Haridwar is a very different city compared to the Rishikesh area. I find it more authentic and western tourism is not as noticeable. I got myself settled into the hotel where I had a hot shower, clean white sheets, a heater in my room and it was toasty warm. I was lapping up the luxury with two hot showers in the same day. There is a young girl at the Ayurvedic spa that gives the most incredible head and foot massage. I found myself melting into the table. She had to nudge me to get my attention to tell me it was time for the steam room and bath!
Early in the evening, I went back into the colourful market place and was able to go down to the Arti (fire) ceremony. Last time I participated in the ceremony and was not able to take any photos. This time a young man that I went with from the hotel put me onto one of the little bridges overlooking the whole event. I took some awesome photos. After being in the ashram for the last month I have learned so much more about what puja means. It makes a huge difference to me and my experience. The worship to Maa Ganga (the holy river Ganges) is a profound moment. At sunset the people are lined up along the waters edge, bells are ringing, the fire is glowing and the ritual of saluting Maa Ganga, loved ones and bidding her farewell for the night takes place.
The next morning I was up early to leave the hotel by 6am for a jungle adventure. My friends Ralph, Katie, Parthi and I travelled in the wee hours to greet the morning sunrise from the surrounding forested area. We all had visions of seeing the leopards, tigers, elephants and all of the the many wild animals that live in the forest. I have to say I was glad to greet the warmth of the sun. Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) greeted to the east where the sun rises each morning invigorates the body.
It is an enchanting experience to witness the new day unfolding in this vast wilderness with so much wildlife only 10 minutes from a busy city area. I find deep peace here.
No, that is not me in the bottom photo. This is my friend Yogi. And yes, some of the yogis I have met on my journey do look like this. After my jungle adventure and later that same afternoon about 3:30 I went to the train station by rickshaw to see if I could change my train ticket to a higher class. I was booked in sleeper class...thinking this was going to let me sleep...that is what is says....does it not? Well, turns out this is not the case. Originally, I was booked in AC class, but when I changed my plans the section was full and this class was all I could get. Being in the ashram without phone or internet did not make it easy to make travel arrangements. I was told to go directly to the station to see if I could upgrade. The train station was an experience in itself....lots of people traveling because of the holiday time. Even though I am in a Hindu country they do take holiday time during Christmas. I was told the only way to upgrade my ticket is once I board the train and speak with the train conductor checking the tickets.
My train was to leave at 8:30 that evening. Parthi was kind enough to extend my room time until 6PM. We met at the train station as he was sending off his wife to Delhi. I got to wait at the Police station office near the train as it was quieter while Parthi took care of his wife. (let me say I was glad to be a guest) They treated me very well even offering me tea and it was a quiet location. Parthi and I had some time to chat before my train left. Suddenly, he got word from the police that my train was going to be late and not arrive until midnight. We went back to the hotel and I was given another room. I can only say how grateful I am to you Parthi....thank you for being such a good friend and so generous to me. Anyways, we were going to meet at 7:30 for dinner. On my way to dinner I got the front desk person to call the train station to see the status of the train. He told me that it was arriving at 8:05 and I should head out right away. I gathered my things and was off like a shot with a rickshaw driver trying to get through rush hour traffic. I am getting to know this route pretty well now. I thought it was busy earlier in the day... one thing about the rickshaw, either human powered or motor driven - they take it seriously. We were on a mission to get me to the train station before my train was leaving at 8:05 and it was 10 minutes to the hour. One thing I do know now is, just go with it all. Once we start dodging rickshaws, bulls, people, cars, bikes and dogs, I just relax and let them do their job, even if all of the above are coming at you head on. I just beathe and trust the Universe. We had rush hour traffic....imagine that!
We arrived at the station in the nick of time. The rickshaw driver can only go so far and I had to walk the remainder of the way. I got off the rickshaw...put my pack on and quickly got to platform number 1. There was a train there and I found someone that could speak some English. "Oh, mame, they just announced the train will be late arriving after 11pm tonight." The man told me that I should go to the waiting room as it would be safer and quieter for me. There were men, women, children, monkeys, cows and who knows what else sitting and laying all around the station platform.
