Varanasi – day 66

Suitably informed that we would be able to get the 7am bus to Bodh Gaya, and not have to take the 11pm night bus, we had another full day in Varanasi to explore. 
We started (or at least planned to start) at Kashi Viswanath Temple. Also called the Golden Temple due to the 800kg of gold plating on the tower and dome, it is one of the most famous Hindu temples and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples, while Varanasi itself is the holiest existing place of Hindus. Thus, we took only our passports and joined the throng queueing for the alley to the temple. For some reason, which we can’t explain properly, we weren’t allowed in to the temple – having checked our passports, and being questioned if we were of Hindu religion – while other tourists and foreigners were. The thought was there and we tried. 
We decided to treat ourselves to a mega breakfast, having enough money secreted about our persons to pay the bill. A buffet wasn’t laid out, but still provided and it seemed that course after course kept being brought up. Cereals, fruits, juice, tea, basket of bread, spreads, eggs, sausage, potatoes. And then a cheese platter. If I fell down the stairs, I know that Katherine wouldn’t have worried as I would have rolled and bounced, maybe she would have taken a picture???
The German couple from the night before happened to arrive at the same restaurant and were happier with their new lodging. Hot water and vermon free sounded appealing. We returned to the guest house, suitably disgruntled that they had escaped the sounds and tribulations of the family next door, who, even while sleeping still managed to sound like a set of road works chugging away or a dog chewing a bone. Plus, they had taken all the hot water. From having sat for over an hour next to a burning ghat, one can imagine how desperate we were for a good scrub before venturing out in the city. 
We walked down to the nearest ghat and turned right. The river was blissfully devoid of the boats and engines, and the views up and down the river of the forts and palaces gave a real sense of how the city would have looked thousands of years ago. The coxswains didn’t miss any opportunity and were trying to push their boat trips for the next day, when they would be allowed back on the river after the prime ministers visit.   
Scurrying up the banks, through a portion of the city, back down to the ghats, we looked back on the area cordoned off for the ceremonial visit and were impressed with the sheer numbers of army and police… All standing around doing nothing. We continued our promenade down the river, enjoying the kids sliding down the steep, bricked-up banks, teenagers playing both cricket and a form of sticks, and every age group (capable of standing upright) flying kites. The sky was a swirl of colour and activity, with some groups on the far side of the river and the occasional sneaky rowing boat, getting higher without the kite battles interfering in their personal ambitions. I think they’re missing a trick by not having the string looped in to a fishing rod, but no spool would ever hold the amount of line some of these guys were using.   
The burning ghat we came across on this leg of the journey was not as impressive. In fact it was probably harder to witness or pass by. Without the cover of darkness and the enveloping colour of the flames, everything was much more visible. With it being a less popular area, the question was, where were the families or were there just ‘workers’ and priests. 
It was while taking a moment at a set of steps, listening to a priest give an astrology reading to an unsuspecting Australian girl, we saw the same French lady we bumped in to in Chandigarh. Her daughter had now joined her for three weeks and it was an intense half hour of French conversation, where I understood less than half of it and agreed with 90% of it with my “Bien Sûr” and “Non Non Non”. Varanasi seems to be the place to bump in to people, and certainly is the place to come for a chat and mingling, if you were still enthusiastic and up for such ventures.
We struggled to get back home, with those less than useless police blocking off all the roads and not having any crossing points. It was a case of just looking confident and crossing. No sound of guns, no sounds of shouts, I think the tourists clearly making their way home are harmless. Our respite on the roof was perturbed by two other guests smoking something dubious and feeding the monkeys. The one monkey clutching her dead baby pulled at the heart strings from what was already an emotionally tiring day.   
Saturday 12th of December 2015. 

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