My buddy Zack dropped me a line over Christmas, “Did you ever travel through India or Bangladesh?” From there, it didn’t take long for us to firm up some plans. I would be meeting him in India in late January.
On the evening of Thursday, January 26th, I flew to New Delhi and connected to Varanasi, the spiritual capital of India. I caught a taxi and headed into town as it started to rain. The rain quit as the cab let me out. The driver said he could take me no further and pointed in the general direction of my hotel. I immediately found myself navigating the muddy and narrow laneways of Varanasi occasionally asking the locals how to get to Munshi Ghat. My persistence paid off and I found the Ganges Inn which lacks any sort of sign indicating that it is, indeed, a hotel. The man at the desk greeted me and I inquired about my friend’s whereabouts. He said he checked in yesterday along with Mr. Scott. I knew right away it could be none other than Scott from Brisbane. The 3 of us traveled to S.E. Asia together in 2005 along with some other friends. I got settled in the room and rested my eyes for a few minutes before I heard the guys coming up the stairs. What Zack had planned as a surprise was ruined by the deskman, but it was great to see Zack and Scott standing at my door.
Learning Zack was suffering from Delhi belly, likely from his street meat experiment in the capital city the day before, Scott and I hit the ghats while Zack retired to his room. Walking the ghats of Varanasi is like no other experience I’ve had. The bathing, the sadhus, the pilgrims, the filth, the smells, the list goes on. Scott and I made an attempt to enter the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, one of the 12 jyotirlinga Shiva temples, but were turned away because we didn’t have our passports. We came so close and were not about to be defeated so we went back to the hotel and got the necessary ID. The temple experience was very cool. Barefoot with sacrificial marigolds and milk in hand, we entered the temple and had a quick moment in front of the lingam before we were shooed away. We made it back to the hotel and found that Lucky, night-man of the hotel, had come through with the previous day’s pre-order of a dozen strong Kingfisher tallboys. We had a few beers on the rooftop overlooking Varanasi before Zack rallied and joined us. That night, we attended the puja at the nearby Dashashwanedh Ghat and had a thali dinner.
We were up at 5:45 am the next morning and made our way to the river. A young oarsman took us for a morning ride down the Ganges and back. We saw the Manikarnika burning ghat where funeral pyres burn around the clock. Back on shore, Zack and I skinned down to our bathing suits and got in the Ganges. A man beside us offered the use of his soap bar so we indulged and lathered up. It was a chilly morning so we bee-lined back to the hotel after a quick dip.
I was off to the airport with the fellas having spent less than 24 hours in Varanasi. We caught our flight to New Delhi and took the metro into New Delhi station. From there, we had to cross over the Delhi train station and then hop in a tuk tuk to get to our hotel. Incredibly, this guy shouted out Zack’s name as we went by…it was Zack’s guide from 3 days prior. You’re in a city of 20 million people for about 3 hours and meet 2 people. You return 3 days later and run into 1 of the 2 people you know. What are the chances?
A.J. and Raj met us at our hotel an hour later and we piled into the back seat of their tuk tuk. Scott wanted to go to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple so we made our way there and had a good look around. After a couple street beers with our guides, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. We found a great restaurant in Connaught Place, then, being Saturday night, tried to find some nightlife. Our attempts weren’t bearing much fruit so Zack bailed early and Scott and I weren’t far behind him.
The next morning, we had a driver lined up to take us to Old Delhi. The driver parked and told us to hire 2 rickshaws. We went into the Red Fort, saw the street markets of Chandni Chowk, visited Jama Masjid, pedaled the rickshaws, hung out with a cobra charmer, bargained for pashminas, and Zack even helped a crew of guys dig a hole. We stopped by the hotel so I could grab my things and we returned to the same restaurant from the night before. We had a quick meal before I started my journey home. Scott would head back to Brisbane the next day. Zack traveled to Amristar in Punjab before heading back to California. I’m sure the 3 of us will have more great adventures in the future.