Varanasi/Benares Journal Day 2

Dec 5 13....Brilliant sunshine, little fog. The streets are quiet and there is no traffic...?!? Yet. We head to the river in a caravan of vans, 18 of us. And more Indians join us there. We are going for a boat ride...a big boat with two decks and a red, blue and yellow striped awning on top; it sports a white, ornate iron balustrade to keep us from falling off. It's the first big multilevel river boat I have ever seen on the Ganges. Very fancy...for Benares! We walk onboard over an aged gangplank with a bamboo handrail held by two boatman.

Then a sweet and lazy boat ride upriver past the bathing ghats. "It sure beats dodging traffic in town," S. Satyananda says.

Old buildings and old marble steps, very grey and weathered due to the beating from the floods of Mother Ganga every monsoon. Around the main Dashwamedha (100 Horse Sacrifice) Ghat, colorful ochre and dark rust paint illuminates the walls and multi storied temple steeples, punctuating the earthy monochrome down and upstream.

Up near the Asi river [Varanasi is the city between the Vara and Asi rivers on the Ganges, better known as Benares or Kashi], Trilanga Swami had a cave which he turned into a shrine. We see pictures of him meeting with Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Paramananda, and others in the 19th Century. 150 years ago, legend has it that Trilinga Swami dragged a huge, quarter of a ton black monolith out of the Ganges and installed it above his cave as a Shiva Lingam....he is said to have had miraculous yogic powers, traditionally called Sidhis or perfections, and reportedly lived for over 300 years. He installed a statue of Krishna with a lingam on His head to appease the contentious followers of both Shiva and Krishna.

Also, there is a Kali statue, locked up behind a metal fence. Shree Maa has the shrine-keeper open up the gate and we gather round to do a Kali Puja. [It will be available on Vimeo per shreemaa.org website in a few days...look for me waving at the end, if I make the editor's cut.]

Then crawl down a couple flights of narrow stairs into Trilinga's meditation cave for several minutes of meditation: pure golden shining light bliss-out.

Back across the plank to ferry to the other shore, a long, wide, white sandbar, for the proverbial bath in the Ganges. The Ganga is reputedly cleaner on the otherside!?! Well maybe, marginally. The dead, partially cremated, bodies and sewage are on the city side... mostly.

Off with everything but some underwear, India is still quite Victorian. The water is warm, almost clear, and shallow....trudge thru the sandy bottom 50 yards for waist-deep water, then sink. Press and hold the nose, eyes, and ears; and pray!

Its 24 hours later and I seem to have remained healthy. It seems to have brought a sweet hit about 10 minutes after drying off.

Pack up and head off to Kolkata on the 8:25 PM 'express" train from a reeking station, way outside of town. "Kolkata Vibhuti Express will be one hour late"

is announced 30 minutes after the departure time. 0300 AM -- head back to Benares since the train is over 4 hours late and we can get our money back. Shree Maa had become disenchanted with the whole Kolkata plan by that time. Looks like we will hang out around town.

Now its time to book a return flight from Benares to Dehli for Dec10th.