I started to wander along the platform when I spotted a young man with a funny hat, reading a book. For some reason I was drawn to him and went his way asking if he spoke English. He looked at me and smiled.."some" he said. Turns out Roele is from Germany traveling on the same train and the same car as me. Only a few seats away. What are the chances? I asked him if it was ok if I sat on my pack next to him. He was delighted. We both sat on our back packs watching the events. He was engrossed in his book...and me the fascination of people waiting for trains. I loved watching the monkeys balancing on the beams above. They would find a willing person that would allow them to balance on their head. It made for a good comedy show.
Parents would bring their children to get a photo with me. A handsome young man came by that could speak English and we chatted for a while. He was a cricket player visiting Haridwar bringing his mother to her final resting place with Maa Ganga. I enjoyed my visit with this young man. He could speak English well, was easy to look at and very knowledgeable about spiritual matters. He lives in the Osho Commune. He assured me that many of the other young men were eyeing me up too. I am old enough to be your mother....."Mame" he said..."you only look 32." Smooth, they are smooth. I called Parthi who told me that he would send a driver to pick me up and wait at the hotel....but I decided to stay.
The train finally arrived and we pulled out of Haridwar by 2am. Only 5.5 hours late. Apparently, there was fog and many of the trains had been late for days up to 14 and 15 hours late.
I got onto the train and found my spot. Bed number 1. I waited for the ticket agent to come and check my ticket so I could also ask to be upgraded. He never did show up. My German friend told me the agent came to him within 20 minutes. I took this as a sign that I was to BE here in this experience. I had asked the Universe to upgrade me to first class. I guess I needed to be more specific in what section of the train.
Everyone else that was on the train was already sleeping and snoring. I was on the bottom bunk with two more above me. I could lay down but not sit up. Fortunately, I brought some shawls to cover me and keep warm and the sound of the train clattering over the tracks kept the snoring sounds to a minimum. I had also brought some fruit and nuts...chocolate too. Nothing was served on the train. Of course, now I had the experience of being in first class with the previous train. The sleep class, which is a bunk and nothing more, gave me the contrast to know what I prefer. The toilet is just a hole in the floor going out to the tracks. Cool foot placements and good thing for hand wipes.
Laying in my bunk I realized that I was in the first class of the sleeper section. I had the lower bunk with easy access to my things, a window that opened over my head, was in a space that was tucked away from the main alley way and very close to the bathroom and train door. What more can a girl want?
Many people where travelling from Haridwar to Lucknow. Once we arrived in Lucknow, the sun was just setting. It looked very odd to see the most beautiful red fire in the sky hovering over the train station which was grey in contrast. The train in sleeper car class almost emptied out. We had another 8 to 10 hours to travel and since most people had gone I could now find a more suitable bed and somewhere that I could actually sit upright.
We ended up getting to Varanasi at 4:30 the next morning, only 14 hours later than expected. With a total of 32 hours of waiting and train time.
When I was in Haridwar heading for the train station for the 3rd time that day, I had decided that if I was not going to make the original train I was not even going to go to Varanasi. At that point I had just had enough...for some reason part of me wanted to go and the other not. Instead, what I found was an ultimate test. I have met people that have told me that part way on their journey to Varanasi they had to turn back, or something happened that they changed their minds, or the frustration was too much. Varanasi - the city of Light is an ancient city full of amazing energy and gifts. The city makes the decision whether one comes or not. It was a test of my courage and strength to BE in the present moment with whatever came my way. We were ready for each other....or for whatever lay before me.
Thank you Varanasi for allowing me to enter your sacred city.
And, I leave you all with this one thought,
"The Universe favours the brave. When you resolve to lift your life to the highest level, the strength of your soul will guide you to a magical place with magnificent treasures"
I am off to find the treasures and BE in the light.
So BE it! Om Shanti - peace