Yes, this trip did include yet another 12 hour train ride and though exhausting my week in Varanasi was great. The NGO we worked with was Kiran Village. Kiran serves children with disabilities in the region surrounding Varanasi. This organization provides primary education, therapy, skills training and employment among other great services. It really is an amazing organization, I was actually really emotional and almost cried at first because just spending time at Kiran made me really happy but my friends wouldn't let me because they were afraid that they would start crying too. Instead of crying, we decided to play with the bachchas (children) whom we rode the bus with to and from school every day. Most of the time the bus was so crowded that we ended up with one or more bachchas on our laps on the bus ride. Sometimes they decided to sing to us, tell us jokes or show us what they learned that day in class, but most of all they really liked when we took their pictures. And we did...a lot, as you will see in my pictures from Varanasi.
But we didn't just spend all of our time at Kiran, even though it was its own little version of Utopia. Other significant activities from Varanasi include the bakery where Kiran sold the goods made by those youngsters with disabilities that they trained in their skills training unit. I feel the need to note that we visited this bakery every day given that the bus dropped us off right in front of it on our way home. Convenient, no? But given that we were staying right on the Ganges it was only right that we take a stroll down to the main ghat (the banks of the Ganges are divided into sections called ghats) for a bit of arthi watching. Arthi is a ritual that is performed every night on the backs of the Ganges, dedicated to the river which is considered to be a god in Hindu religion. They light some pretty cool lamps on fire and wave them around for a bit as they pray to Ganga Ji (the river). It was really pretty but I must say that the boat ride we took on the Ganges just before sunrise was a bit more beautiful and even peaceful. Even though I was a hot mess at 5:30 am due to an unfortunate lack of my morning chai (the usual for Varanasi was 4 cups before I even left the hotel - I think it's replacing my other addiction to coffee), the boat ride was breathtaking. We got to see a beautiful deep red sun rise on the river as we were taken down the river where there were many people bathing or performing a puja (Hindu prayer or offering to the gods) in the Ganges, not to mention the two cremation ghats we passed by. Post-boat ride (and an egregious amount of chai, of course) we had a little bit of free time before departure and I may or may not have gone back to the bakery for some of their delicious jam biscuits made with their amazing pumpkin jam. All I can say for myself is I do not regret the biscuits...or the jam.
There's probably more that I should be telling you but it's been a bit too long since I got back so I've forgotten a lot. I have a terrible memory, I know...sorry! I promise to upload an album with all the pictures from Varanasi very soon. Anyway, hasta luego!