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Day 33 of The Candid Odyssey

Most of the time, our co-passengers on the train are families. Especially for long-distance journeys. But today is an exception. In our morning train to Varanasi, the entire coach is filled up with a group of multi-level marketers! Yes, around 50+ people group who sell products through person-to-person sales. They booked an entire coach for their return journey from a training session in Lucknow. By the way, we are trapped here because one of them canceled the booking and we got that vacant seat. As our journey progresses, we can see most of their discussions revolve around the scheme and their ‘get rich quick’ dreams! And each of those discussions is reinforcing their existing beliefs. Echo chamber it is. The same happens in our everyday lives also with our involvement in social media, news media, community groups, religious groups, political groups, peer groups, and even academic circles. We see and hear more of what we already believe. We are wired to that. How can we know our beliefs are right or wrong if we don't even get to know the reasoning behind other beliefs? Basically, we all are in an echo chamber. But when we get out of that echo chamber, a new world opens to us. A new world of fresh ideas, varying perspectives, and possibly truth. And that allows us to think and act differently, in the way that we find right. Our beliefs will change, our character will change, and we will change. Anyway, back to our co-passengers, now they are introducing us to their team, company, products, and scheme. From groceries to stationery to electronics, they had everything to sell. By the time we reach Varanasi in the afternoon, we know almost everything about the system. What else can we expect when we are trapped with an MLM team :) 

Varanasi, aka Banaras and Kashi, is historically and culturally significant. Considered as the oldest continually inhabitable area in India, remarkably known for its Ghats, and a central destination for the Hindu pilgrims. And to add to that, our Ganges is here also. It has come a long way, isn't it? :) As we get near the Ghats of the Ganges, we can see the city bustling. The roads and streets are filled with vehicles, tourists, pilgrims, and vendors. What's more interesting is the corridor paths to reach the ghats. That's how we walk towards the ghats from the main road. Small one-person walkable paths with residences and shops on both sides. And it connects to many other similar paths. Our stay is also somewhere in between this. With a lot of wrong turns, return walks, and messing around the maze, we are here at the Varanasi Ghats. 

One of our goals in Kashi is to visit the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, a famous Hindu temple. With lots of entry gates, security restrictions, and modern amenities, it feels very different. We have been to many temples, but this one feels very people-centric. And when we reach the gates inside the gates, then only we see the queue to get inside the temple. After waiting for around half an hour, we can get inside the inner gate. Guess what? One more queue. Gate within a gate within a gate :) And it takes around 2 hours to pass that final gate! It's also not very easy to get out once we get into that queue, so it's like okay, let it be. In the queue, it's just people in front and behind us tightly packed inside a large hall. We can see some people quietly praying and meditating, some patiently waiting to give their offerings, some chanting mantras loudly in a fun way, some networking, some just impatient to get the Darshan, some complaining, and some even fainting in the queue. No comments. And finally, the wait is over, we are inside! The inside is very elegant. We get a few seconds for the Darshan, and then we can peacefully roam around the temple. No more queues :) Now we could see all happy faces feeling much more relieved. Actually, visiting this temple is a lifelong dream for many of those who are here with us. We can see that in many faces. The feeling of fulfillment. I am sure it's also something that they will remember forever. What we seek, we achieve. What we achieve, we cherish. 

The queues in the temple took more time than we expected. We can walk around now and explore more ghats. Right within our reach is the Manikarnika Ghat, a large place for cremations right beside the Ganges. Cremations and last rites done here are believed to bring Moksha to the dead, meaning liberation from the cycle of rebirth. It's already late evening and cremations are still going on. We also become part of those cremations. Not like a tourist, but like a member of the mourning family. We are the only tourists here as such. The heat is unbearable though. Hats off to those people who work here every day! It's ashes everywhere, and the Ganges is there to dissolve it all. Many people are here on the ghat, either remembering their lost ones or tired of the cremation works. As a refreshment for everyone over here, we have the Chai vendors. Here, the chai is served in clay cups. It tastes much better. That's why we get addicted to it and take 3 cups back to back. Let's stop at 3 and leave here :) 

There are a lot more ghats here, another popular one being the Dashashwamedh Ghat. This is where the Aarti happens. But that's already over and all we can see now is the waste flowers and the dogs looking out for food. We could simply sit here, look out to the Ganges, and let the night pass by. But before it gets too late, we need to get into our stay, that's Stay Inn Heritage. We also have to play through the corridor maze to find that accommodation :) By the time we reach here, we are informed that the rooms are full. Since we already booked, they are now taking us somewhere else. Some place away from the main roads. No one is anywhere nearby. After some long walks through the maze, we reach another stay. But inside also, no one here except a person dressed like a monk. No proper lighting. Doors can't be locked. Looks shady overall. I have no idea what will happen. At the extreme, even if we get killed, it will be a good thing. Because many come to Kashi to spend their last days of life. We will wait and see if this will be our last day :) 

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