We arrived in Varanasi, and met our guide who goes by Dada, because most foreigners can’t pronounce his name. Dada is a nickname for someone of the Brahmin caste. There are four main castes; Brahmin, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras, which are further divided about 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes. It is generally believed that the caste system is 3000 years old and originated in the Hindu religion based on karma (work) and dharma (duty)*. Independent India has banned discrimination based on caste. There has also been an effort to right past inequalities by providing job and education quotas for the lower castes. In certain Southern states and in the northern state of Bihar, many people began using just one name after social reform movements. Despite the changes, caste identities remain strong, and last names are almost always indicative of which caste a person belongs to*. On our way into town we let our guide know that we wanted to change the tour itinerary for the next day. More people, less monuments….he was very agreeable regarding the changes in what we wanted to see and immediately suggested we go to a shop. We’ve given up on trying to get out of these shopping excursions; we smile, occasionally drink the beverages offered and occasionally buy things….OK, maybe more than occasionally, which is the whole purpose, right? Most of these shops have demonstrations of whatever craft they are selling. The store we visited this day creates and sells, woven silk tapestries.
As you can see from the featured photo Varanasi is congested beyond belief; people, rickshaws, cars, tractors, trucks, handcarts, cows, dogs and bikes all trying to navigate the highways. Plus it’s election time in the state of Uttar Pradesh and the city is filled with military that have arrived in large buses that are contributing to the traffic snarls. When we reached old town the roads got even narrower, with little more than narrow alleys in many areas. The taxi from the airport dropped us off on a narrow alley, where we walked a little over a 1/4 mile to our hotel which is accessible only by motorcycle or foot. The hotel employees met us a the street entrance to take our bags. I wouldn’t want their job of dodging motorcycles, dogs and cows while carrying luggage. Suzanne and I were concentrating on cobbles, cow pies, people, bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws and cow blockages on our way. Good practice for our market walk the next day. Some of the sights along the way….
This is a Ashram was along our walk. Most the the Ashrams in this area are for students, widows and anyone else that will follow the tenets of that particular religious sect of Hinduism. Housing, food and care are provided for followers. We also saw a couple interesting temples on the way that are different from any other’s we have seen so far. The temple on the right is in the style of temples in southern India. The temple on the left is dedicated to Shiva.
The hotel is an old renovated palace that sits right above the Ganges. It is a very simple and pleasant place to stay. The food is all vegetarian with no alcohol as it is next to the holy river.
Here I am futility trying to blog in Varanasi. Hopelessly weak wifi and no cellular service. Oh well, there is always tomorrow to try…..
Suzanne and I have enjoyed sitting out on the balcony or roof to watch the water buffalo and people bathing in the river.
*from BBC news, February 25, 2016