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April 6th, 2012

From lassi to whisky in a day

Before I re-plunge back into the maelstrom that is life in Delhi, let me complete my Varanasi saga.

But first things first.

Sister dearest asked for pictures of the little boy at Sarnath whom I told you about yesterday.

Here he is with a fistful of purloined candles…

And after Nilima’s words of spiritual guidance, here he is putting them back and re-lighting them, bless him.

So, I told you about Day One, which was an action-packed day of visiting Sarnath, dashing back to Varanasi for the Ganga Aaarti which we eventually decided to skip in favour of –  dare I say it ? –  shopping.  Wait, wait, before you all log out in horror, let me tell you that we didn’t want to be late for the aarti, and that we went the next night, and it was utterly fantabulous.

The only thing I regret is that we couldn’t stay longer at Sarnath, listening to this group of Thai Buddhist monks and nuns chanting and praying.  It was magical.

So, other than shopping and eating and having delicious lassi on the street, and more shopping, what else did we do ?  Well, we visited museums and hung around Assi Ghat watching the wierd and wonderful goings on there.  And we went to the Ganga Aarti.

Having never been to an aarti before (amazing, really, when you think how many years I’ve lived here) I thought the whole thing was utterly fantastic, though even I could tell it probably was a slightly OTT-made-for-tourists-production, which my companions confirmed.

Be that as it may, it was a lovely show, let’s put it that way.

7 pujaris on one side of the ghat and a competing 5 on the other side (they wore orange, ours were in cream silk) performed a long almost dance-like sequence involving lots of bells and candles and synchronised movements.  Gorgeous.  Huge crowds on the ghat itself watching, but even bigger crowds on the boats (us included) –  hundreds of boats jostling good-naturedly for position, with vendors casually strolling from one deck to the other, flogging cold drinks and the inevitable candles to float down the river – which we did on our way back after the aarti.

How gorgeous is this as a spectacle ?

So, back in day-by-day getting hotter Delhi, it was off to a seriously elegant party at the Oberoi Gurgaon last night, during which a super rare Glenfiddich whisky was unveiled (only 11 bottles have been made).

The proceeds of the silent auction to buy this bottle (only the 4th of the 11 to be auctioned) went to support the work of my young cousin-in-law Ayesha Grewal.  Ayesha is helping re-introduce drip irrigation into the hill areas where she works and sources her organic food, so we were all very proud of her.

Our good friend Anish Trivedi flew up from Mumbai to MC the evening, and so a thoroughly jolly time was had by all.  As we stood outside in the warm evening in a seriously stylish hotel, eating sushi and drinking chilled white wine, I thought to myself :
(a) how much India has changed in the years I have known it and

(b) that this experience couldn’t be further from Varanasi, if you tried

Before I sign out, here are a few of the fabulous faces we saw in Varanasi, but whether they are for real or were Bollywood extras…ah, who knows ?

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