Friday, March 7, 2014

Varanasi Diary, Day 1: Welcome to Varanasi

The mustard fields of Bihar stretch more than 200 KMs along the tracks
 28th Feb: Riding on an overnight train (that ironically calls itself a superfast express ) through Bihar while on the way to Varanasi in UP is an experience by itself.
Near an hour after midnight, a huge commotion woke everybody up in the reserved train compartment. A large group of  devotees was returning home on the Shivaratri night after offering puja at the Baidyanath temple, near Jasidih junction. Soaked and drenched in the pouring unseasonal rain outside; they entered the train , pushed, shoved & jostled  till they found themselves spaces to crash . At half past four in the morning when the train reached Patna junction, one could hear the repeated announcements that no train will be plying in the up &  down lines due to some “chakka-jam" (  a sit-in demonstration on the rail tracks) agitation called by the political party BJP. Eventually after waiting for 5 hours without food or water, the train moved again bringing smiles on the faces of harried passengers. Some among them were even happier when they noticed from the door of the compartment , the tall minars of their village mosque (or any other landmark for that matter) approaching as the train rattled through the mustard fields & unknown villages of Bihar. As the landmark was sighted, these  passengers merrily pulled the chain , got down hurriedly and walked back to their homes.

Ganges & the Ghats of Varanasi from the train

Finally we entered UP at around 2 p.m and sped uninterrupted towards Kashi rambling noisily as the train moved over the river Ganges. Alighting at Varanasi junction , six hours behind schedule, as I was making my way towards the auto stand, a shrill & frantic announcement on the station’s PA system shook me up thoroughly.

“Parcel babu, aap kahan hai? Aap jaldi aa jaiye. Ek dead-body parcel mein aye hai. Aap isko handle kijiye (Parcel Officer, where are you ?Please come immediately and handle a parcel containing a dead body)” It dawned on me as I entered one of the oldest towns in the history of human civilization that even death is venerated in Vanarasi where unaccompanied dead-bodies are routinely parceled for cremation at its ghats and eventual salvation of the souls trapped within them.

The rainbow from the hotel balcony

The strangeness and delay of the journey had brought up a fatigue which vanished soon after as I met  Ganesh after 6 years. He ushered me to the hotel balcony overlooking the Ganges . As the post-rain chilly wind blew across the river, I was greeted by this huge rainbow arched in resplendent glory in the horizon. The remaining part of the evening and night, rain continued to pour keeping the night temperature low ,assisted as it was by the incessant windy chill across the river.  

Rainy evening from the roof-top restaurant of the hotel

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