Sunday, January 1, 2012

Varanasi - Day 2, and Happy New Year

It's midnight here in Varanasi, that means I'm already in 2012. Happy new year to all.

Day two in Varanasi, what a day. I went down to the hotel lobby this morning so I could use the internet and within a minute my chai was served to me. While I was looking out the window towards the street and elephant walked by. I jumped up in excitement but no one else in the lobby seemed to care, I was the only foreigner here and it was obvious. A few minutes later a large herd of water buffalo walked by in a single file, moving very slow with their heads swaying in unison. The elephant and buffalo declared their right of way as the pedestrians rickshaws and everything else on the road stopped to let them pass.

My cousin Deepak picked me up and we went for a drive all morning. Our first stop was another ancient temple in which two stories had marble walls, and inscribed was the original writings of the Hindu philosophy. I payed my respects with the priest and accepted his offerings of holy water and a leaf in my hand. The leaf comes from a plant considered to be holy but I don't know which plant, I ate it as is customary and the water was poured from my right hand into my mouth. Then we went to another very ancient temple. From the outside it looked small but on the inside it was huge. The massive crowd of people was just unbelievable as they lined up to the statues and priests to pay their respect and receive some blessings. Here again I received the offerings from the priest and again drank the water poured into my hand.

Then we drove by some smaller temples, some old and some new. Next we arrived at the Benaris Hindu University. Barnaris is the old name of Varanasi. This is the third largest university in the world with a radius of over 5 kilometers. On campus it looked like it's own city. We went to the enormous temple here but it was closed for lunch so I ended up looking at a variety of art work on display from numerous art students. There were water colors and oil paintings, on paper and canvas and cloth. Subjects ranged from that of the Ganges river here, city landscapes, a variety of Hindu gods and so much more. I wanted to buy a few but it was too hard to decide despite the low prices. Plus I wasn't sure how to get them home safely.

Our next stop was a very special treat. Deepak too me to my cousin in law, he is known now as Pundiji which is Hindi for priest. Pundiji was a professor at the Hindu University for 17 years before leaving his profession to become a full time priest. He's regarded at the leading expert in Hindu philosophy and Sanskrit (a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism). He's written many books, has his own television show and has also started a Sanskrit ashram. He's also regarded as a great astrologer. Pundiji is also a very difficult person for anyone to see so I felt very privileged and honored to be able to spend an hour with him. We talked about cultures and values and so many other topics. Then he asked to see my hands. After studying them for some time he told me that my venus and sun were out of alignment causing me respiratory problems (I'm asthmatic) and as well as stomach problems (I have IBS). How he knew this is beyond me but everything he said was right on the money. He said to put things into balance I need to wear a ruby stone set in gold on my right ring finger and a blue sapphire also set in gold on my left middle finger. So I guess I'll go look at rings some time soon (hopefully I can afford them!). Pundiji also said that because I was family that I could come as a guest anytime I wanted to the ashram and he offered me a full scholarship to their college as well. This isn't the kind of visit or offers I usually get so I was very appreciative.

Then it was back to the hotel. I rested for an hour and then I hired an auto rickshaw for a couple hours. An auto rickshaw is a small three wheeler designed for two passengers but usually filled with five or six. My driver took me out to get a pair of jeans fixed, the new zipper and having it sewn in was 40 cents. Then we went for tea and a samosa, another 24 cents spent. Then he took me to a modern market where I walked around for an hour and finally back to the hotel. The two hours cost me one dollar. I received my load of clean laundry from the front desk and now another dollar was spent. Tell me again why I can't stay here forever?

Dinner was good and afterwards I met about two dozen relatives up in the banquet hall. There I played with my 3 year old nephew Dave and played a game similar to bingo but quicker and more fun. Everyone had to pay 10 rupees for their play card. My first three games was a bomb, hardly got any numbers. My last game I won 80 rupees, so a good night! That $1.60 pays for half my day. Somewhere in the middle of all this dinner was served to everyone and I was told that I had to eat, again. That's happening way too often. So I ate a little bit, very little, just to be a good guest. New years was celebrated and then we all quickly dispersed, I was lucky that my room was only a thirty second walk away. 

Oh, this afternoon I ended up calling Air India. I'm scheduled to fly from Varanasi to Mumbai on January 3. I changed my ticket so now I'm staying here two more days. And that's still just not enough time to see everything here. I have a lot of relatives that want me to visit and I have a lot of exploring to do. My plan tomorrow is to go with my relatives to the temple for our New Year's blessing. Then I have an auto rickshaw hired out for the entire day to take me where ever I want. And I'm taking my camera with me. I could go into the ancient city and shoot photos along with 25,000 other tourists. But I won't. There's so many photos on the internet already of the ancient city that it's just not appealing to me. Instead I will probably ask my driver to take me t the outskirts or places/markets where tourists don't go. I guess it's best to say that I'm just going to play it by ear.

Happy New Year to all.

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