My friends and I were scheduled to spend three days in Varanasi. On the first day, we explored the city and watched the night Aarti ceremony in the Ghats. On the second day, we took an early morning boat ride on the Ganges, and then visited the city of Sarnath.
Sarnath is the site where Gautama Buddha gave his first discourse to his devotees. It is considered one of the holiest Buddhist sites. While in Sarnath, we visited several temples, the Banaras University, and a museum. These locations were very educational and well-kept. Although Sarnath is considered to be part of Varanasi, it has a completely different vibe and aspect. Unlike the Ghats which are very crowded and buzzing with excitement and energy, Sarnath is peaceful, clean and relaxed. I really enjoyed visiting this holy site. The harmony and beauty of it resonated strongly with me.
At the Buddhist temple, our guide shared many interesting stories and facts about Buddha’s life. Outside, we enjoyed taking pictures of the Buddha statues and shrines. Afterwards, we walked to the grounds that house giant Stupas and a deer park. Next, we visited the Archeological Museum. While we were visiting the museum, we all felt tired and drained. Leyla and I felt physically ill, and Israel said he was very sleepy. Our tour guide tried his best to keep our spirits up and we appreciated his efforts.
We then trailed on to the Banaras Hindu University, and the Bharat Mata temple (which is not dedicated to any gods or goddesses but to India). Next we visited the Durga Temple which was very interesting. A priest performed a cleansing and protection ritual for us and I purchased a red string evil eye bracelet for a friend back home.
After visiting the Durga Temple, we asked our guide to drive us back to our stinky room at the Heritage Inn Hotel. The hotel was mediocre. Our room was poorly ventilated, smelly and cramped. The restaurant served really bad food, and since we had already been to the Ganges there really wasn’t anything worth staying for in that location. The previous night we had unanimously decided we would check out the next day and move into a better place. When I asked to check out the front desk clerk kept asking me what was wrong with our room, and tried his best to convince us to stay. He offered to move us into a better room and even called his manager to talk us into staying. I politely declined and kept to myself how much we disliked the place. I really just wanted to leave.
We drove in silence to the Ramada hotel which was closer to the Varanasi airport. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by it’s location and the ascetics of the building. We were warmly greeted by the staff. They gifted sandalwood malas and treated to fresh fruit juices.
Our room was spacious and the beds were clean and comfortable. The hotel featured two restaurants that offered tasty a la carte and buffet options. There were several shops inside the hotel and in one of them I met a fellow Nithyananda devotee. He saw my mala and asked me if I was Indian and if I spoke Hindi. I told him that no, I was a Mexican tourist from Los Angeles. He asked why I was wearing a mala and I replied that I was a devotee and had recently spent time at a meditation program in Bengaluru. He was very excited when I told him I had met and spent time with Swamiji. He gifted me a necklace and I gave him a bracelet and a card with Swamiji’s picture on it.
That night we all slept like babies in our clean fluffy beds.