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Ghat Life in Varanasi

varanasi ghats
On the ghats of Varanasi

Today is my Rest day

It is my last day in Varanasi. I will let the Spirit of Varanasi guide me to where she wants and I humbly obey. Hopefully, she’s a bit more seductive and a little less buffeting this time.

First, the Spirit tells me to laze in the clean sheets of my ahhhhh AC palace. I enjoy time off from the heat, the stink, the cows and the scams. I hang out to the cafe patio, have a nice Thali meal (aka a dish comprised of small samplings of different curries, yogurt -for cooling- and rice) and spend time on the internet looking for a hotel in Delhi.

Finally, I “prepare” myself to go out & explore my satanic temptress– get lost in her winding streets, search her for burfis, jalebis and samosa snacks, shop her and check out the life on her ghats!

BROWN is an easy color to be in India

Pollution, noise, poverty and dirt are unavoidable in India and I can’t un-choose them. In L.A., it can take a week for a good layer of dust to cover your car enough to finger the words “Wash Me” on it. In India, I imagine it takes one day! There has not been a day gone by that my nails haven’t looked like I’ve been mining the fields and the color of my bra and underwear after a day or two of wearing, changes drastic shades!

The heat and humidity at this time of year, post-monsoon, is another annoying factor. I’m undergoing water-weight loss and despite my vigilant wearing of 30 – 50 proof sunscreens, within a day, the brown in my Pacific Islander genes calls to surface the “Hawaiian tan” I’ve been avoiding all my life!

Thanks India.

muddy waters at the riverbank

‘No Shoes’ policing at the Golden Temple

Due to the recent bomb scares around India & Delhi, Varanasi has been under high security this week of Durga Puja and Ramlila festivities. The Vishwanath Temple (aka the Golden Temple) is near my guest house and is the only tourist attraction I’m remotely curious about (churches & temples are my weakness). Its entrance has over a dozen policemen guarding it. NO cellphones, NO cameras, NO electronics… and NO shoes!

I am an armed artillery factory as far as these rules go with DSLR, video camera, mobile phones, etc.., but it’s really the effort of going back to my guesthouse to dismantle myself AND the “NO Shoes” rule kind of kills it for me.

Thus, NO Golden Temple.


Priesthood: some go willingly, some…wailing

On the main ghat outside the Shiva temple, I see a group of young men looking on as a barber shaves one of their friends’ heads. A little ways down, I see mothers holding their crying babies as another barber shaves their hair as well. There’s a variety of reasons that Indians get their heads shaven, from celebrating a first birthday, to making an offering or even entering priesthood.


indian barber
indian barber
indian barber
indian barber cuts the hair of children
barber on the ghats


What are those red and white markings on Indian foreheads?

At the main Shiva temple I saw from the boat on my first day, I buy a garland of marigolds for offerings and enter the temple (I took my shoes off and walked with cupped feet, again!) The temple is home to at least 3 or 4 different deities of Shiva, each with its own altar. A priest resides at each altar to give you prasad and that dieties’ corresponding tikka (red dot marking between one’s eyebrows).

flower sellers outside the temple
flower sellers outside the Shiva temple
flower sellers for puja offerings
flower seller sells flowers for puja offerings

In India, there are three types of ornamental markings.

Bindi: painted red dot or a paste-on jewel over the spiritual eye of a woman. It’s always assumed that only married women wear red bhindis ; however, young girls can wear them also. Widowed women wear black bhindhis and in certain cases, some women believe the wealth or the health of her husband is linked to their bhindi and thus, paint large ones on. But in general the concept is similar to the tilaks or tikkas that people get when they visit a temple for pujas.

Tikka (also known as Tilaks) :  circular dots of red powder given by priests during pujas. This is also placed over the third eye to remind practitioners that god sees through the spiritual eye. This is also to activate the spiritual eye chakra or energy source. This third eye is what saints focus their meditations on.

tikka powder
red tikka powder sold for puja blessings


Tilaka (for spiritual men, saddhus and priests): As I’ve said before, Shiva can come in many forms; so apparently, do the tikkas ! This type of marking more than the red dot, but also white ash markings across the forehead. This is to distinguish spiritual men and priests from laypeople. However, you must also be cautious. There are many fake pundits in Varanasi who may bear this sign also.

