Leaving Santokgarh was difficult as everyone became rather emotional. We had been welcomed as family, treated as guests, fed and given accommodation and entertained for a week and we felt all we had contributed was our presence, and a few small gifts (though we had been presented with gifts too). Piyush's parents had hired a couple of cooks to help with the influx of visitors. Their small family of three had swelled to eleven over the wedding period - far too much for them to handle when they're also running an Indian wedding single-handed! Usually the bride's family would have had more responsibilities, but Piyush's family had taken on both sides of the arrangements and activities, they'd also had to hand-hold us through the process so we had some inkling of what was going on and how we could and should participate. Despite theirs and our best efforts and intentions I'm sure we must have made some errors along the way, however everyone kept smiling and welcoming us, so hopefully we didn't do anything too horrendous! Overall, we got the feeling that they were very glad of our presence and were truly sad to see us depart. And we were sad too.
A short and very comfortable flight from Chandigarh to Delhi gave us distant views of the Himalayas. We then filled in time at Delhi airport with the rest of the NZ contingent before saying more goodbyes and heading to New Delhi station. It had been fun to travel with others even if only for a day, but for the next two weeks we would be on our own again.
Despite the usual mayhem at the station we boarded our train which left at the scheduled departure time – the advantage of starting at the first station on the train's journey. Though only 8:30pm the seats were already setup as sleepers which made it difficult to sit upright as there is a lack of headroom on the bottom level. While the egg curry served on board was adequate, it was a challenge eating it with the world’s thinnest and bendiest plastic spoon and mostly liquid curry sauce. As we got ready for bed no one had come to pick up the rubbish from the meals so I went in search of a train attendant. He got us to get all our rubbish (tinfoil containers, paper and plastic bits) and opened the train door, indicting to us to chuck it outside! Normally we would have refused but seeing how earlier I had watched an attendant sweep the rubbish from the floors and straight out the door I presumed that is where it would end up anyway. Also, looking out the train windows showed a long string of rubbish track-side even out in the remotest parts of the country. With no one else around it was clearly from the passing trains.
Sleep is difficult on the trains and new arrivals at stations along the way have no concept of talking quietly, nor of keeping lights turned off. So we were awake well before our 08:30 am arrival, except we soon learned that we were only halfway along the journey! We eventually trundled into Varanasi three hours late after 15 hours on board.
Luckily our Guest House proved to be a little oasis tucked down a quiet lane - that was after you made it up the steps at the entrance to the lane, ducked through the tunnel under the surrounding buildings, avoided the broken cobbles and potholes, and sneaked your way past the nasty monkeys! Comfortable, clean and with friendly staff. Best of all it was just one minute from the nearest ghat (the riverside steps where all the people congregate for ritual washing, ceremonies are held, and cremations are performed). Our most-welcome discovery was Baba Lassi, a small café specialising in the best ever lassis. A great spot to chill out.
|washing the laundry in the Ganges|
|laundry spread out to dry on the banks|
|hosing silt back into the Ganges|
On our final evening we went down to the nearest ghat, took our places upon a boat moored at the river edge (along with numerous other tourists) and watched an Aarti – a Hindu ceremony being performed. Forty-five minutes of music and singing with five performers, each on his own little stage). They perform this every night and we could see the same being repeated at the next ghat along the river too.