Varanasi

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I traveled from Delhi alone on the overnight train.   I managed to locate and reach my platform but it was a scene of utter chaos.    A kind soul took charge of me, explaining he was station security and when the train arrived he strong armed his way through the crowd trailing me in his wake.    Once onboard I met my 'sleeping' companions and realized I wouldn't sleep a wink alone in a dark compartment with them .   Another knight in shining armour presented himself, this time an American who negotiated a trade with a couple of insurance agents who took my place and gave me theirs.  All was well that ended well

The Hotel Gangese View - Assi Ghat
 Is an amazing place to stay in Varanasi and I consider myself lucky to have been able to get a reservation as it books up well in advance.

From their website:  "The Singh's were great lovers of music and had an interest in art and literature.  At the same time, they were know for their warm hospitality.  In 1990, their private residence was revamped into the Hotel Ganges View.  Since then it has become the haunt of scholars, poets, writers, actors, musicians, philosophers, choreographers, painters".........and me.

From their menu: "We eat as a family, dinner is served buffet style in the company of our guests, we always have fascinating guests". (they do indeed, not sure what I was doing in such illustrious company) "Dinner includes various vegetable curries, raita, pickles, papadum, rice puri and chapatti"  The food was wonderful and the Singhs and their guests fascinating as promised

 Itinerant Snake Charmer
First out of the bag was an adorable baby hedgehog, (so far so good) soon to be followed by all manner and colours of snakes until the star of the show: the Cobra weaved his way out of a basket.  The charmer charmed and collected his money while his less than charming snakes were quite quarrelsome

 

Another day as our small dinner party was breaking, up the raucous sounds of Bollywood had me scrambling once more for my camera and rushing outside.  There a large group of men were gyrating to the music as they paraded a statue of the God Kali to a boat.   They rowed out into the Ganga where Kali was dropped into the water
 

Assi Ghat

Situated at the confluence of the Ganga and Asi rivers, is the southernmost and quietest Ghat and having seen the madness elsewhere, a serendipitous choice.

This is the scene which greets you every morning you stay at Gangese View

From here I hired a boatman to row me out to the Ghats at dawn.
 

The baskets on long bamboo poles are to hold earthenware pots filled with enough oil to keep a wick alight through the night.   They are lit in the winter month of Kartik to provide light for ones ancestors

Chanting clapping and singing the women of Assi Ghat taking part in a puja ceremony just after dawn

By 5 am I was being rowed along the Ganga in the peaceful pre dawn.  Gradually it got lighter and 45 minutes later the scene was amazing.   Hundreds of faithful Hindu's bathing in Ganga Mia, Mother Ganga


 
Every devout Hindu wants to bathe in it's holy waters once in his lifetime to wash away all sins and ideally to have his ashes returned there after death.  Those lucky enough to die here are released from the cycle of death and rebirth and are assured an immediate passage to heaven
'

O Mother Ganga, may your water,
abundant blessing of this world,
treasure of Lord Shiva, playful Lord of all the earth,
essence of the scriptures and
embodied goodness of the gods,
May your water, sublime wine of immortality,
Soothe our troubled souls.' 
 

 
Bead vendor does her homework whilst minding the stall

Sadhu:   "Spiritual adventurers, ascetic warriors, devout mystics, occult rebels or philosophic monks"
Devout Hindus give donations to Sadhus, regarding them as offerings to the gods and they receive their blessings in return.  Since time immemorial Sadhus have been supported by the faithful, they are not expected to work to support themselves.

 
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