The last few days I’ve relaxed and also begun exploring Varanasi a bit. I’d had some lovely conversations with an older woman staying at my guest house in her 60s named Mary who is from England. Like myself, she’s in India around six months but for her sixth or seventh time. She said finding our guest house has actually extended her time in Varanasi. She felt like her previous spot was filled with the kind of travelers that stay in India a week or two, go on tours and seem to just observe from the outside. She much prefers long-time travelers like ourselves who stay somewhere for a while and really experience the place. I know exactly what she means and love to feel like I am living somewhere when I travel as opposed to just passing through.
We decided to visit a few temples together that she had already enjoyed but I hadn’t visited yet, including a quite popular nearby red Durga temple and a
Hanuman temple built in the early 1900s. The latter was apparently also the location of terrorist attack in 2006 which is awful but you’d never know it from the devotion of the people visiting, singing the long and popular Hanuman Chelesa and other call & response chants that were easy enough for me to sing along to. Mary gave me a bindhi with the bright orange paint that was on the walls/poles of the temple. The temple is also appropriately called the Hanuman Temple in honor of the monkey God. I had yet to see SO many monkeys anywhere! Hundreds of them filled the park where the temple was located.
We also stopped by another very new and clean modern temple on the way home and got blessed by people holding peacock feather ornamentations at the end of a long stick. After the fairly long and super noisy walk in traffic to visit the temples, I was grateful to come home to our relatively quiet guest house at the end of the day. The next day I laid low, read my book and enjoyed talking to a couple of close girlfriends at length on Skype, one of the wonderful bonuses of having Wifi at your guest house. I also throughly enjoyed having a salad lunch at the cute little ayurveda cafe around the corner. Their menu specifically says they sterilize their veggies so I knew I’d be good to go as I was definitely missing the salads from home but wasn’t ready to risk eating any raw food in India.
I was enjoying my first of many walks along the ghats next to the Ganga. Depending upon the time of day, the holy river would be quite the popular place to bathe either oneself or one’s clothing. From the looks of the Ganga to me personally, I wouldn’t be taking any baths in it myself! On one occasion a little boy covered in white powder walked with me and although he barely spoke English, was able to warn me about not giving any money to an alcoholic baba and not to step on a specific spot on the ghat. Not exactly sure why but I was appreciative of the insight and cute company.
I made my way to the Olde City one day searching for a Brown Bread Bakery I had read about in Lonely Planet. It said they served tasty organic food and were also connected to a school where I could perhaps volunteer. Third time was a charm once again amidst my asking questions about where to find the bakery amidst the teeny crowded alleyways that make up the older part of town. Just as I was about to ask a third person where it was, a younger Indian man came up to me who had complemented my shawl the day before. He asked if I remembered which I did, the voice not the face, since I hadn’t bothered to stop at the compliment which I’d merely said thank you to as I walked on by. This time I stopped since he asked if I needed help to find where I was going — and I most certainly did. Turns out we were on the same block as a store where he worked so he offered to walk me to the bakery which was quite helpful as I’m not sure I would have meandered my way there otherwise.
His name was Raj and I ended up running into him once more on the steps of a ghat walking back. The third time I’m sure was easy for him to plan, but the second encounter was definitely a coincidence. And since I don’t believe in those, I felt much more open to a longer conversation and allowing him to show me Mother Teresa’s house, another place he said I could volunteer if I wanted, as well as an amazing Shiva Temple nearby. We had a chai outside the temple and since I was too pooped from the day to stay and watch the sunset Aarti ceremony which he suggested, I agreed to meet him at it the next day around 6pm. It was a mere 3 mins from my guest house and I’d been planning to attend some time soon anyway. Figured there was no harm in an innocent meeting like that, right? More soon to come…