March 06, 2016
Around 2:30 A.M. our driver, Vanessi, drove us for three hours from Jaipur to the Indira Gandhi airport in Delhi so that we could catch our 9 A.M. flight to Varanasi.
That morning we were all tired and drained from a busy week of non-stop traveling and sightseeing. We slept most of the way to the airport, and groggily checked in. We had some issues with our luggage being over weight and had to figure out how to distribute the weight between us to avoid fees. My friend Leyla was experiencing stomach pains, and we were all in desperate need of sleep and rest.
We landed safely in Varanasi and found the airport there to be very small and simple compared to the one in Delhi. We drove about an hour to our hotel which was located in the heart of the city, very close to the ghats. The hotel we had booked trough Travel Fair India was lame. The room that we were checked into was smelly, cramped and poorly ventilated. The food was mediocre and the location was a bit shady. The first week of our trip was handled by Heritage India Private Tours. Every hotel and tour was great. We had been spoiled by their excellent service and the organizer Mr. Magan Singh was very attentive. The service and hotel offered by our second agency paled in comparison and we resented not having the same quality.
As we were checking in I felt nauseous and faint. The front desk clerk offered to call a doctor. I accepted, and a couple of hours later the physician came to my room to examine me. He said I had contracted a virus and gave me two injections and some pills and instructed me to only eat bananas or steamed rice for the next two days.
We spent the afternoon resting in our room with the door open to air out the weird smells. At night, we attended the Aarti ceremony in the ghats. That week was particularly busy in the city because of the Maha Shivaratri festivities. Thousands pilgrimaged to celebrate, and we were right smack in the middle of it all. Our guide took good care of us and escorted us trough the crowds. Being in that environment stirred a mixture of emotions. It was both exciting and scary. It felt intriguing and overwhelming.
The Aarti ceremony was mesmerizing. Thousands of people gather in the ghats to witness the chanting and rituals. At the suggestion of our guide we watched from the top balcony of a restaurant. This was great because there were thousands of people cramped up below and it would have been difficult to see everything in detail. We witnessed cremations and saw several Sadhus whose bodies were covered in ash. After the ceremony we wiggled our way back to our room. The streets were extremely busy with vendors, chariots, humans, horses, dogs and cars. I got hit in the leg by a bicycle and almost got ran over by a car.
Back in the hotel, much to our dismay, the smell we detected earlier had intensified tenfold. It was so bad that Israel slept with his face covered by a scarf. I took two Nyquil pills and drugged myself to sleep. Leyla was still experiencing stomach issues and slept poorly.
March 07, 2016
The next morning we woke up early for a boat ride in the Ganges to watch the sunrise. I felt a little light headed and assumed I was fatigued. The boat ride was about two hours long and when the sun rose we were all in awe. The skies were painted a beautiful amber glow and it was a magical sight.
After breakfast, we decided that we had enough of the smell in our room and decided to move out and book a stay at an American hotel. Before checking out, the doctor came back and injected me again. I noticed that he did not sanitize the area that he injected, and that he brought the injection and medicine wrapped in newspaper. I tried not to freak out and hoped that whatever I had contracted would go away soon. I quietly prayed that the needle he used was new and that I did not have to deal with Hepatitis or some other disease later.
We visited Sarnath, The Banaras Hindu University, several temples, and a museum. At the end of the day our enthusiasm was waning and we felt tired and irritated. We asked our driver to take us to our new hotel. When we arrived at the Ramada, we felt like we had just reached Valhalla. It was a beautiful sight for sore eyes.