Monday, 19 January 2009

Day 4: Back to Varanasi

Day 4 (11 January 2009): Sarnath, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

You’re not going to Varanasi if you have not gone to the Gangga River. So, I went there at 8ish in the morning with mbok Wayan and Sita, taking a very smelly thuk-thuk (auto-rickshaw) to Kedhar Ghat. After bargaining, we took off with a boat to the sand island across the river. Sita had wanted to step on the island since a few days ago when she went to the river for the first time, and I have to say it was not a bad idea. The scenery was picturesque, and it wasn’t as smelly as the main bank of Gangga.

Sita and I then tried to row the boat in Ma Gangga. We realised that it was not as easy as it seemed; we tried to row the boat, but it just went rotating at the same axis for 10-15 minutes. Surish-bhai the boatman laughed at us and took over the paddles again. Thanks to his professional rowing, we arrived at the other ghat in no time.

A trip to the Golden Shiva Temple was cancelled for we had to leave our shoes and – most importantly – camera (!) outside, so we went shopping instead. Just a piece of black kurta with beads and a yellow Shiva shawl, the latter came complete with the pungent odour of beetle nut. Oh, and a very nice sandstone statue of Buddha head with chubby face and friendly smile, and a pink Orissa stone small statue of Radha-Krishna with elaborate details. We also bought Bapak a very lovely pink stone Saraswati with her sitar.

After the shop-till-you-broke experience, we endeavoured to go to the Benares Hindu University with thuk-thuk, to no avail because as we arrived at the gate, we realised that it would be too late for us to go to Sarnath for His Holiness’ afternoon class. We hired another, a bigger, thuk-thuk and rerouted to Sarnath; a journey along the dusty roads of Varanasi that took almost an hour because that bloody driver took the opportunity to take other passengers too and went to various places. I think we were expensively robbed! Bastards!

Anyway… clear your mind, Padawan… After an exhausted journey, from which I learned that Varanasi was definitely worse than Jakarta in terms of traffic discipline, pollution and dust, we finally arrived at the dusty gate of Sarnath. Mbok Wayan and Sita opted to return to the hotel, but not before wandering around for a Tibetan skirt and a thangka. I chose to join the afternoon class, which was nice, but I honestly have to say that it would be much better for me to join Dalai Lama’s class in English next time, akin to the ones in Melbourne and Geelong in June 2008. I trust that His Holiness’ translators are excellent, but I prefer not to experience ‘lost in translation’ whatsoever. I think His Holiness is to visit Melbourne in December 2009. That’ll be another opportunity, eh? That is, if Dharamsala is too expensive for now.

After class, I strolled the dusty lane of Sarnath and bought a very lovely ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ thangka, black and red in colour, very beautiful. Plus a Bodhgaya style bag and a Tibetan praying flag. I found no available hotel or homestay in Sarnath, or if there was any, I couldn’t find it. I supposed the best course of action was to book another room in Ideal Tower for 14 January.

Despite my short visit to Sarnath, I learned one thing: I still respect His Holiness Dalai Lama’s decision for Tibetan autonomy, but I am also still 100% a supporter for a Free Tibet. There is no other way: Tibet has to be free, and the Existence better make it fast, or I shall launch my nth protest towards the Supreme Being for the utter injustice that has been happening in Tibet. Watching thousands of Tibetans in Sarnath faithfully attending His Holiness’ teaching (one man in front of me even did a series of praying in Tibetan way – looked very much like the combination of yoga and shalat – for more than 15 minutes!), I am proud of their persistence in maintaining their cultural identity despite the cruelty of Chinese government upon them. These people deserve to have their own land back; they have more right than any Chinese people (and any other people, including myself) to set foot in a Free Tibet, going in and out of the country as they wish, recreating and rebuilding their country as they believe in.

Tibet is a personal issue for me. More than once, people in Sarnath thought I was a Tibetan or someone from the Himalayan region. Perhaps…I was one of them in my previous life time. And now, my journey to Sarnath reaffirmed my belief in a Free Tibet, and I shall never tire of praying and helping them for that.

Pic 1: A boat and the seagulls hovering over Ma Gangga
Pic 2: Me and Sita trying to row the boat (to no avail)
Pic 3: People selling Tibetan crafts in Sarnath

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