This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution in the 2006 journey, click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Varanasi 2006 Part 2: The Milkman and the Puja

The main thoroughfare lying just off Kedar Ghat

After walking through the ghats and alleys as far as Kedar Ghat, we came out on the main thoroughfare, where it comes closest to the river to get a view of Benares out of the ancient alleyways.

The alley leading down to the water

Here is a view of the little alley that leads from the main road intersection down to the water. Further north there is a long maze of twisting alleys you can easily get lost in before you can get from the road to the river.

Hosing flood mud off the ghat in preparation for a puja

Down on the ghat they were hosing the mud form the recent floods off with hoses, because there is going to be a puja performance in the evening.

A boat still being made in the traditional way Bhola's boats were built in 1976

We then walked back down river to the guest house on Scindhia Ghat.

A small family enclave off the ghats with several temples

Kids from the enclave fascinated by their images in the video camera

Watchful mothers looking on

On the alley that leads up from the bathing ghat below the guest house, I was accosted by friendly milkmen, who had finished their morning work of milking the cows that line the ghats and alleys to provide mile for curd which is sold in the alleys to be drunk in the little bisk-fired cups which are then smashed on the ground that you can see in the Calcutta blog.

In 1976 I used to eat curd every day around 4 pm when it was first put out in the alley. Fifteen minutes later it would be all covered in dust.

We found a small restaurant called Ganga Fuji which served okay food and had a traditional music concert each evening. Everywhere we walked touts were following us trying to sell us boat trips, hashish or silk scarves claiming we had arrangements with them and never leaving us alone. We took it in turns to film the babas and the burning and bathing ghats as well as lying prostrate with the runs in our hotel room which did have the most stunning views of the whole ghat area you could hope to find. As the days rolled by more and more we began to become known entities so we couldn't move anywhere without people claiming we had failed to meet them and buy their produce. This happened the same way when I was here in 1976.

A night in a little restaurant in the alleys with traditional music.
The food here was good and caused us no problems.

The ever present cows, a cow effigy in a house, and a young calf
which lay dying for half the day before it became a shrine piled with offerings.

Top left a house puja. Clockwise a religious school chanting the scriptures.

Towards evening on first day we were there, we went upstream again to the ghat which had been hosed down in preparation for a regular fire and incense puja - the Aarti ceremony - in which flaming ghee is wielded before the deities - held regularly in Varanasi as a kind of cultural event - in which flaming torches and candelabras were offered in the name of Krishna`s sacrifice of ten horses.

We got lost heaps of times in the alleyways by the ghats but used our compass to very good effect to keep wandering in the right direction till we hit the river or a place we could recognize. The second night we had the runs even worse and seriously shat our beds and began to take an imodium or two just to get from one place to another without tearing our pants off.

Above and below: Two little temples with worshipers on the steps of the ghat

This one was a little smaller than others and a little more primitive in its decorations because of the recent flooding.

Video of the Aarti ceremony

There were endless rounds of incantations with incense, with incense braziers, with candelabras, and with serpent torches.

These are some shots of the night life in the alleys when I went for a late evening walk, possibly back in 2000 when I shot the burning ghats above.

I was drawn into the rowdy shennai music and celebration of this late night wedding party.

A wedding party with shennai music

Video of the shennai music and wedding outdoors

An artist painting the wedding house

Lone dogs amid the river lights

House decorations

Return to my favorite Kali Shiva shrine

On the last day when we went to the station more slowly and carefully this time because the arrival was so rushed our essential luggage trolley got crushed under the onslaught of the stony potholed alleyways.

The road to the station in the tuk-tuk was absolutely chaotic. In addition to wild traffic from bicycles, cycle rickshaws, tuk-tuks, horse drawn carts, to trucks and buses, there were funeral trains, and religious processions.

When we arrived at the station around 1 pm, we found the train was delayed and it ended up being five and a half hours late, so we had to wait again in the a/c tourist office and then for hours on the railway over-bridge in the hot sun when all the shady spots were taken, listening desperately for any sign of our train on the crackling loud speaker announcements in Hindi, and sometimes English, as to which platform the delayed train would arrive on, because, in the chaos of India Rail, they can never tell you which platform a train will arrive on or when.

In a real Carlos Castaneda-like finale, just as we were about to board, an old friend from New Zealand, Richard MacLaughan, appeared on the over-bridge en-route to Calcutta and New Zealand. When the train finally did arrive it was so cool we were freezing but it gave us a good run to Gorakhpur.

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