Videos from India 2022/2023
Cloth for Change - Menstrual Kits brought from Carthage to a Varanasi clinic
Side by Side in Rickshaws
Morning in Varanasi - in search of Yoga
Timelapse - walk through Sarnath
Sending a statue through the regular mail
The alleys of Varanasi
Masala Chai for 12
Walk into Humayan's Tomb with me
Walk along the Ghats and alleys in Varanasi
Creating Turbans at the Sikh Temple
Bathrooms in India
Apr 20/2022 Travel plans! It's slower going this time - I think this is at least partially to do with the pandemic. Then again, through the years I have gained resources and contacts and an understanding of how to get things done, so in some ways it's going better.
Today it is my pleasure to discuss some of the logistics of our visit to the holy city of Varanasi. We will spend one week here, seven nights! While at the Hotel Bachchan Palace, right in the center of things, we will have an ideal location to explore the ancient part of the city. Varanasi is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, founded in the 11th century BC, and it really looks like it.
Much of the ancient flavor is still there, including narrow streets and unusually situated shops. Hotel Bachchan Palace - I was thankfully able to get hold of the management of the same hotel from last time. (When I book hotels, I write directly to the management and secure a price - there is no way I would book eight rooms under a booking website. This needs to be more personal, it's more secure and you're more likely to get what you actually want and for a better price.) Really nice people, they call me "Miss Margaret". Great location, great price - 14400 INR (Indian Rupees) per room per night, about $23, good food for breakfast, coffee shop and currency exchange right across the way, a small snack kiosk next door, restaurants in every direction. Our group will be able to take up an entire floor and maybe two, and freely move between rooms, which is fun. Down sides to the hotel - no views at all, even though the Ganges river is a stone's throw away, and there is no common area to eat breakfast together - it's delivered to the rooms. There is free WiFi but it's spotty - they keep blaming it on monkeys on the roof tearing up the wiring (hmmmm).
We had looked for (and found) another hotel last time that offered many of the same amenities and fixed some of these issues, but it seems that hotel is under some kind of new management, can't find any information anymore and the contacts are not working. Nonetheless, though not perfect, I'm happy to return to the Hotel Bachchan Palace, and I think you'll enjoy it.
Apr 28/2022 More on Varanasi - the city is called Banares by Indian denizens: Most of your research for your project will probably be conducted in Varanasi. It is our last stop, and we'll be there for about one week total, seven nights. Students who are particularly interested in death culture and end-of-life care will easily find their niche here. Varanasi is the holiest city in India, herself being a quite religious country. It is thought that if one dies in Varanasi, or if their body is transported to Varanasi to be cremated after death, they will achieve moksha, thus ending the reincarnation cycle - no more re-birth.Settle in and get to know this extraordinary city. We can explore the yoga culture, death culture, open cremation on the ghats (ghats are wide concrete steps leading to the river), meditation, temple tours, a trip to Sarnath (the birth place of Buddhism), a wander around Banares University. We can observe specific healing/spiritual rituals, such as bathing in the Ganges, morning Hindu ceremonies, morning yoga, actually yoga any time of day, yoga studios/training, evening Aarti rituals, shops with "healing oils", spice markets. We have an energetic guide, Guddu - a local resident in Varanasi - who keeps in touch with me throughout the year. He is very happy to guide us anywhere and will answer any question - his English is excellent. Guddu has shown great creativity and flexibility in finding unique experiences to satisfy our curiosity. I'm going to see if we can arrange a cooking class this time. Our hotel is centrally located, so we'll spend one day walking to one end of the ghats and take a boat back, and then spend another day walking to the other end also. There are 80+ ghats along the Ganges, each unique, and the most distinctive are these three: Dashashwamedh Ghat, the closest to our hotel and the central ghat, where we can attend the evening Aarti ceremony, an incredibly beautiful spiritual tradition. Manikarnika Ghat is also called the "burning ghat" - one of two ghats (this is the main one) where recently deceased individuals are cremated in open pyres. Aasi Ghat has a unique morning yoga session, with poses I have never experienced before, for the whole community - we are welcome to join in but must arise early in the morning to get there on time. In the 2020 program, there were a few students who volunteered at a hospital that we found through Guddu. It seems to be more of a nursing home or hospice center though it is called a hospital. (Really, it's just a facility that would not exist in the US, and probably something that is specifically unique to Varanasi because of the culture around death.) If anyone wants the volunteer opportunity at the hospital, we will help you find the place, hopefully with the pandemic we will still be allowed access. The facility welcomes (at least pre-pandemic) help around breakfast time, I believe the idea is to serve food to the residents, and maybe help with morning rituals such as brushing hair or clipping nails. None of the residents seem to speak/understand much English, so I'll teach you a few words in Hindi and the rest of it will be enthusiasm and gestures. My experience is that older folks in assisted living type facilities are happy to have any kind of company, language barrier or no. There are also good touristy style things in Varanasi, like lots of dining options, unbelievable breadth of shopping, catching a row boat for a quick ride on the Ganges to watch the sunset or the sunrise or the religious ceremonies. Or row across to the sand bar that, at least in the past, has camel rides for ~$5. (these photos are all over the Carthage website, it seems everyone loves a camel) There is at least one super fancy restaurant that we know of, and depending on our finances we may take a meal there on one of our last evenings in town. Additionally, it is easy to make friends with the shopkeepers in Varanasi and their children, many of whom speak good English. It is also easy to pass a few hours simply sitting on the ghats and watching the world go by - folks bathing in the water, monkeys climbing ancient temple walls, folks doing yoga all day long and sometimes in unusual poses. Pick up a baby goat, frolic with some puppies, watch cows climb stairs.
Dave and I think Varanasi is a very special and unique city. We've never seen anything like it, and we greatly look forward to being there ourselves and showing you what we've discovered.