Thursday, January 12, 2012

Varanasi, day 2; puja at sunrise, sitar at sunset

January 12th, 2008

I've heard the Ganges at Varanasi is most beautiful in the morning, so I got up before sunrise and headed down to the ghats while it was still dark.

I was happy to find the same kind young girl from yesterday who was selling little pūjā, Hindu offerings, by the water. In a small dish made from a pressed leaf, she lit a small butter lamp surrounded by marigolds. Already, the water was beginning to sparkle with morning offerings and it really was a special sight. I knelt down and offered my pūjā to the morning waters, flowing down form a distant Himalayan glacier.

A man asked if I would like to take a boat ride an I didn't need to think twice about that one, before jumping aboard. Sunrise and sunset are sacred times for Hindus, something I've grown to appreciate in my travels, especially the sacred miracle of sunrise. We rowed slowly upstream, floating by the bathing ghats, busy with early morning dippers, then passed the Manikarnika burning ghat and the tilted Shiva temple, looking as though it's about to take a morning bath, then drifted back again, just as dawn's sun penetrated the far off clouds.

 Sun Mantra   Om Suryay Namaha 

I met a couple of Korean university students at the internet cafe yesterday and we made plans to meet again today and wander through Varanasi. It's winter vacation in Korea now, and suddenly, there seems to be Koreans everywhere!

Behind the ghats are labyrinths of tightly knit alleys, too small for vehicles, winding a short ways to the first larger street, packed with people, cars, rickshaws, and scooters, all in the same place. The tiny alleys are where all of Varanasi's real character is, mostly packed with guesthouses, restaurants, little convenience stores, and other shops. Less obvious are the home that cater especially to people who came here to You routinely have to make room for a procession of people carrying prepared bodies down to the ghats.

Once you step out into the open street, it's suddenly hard to breath easily as life becomes a game of Frogger, trying not to get run over. We ran into a guy who works at the guesthouse where the Korean girl are staying, and he brought us to a rundown little shop, with a huge vat of lassi on a counter that we all sat around, while the owner ladled it out into little unfired clay cups. When we were finished drinking, we tossed the cups onto the pile of other broken cups on the gritty floor that, I assume, would be recycled into more cups.

Next, the girls wanted to see a Bollywood movie, with lots of seeing and dancing, so their Indian friend brought us to the theatre and recommended a movie for us. He kept promising there would be singing and dancing, but after about 45 minutes we were pretty sure he'd brought us to the most boring Bollywood movie in the world, and we left. It was only 15 rupees for the ticket so it wasn't much of a loss.

That night, their guesthouse organized a sunset boat ride with a sitar and tabla performance. It turns out the sitar player is a former student of Ravi Shankar's and, from what I was told, the table player was the very best. His hands were think and leathery barely seemed to touch the drum to produce a deep thump. The sitar player looked very distinguished, and sort of reminded me of an old musician friend of my parents, who my dad used to play music with back in 70s the. It was a great way to enjoy a sitar performance, along the Varanasi Ganges, and end the day much the way it began.

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