Day 11 – Varanasi – The Ganges and a surprise rooftop patio

We met the group at 6 for our sunrise boat tour on the Ganges. Again, just incredible and surreal. Our CEO explained about the bacteria in the Ganges that eats other bacteria and viruses, which I had seen in a documentary before. The morning was more about the daily life, watching laundry being done and people bathing in the river. We also saw cremations being prepared. Cremations can only happen between sunrise and sunset, except in Varanasi where it’s so holy that cremations can happen anytime. Each one lasts about 5-6 hours. We learned a lot about cremations, like certain people who are exempt in Hinduism from cremation because they are already close enough to god (pregnant women, lepers, priests, and we forget the rest). It was extremely fascinating. Then all the cremated remains ends up carried in a bucket on someone’s head and dumped in pile to be pushed into the river. It’s the lower castes (classes) who work the cremation area. Only men attend the cremation as women tend to be too emotional, which can hold back the dead’s passage to heaven. There were guest houses (b&b’s) along the river banks . We were told that most of the guests are the elderly waiting to die. That really made me wonder about whether they had family or if they had the cost of cremation included with their accommodations like a package deal or what. Did the guest house contact the family when they died, etc.

We went for breakfast (western menu in a hole-in-the-wall place), back to the hotel for a 25-minute pit stop, then most of us (all but one) went to tour a silk factory. 

They import the silk from other places, but showed us how they weaved it into saris. It wasn’t a factory as we would see in the west, but winding alleys and different parts of he process in different small buildings. We saw the patterns were designed using punch cards, then manual looms and automated looms. The manual looms were for the pure silk, where the automated were for the mixed and artificial silk. The local guide was a bit of a flirt… he had us feel the silk on the loom and told each of us individually that it was soft like us.

We were then taken to the sales room where we sat in a circle on a floor covered in what seemed like futons. The salesman really wanted us to know what was real silk or cashmere and what wasn’t, and how to tell (set a flame to it and smell it, if it smells like burnt hair, it’s real. Also how fast it burns …cotton burns quicker). He showed us duvet covers, shawls, scarves, and saris. We spent a lot of money there, let’s just leave it at that.

We were dropped back at our hotel and some of us (7) wanted to explore a bit, but we quickly found there wasn’t too much in the vicinity of our hotel. 

We popped into a few other hotels asking if they had a rooftop restaurant/bar. A few of us were gasping for a cold beer, as it was fairly hot out. A man on the street approached us and said he could show us. Some of us were leery, but he led us to a place that looked closed. We were ready to turn back, but he knocked on the door and they opened up for us. We gave him some money and enjoyed our rooftop beers and snacks. It was definitely an oasis away from the hustle and bustle. We are pretty sure they had to send someone to get beer. We ordered some snacks: Nachos, cheesy garlic bread, and fries with garlic mayo. The nachos were the most interesting. The chips were probably home made because the was maybe 10 chips with some cheese on top with salsa. It was all super tasty though. We later wondered if this was the place we were coming for dinner later because the description was very similar to what our CEO had indicated.

Our intuition was correct because that’s where we ended up. We learned more about the family that runs the restaurant and were able to tour the kitchen while they cooked our meals.

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