Shaivas (Shiva followers) markings tend to be two to three lines drawn across the forehead ; whereas, Vaishnas (Vishnu followers) are drawn vertically. Here’s more info on the matter and pictures  at the Sanskrit organization (here).

priests varanasi
young priests on the riverbank: notice the tilakas on their forehead. Symbolic of Shiva.

The tikka I got was a huge round dot the size of a boil. Not a cute tiny sliver or neat, tiny pimple like others I had admired. ‘Big’ could mean ‘abundance‘ or maybe it just meant I needed to open my third eye more… I wiped some of it off.  It was huge. 

tikka christine kaaloa
Sweaty and Tikka’d in Varanasi

Related Varanasi Posts:
Ghat Life in Varanasi
Varanasi’s Humorous Underbelly Tour
Nightmare Hotel in Varanasi
• Video:
“Sunrise on the Ganges”, Varanasi
• Video:
Varanasi’s Ganga Aarti
Travel Tips for India
The Lessons of a first-time Solo Traveler in India
Delhi, the India SIM & New Friends

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Article by Christine Kaaloa

Christine is a solo traveler, blogger and YouTube vlogger, who shares travel advice, trip planning and survival tips and tricks on how to travel alone as a woman, live and work in South Korea and to follow your passion for travel.
Christine Kaaloa tagged this post with: , , , , , , Read 606 articles by


  1. NIROPA ROY says:

    Ir is observed that most of the 3 millions indian women are suffering
    in the diseases of breasts cancer and their doctors advised them to get their breasts massaging once in a week from physiomtheraphist para medical staff but they charge Rs 100/- per woman while malebarbers charge Rs 30/- per woman to do their breasts massaging and breasts milking. hence 95 % women always prefered to get their breasts massaging and breasts milking once in a week from house call male barbers.They do their breasts massaging and breasts milking on most decent ways and they give full satisfaction to women but the male barbers of vanaras streets are not so expert in doing women breasts massaging and breasts milking but in spite of this all yatries women are also get their head shaving, breast massaging , privacy shaving (NIROPA ROY)

  2. chumpasevi says:

    – It is common practice in india that most Nos of indian women get their headshaving from the male barbers at tirupati in india.

    2)- Similarly, a nos of indian women also get their head shaving once in a year by calling male barbers at home for finishing all lices , dried ends of hair( NOOKEN) etc once in one or two years to ful fill the desire of well growth of healthy and long hair upto their knee length.

    3)- A Nos of indian women ( who dont like to get their headshaving but desiring for growing long hair) get their hair massaging once or twice in aweek by calling male barbers at home. The male barbers of india are most expert in doing the hair massaging of the indian women hair very well.The indian women are not feeling any shame to get their hair massaging by sitting before male barbers in upper half body denuded position only except bras

    4)- During hair massaging of the indian women,The male babers also massage the upper half body of the indian women and breasts for producing sensationals waves upto roots of the indian women hair for doing well massaging of the indian women hair in most decent ways

    4)- I think that it is a good thingto get headshaving, hair massaging and breasts shaving because (i)- the getting head shaving once in one or two years can finished all lices in their hair and new well growth and densely & healthy hair are being produced in four to six months upto bra end and upto knee length in 10 to 12 months. (ii) . secondly the problems of dried hairs ends(NOOKEN) is finished in this way which is causing of obstruction in growing hair long and healthy. (iii)- similatly getting hair massaging once in aweek by calling male barber at is also most useful because the male barber cut the dried NOOKEN of the hair and then massaged women hair very well which resulted the growing of hair upto knee length and even more. (iv)- Similarly the getting the breasts massaging ofthe indian women by the male barbers will develop the breasts very well and errected and will enhance the beauty of the women

    4)- It is also notices that all indian women of other religious are also get their headshaving, hair massaging, breasts massaging from the house call male barbers at homes

    5)- Hence it is the main reason that the hair of indian women are very long, dense,heathy and beautifully all the time. Similarly their breasts are most big, stiffed and errected inside their tight scanty blouses.

    6)- All women of the worlds have adopted the same tios of health and beautiful hair.

    31 July 2015 at 23:53

    Please prove you’re not a robot

  3. boota masih says:

    there are existed many nos of barbershops in every street of ghat where the male barbers are doing women head shaving,undershaving, breasts massaging, full body tel malishing etc and they give then full satisfaction to women but they charge
    rs 300/- per women on doing such full service of the women.however they do widows headshaving,undershving ,breasts massaging etc free ([email protected]

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