Our train from Agra to Varanasi took about 8 more hours than it was supposed to due to the thick winter fog. The whole group was definitely ready to get off that overnight train! By the time we reached our hotel, we had been in transit for almost 24 hours.
The next morning after breakfast, our group went on a tour of the ghats with our guide, Shakti. Varanasi is located on the Ganga River (what we call the Ganges River) and has many steps leading down to the water that are called ‘ghats.’ Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world, believed to be over 3500 years old. The city is for Lord Shiva, and the river is extremely important to Hindu’s who pilgrimage here in order to receive ‘moksha.’ Moksha is the release and emancipation from the cycle of death and rebirth and is the ultimate goal of life (similar to Buddhist ‘nirvana’).
Every morning at sunrise and sunset, Hindu priests perform a ceremony to pray on behalf of all Hindus. We were lucky enough to be able to see it at both times of day! One night we took a boat on the Ganges to view the ceremony from the water.
It is also popular for Hindus to light a candle and release it on the river while making a wish.
The next morning, we woke up early (and bundled up- it was cold!) to join in the free yoga at the ghat near our hotel. As we arrived, we saw the priests performing the morning ceremony.
After waiting for an hour (we were on ‘India time’), we participated in yoga with the locals. It was very basic, and covered a little stretching and a lot of deep breathing practice.
Later that day we took a tuk tuk to Sarnath Temple, which is the place where Buddha received enlightment
We were supposed to take an overnight train from Varanasi back to Delhi, but due to the weather trains had been delayed even more than we were getting to Varanasi and our train was cancelled. We weren't the only group who was now in a lurch, but I can't imagine a tour guide handling the issues better than ours. Shakti made all the options known, and this included offering to help people with their travel insurance if they needed to fly back to Delhi to ensure they caught their flights out.
He ended up booking us a private "coach" to drive us from Varanasi to Delhi, and we left about 4 in the morning. The drive ended up taking about 18 hours due to some slow driving in the morning because of thick fog, traffic in various places, and the roads not being the best. Like in Africa, the roads all go straight through towns and there are often speed bumps along the way so there is little time spent truly cruising at a relatively high speed. Some of our tour group was flying out early the next morning, so this was the last day we all had together. When we finally arrived at the hotel in Delhi, we said some good byes and made plans for the next day with the remaining tour group.
Our last day in Delhi was spent getting breakfast with the remaining group, getting packed up and making sure our flights were still on time and we were checked in, and then checking out one last (monkey) temple and some more of Delhi with the last 2 tour members before a last dinner in town.