the Ghat. I had read reviews online that said some of these hotels will cater well to foreigners but wouldn't care much for Indian travellers; cater where the money is! 

In many Ghats, the buildings bordering the Ghat had huge wall paintings on them along with the name of the Ghat; unfortunately they weren't maintained else that would have been a beautiful way to depict our culture. As I went further to the left, the crowd kept thinning. In almost all the Ghats you had guys who would take people on boats across the river; simple wooden boats without a motor. In some of these Ghats there were benches on the steps and there were couples enjoying the moment away from prying eyes. Typically when someone says Varanasi, people think of aghoris (guys with long unkempt hair and beard, who use drugs, who don't interact with humanity, who eat flesh, who are in search of liberation or nirvana or enlightenment); did I see any here? Not really; at least no one eating flesh. But there were few elderly men with long beards, wearing a thin robe sitting with some items like rudrakshas, scrolls, some notes and other items scattered all around them. 

There were also small gangs of local guys; and there were few trolley tea shops on the Ghats. In one such shop, there were two kids in shorts dancing to some old Hindi songs playing on a radio; the kids were full of enthusiasm and didn’t care about onlookers - the entire scene felt like a shot from history; the songs were also really old like 'Chumma chumma dhey dhey... chumma chumma dhey dhey chumma...' And I shall not attempt translating that!

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