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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Monday, 21 February 2011

February 21st: Benares

On February 21st 1982 I was in Benares.  I was spending a few days in the city with Mary, returning to many places I'd visited three years earlier, see here.

Bathing at dawn:  My picture
This was our last day in Benares and we were getting a train in the afternoon.  It was a Sunday morning, we were on the river about dawn and took a tourist boat so that we could take some photographs.  We started in the centre from  Dashashwamedh where the ghats were full, busy and colourful.  We went both ways along the river first upriver to Assi and then back down towards the bridge, passing Manikarnika and the burning ghats and coming in to Scindia Ghat so that we could get off.  We took a final look at Maha Ganga, and then walked through the lanes, had an early lunch on sweet curd and masala dosa.

Manikarnika:  My picture
On an earlier day we had visited the Ramnagar Fort which is on the other side of the river a little upstream of Assi.  We crossed by the pontoon bridge and looked past the boats to the distant curve of the city.  The palace has the right air of decaying grandeur, and some nice exhibits, like the astrological clock and the impressive collection of guns and other weapons, some nice ivory carving, like miniature elephants in red peas, a procession, ordinary cows and faces, an elephant chained under a spreading tree.  We saw a fine audience room with tiger skins and a tunnel down to the bathing ghat and the little temple reminding us where the fort is situated.   Back in the city Mary had a first walk along the ghats and a long linger at the burning ghats which were very active; one body burning close to us, another distant, a body being dipped in the holy river, nearby chanting, maybe for a wedding, unloading sand for building, hammering nails on a new boat, fine black buffaloes being led home, tourists watching above, sadhus smoking round tridents below.   We also took a trip out to Sarnath, much as I remembered it, nothing of especial architectural interest, but quiet and pleasant in a garden setting; the big stupa is quite impressive, with some old Tibetans circling it with malas, and there are good sculptures in the museum.   As much as anything we enjoyed a long sit on the benches near the rickshaw rank, drinking tea and chatting with the people there.

Benares Lanes:  My Picture
When we first arrived Mary was sick, so in the afternoon, after curd and papaya, my long promised treat to myself, I went into town alone.  I spent the daylight mainly on the ghats, firstly on the main ghat among the freaks and sadhus.  I stood and watched at the burning ghats; finally I sat reading Kabir at my old favourite, Scindia Ghat, seeing all the things I knew three years ago, the sunken temple opposite the sadhus' tent, the tank where the engineer wanted to clean the water in Queen Victoria's time.  Then I returned to the centre via the the lanes behind the burning ghats which are some of the best, the eternal Benares; there was a small funeral cortege, old men in shawls sitting in minuscule shops in the bottom of a huge balconied building, chai shops and Ganesh stones painted red.  It still seemed the perfect medieval city. I had a passable chapatti thali and wandered around in the centre in the bright lights of the evening, everything so busy and colourful.  There was a ganja shop still functioning with a large man sitting behind a cage and a queue of mainly old men customers and some sitting on the bench outside.  Bhattacharya's was still there, the fine-looking Homeopathic Medicine Shop, one of several in the area.  

At Dawn:  My picture

Sarnath:  My picture

Crossing to Ramnagar:  My picture

On The Ghats:  My picture

Lanes:  My picture

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