We happened to take the 1000km train (5$) on the day of the ancient Holi festival and expected being thrown colorful powders into our faces all day long. Surprisingly it turned out to be the emptiest train we ever took in India – a few locals, us and a group of Russian guys heading to Varanasi. Throughout our ride we saw countless colourful kids, men, dogs and cows. As we already got used to the comfort of food being catered on trains in India – from the pantry car or from the street, it was a completely different story on Holi. No hot biryani delivery, no endless masala tea offers nor traders hopping on the train selling fresh, hot samosas. We hoped for rare big city stops to run off the train and grab some snacks, not much on offer here either. We arrived to Varanasi just 2-3 hours late and set off in search of a place to sleep. In one of the back streets we found a guest house run by a family with acceptable prices, settled in and were happy to shower after the 20h train ride. Happy and fresh we went to see magic Varanasi.
As we learned from our travel-buddies Holy and Angus that we met at our HelpX stay, there were many Varanasi specialties that we should not miss. One of the them was Bhang lassi. Apparently Bhang is consumed in large amounts during Holi. It is associated with Lord Shiva, bhang mixed in Thandai has become a popular drink in Banaras (one of the names Varanasi goes by). For Banarais, the festival is incomplete if they do not get this special gift of Lord Shiva.
And we were naive and did not know how exactly it would work on us, we found a very busy lassi stand and got 2 big (or medium?) glasses of Thandai and Bhang lassi. Very tasty!!!
Time to see the ceremony at one of the main Ghats. Dashashwamedh Ghat is probably one of the most spectacular ones. A daily ceremony of worship to fire where a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga, Sun, Fire and the whole universe performed by a group of priests in the evening. The Ghat was full of people, everyone was busy with a certain activity. We just watched people and walked around. I felt very tired thinking it must have been the 20h train ride, so we decided to grab quick momos on the side of the road and headed back to the room. On the way Sascha saw guys selling some dark green balls, not knowing what it was, we interviewed the sales guy and I got a ball for free. It was bhang.
The lassi still working on us we made it home safely and then it REALLY started. I think I have never experienced anything similar to this. We got high, very very high. It was just the yogurt, the ball was untouched. Everything felt very 3D or maybe even 5D at times :D. And unlike the known effect of alcohol where you can control it or even help yourself by drinking water, here nothing helped. Anyway, I think we were high 2 days straight, which lead to a small accident of Sascha meeting the low metal door frame with his forehead. And he has a scar as souvenir from Varanasi now.
I think bhang made our stay in Varanasi very surreal. The city is special by itself, there is even no need to do any sightseeing. Sightseeing is everywhere around. It is enough to sit by the Ganges and watch what is happening around. People are taking a bath in the sacred river, doing their laundry, washing buffaloes, tourists taking boat rides, drains are running into the river from the street, dead bodies are being washed – all next to one another.
We visited the cremation ghat as well. The fire at the ghat is burning for centuries and was started by Lord Shiva. We were still a bit high on bhang and were caught trying to take a picture by an “employee” that tried to give us a tour and introduction in the ceremony of cremation. I guess we looked like we were asking for it. Of course he wanted money (to buy some kilos of fire wood), but with his quick intro we got an understanding what was happening at the ghat, how much wood one needs to cremate, price range depending on the type of wood (apparently sandal wood is the most expensive one) and the ceremonial roles of each family member.
After the 3 days we spent in this incredible city (Thanks Teri for making us go!) we can only confirm that Varanasi is India’s spiritual capital. If you dont have time to go see India – come here and be amazed!
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