Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Varanasi - partying with the locals.

We were in Varanasi during their Ram Lila, which is the re-enactment of Lord Ram's life over several weeks.  This seems to involve a real party/fiesta element.

We got a boat over to the far side of the Ganges where the enactment took place. Our fellow passengers included a hoard of local 'characters'.....some holy men and a collection of 'others' plus us, whom I'm sure looked as unusual to them as they did to us!! Anyway, the locals used the voyage to get into the 'party spirit' by partaking of bhang aka "the local herb",which apparently adds to the depth of one's meditation and associated spiritual experience......I had no comment at this point!!

Preparations also involved heavy application of kohl..that's for the guys!

And did I say there were some real characters on board ship????

This was a people watchers paradise! Once we docked at the other side of the river the party preparations continued.....bathing, more kohl, time to get that hair in order and more local herb.... etc. etc.

Then it was time to see the action, no cameras allowed. Even the walk to the huge field where the drama took place was one long photo opp. We entered into a very large enclosed area full of families, families and more families, all in their best clothes - a color extravaganza. Excitement was high. The story of Lord Ram was acted by 40 foot high paper mache puppets. The death of the demon involved loud gun shot sounds which made me jump, to the amusement of some of the veterans in the audience who expected the big bang. As we were leaving the King and Queen, for the thirty days of Ram Lila were carried past aloft. They are a girl and a boy from the local village who are essentially crowned for the month and really are treated like royalty.

The trip wasn't all about the camera, we did experience Varanasi! That night we stopped at a famous lassi stop and sampled the creamy speciality and also made a paan stop. On the way back to base camp we caught a bicycle rickshaw. Made for 2 people, a tight squeeze on a not very flat seat, propelled by a wiry looking guy, who did have to hop off at one point and run and push, we raced through the semi-dark streets of town hurtling and ricocheting through traffic of all descriptions - motorized, pedestrian, and animal. It was actually quite exciting!

And the street food - I am a self-confessed Indian street food junkie!!! I've drunk retsina and ouzo in Greece, eaten snails in France, sheep brains in Tunisia, where it all tastes quite delicious but when you get way. But not so with the Indian chaat - I'm sure it is equally yummy where-ever, when-ever you eat it. I have said this before but there is nothing quite like eating with your bare hands in the open air, the bigger, the juicier the tastier the better!!

The puri, the kachori, the pani poori, the choley, ...  I'm drooling, I'm salivating..............
Wash it down with a sweet, hot, clay cup of chai....and wow it's so gooooood!
We also had time for a spot of shopping - well..... we are girls....we need a little retail activity, some more than others.......One evening we attended a private musical concert in a tiny little musical ashram. Listening to the haunting melodies of flute, sita and tubla blended so well with the mood of Varanasi - tho' I did see a few eyelids drooping and one of our party was disturbed by a large-sized mouse - again in fitting with the Varanasi experience!!!

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