We catch an overnight train to ‘ Varanasi.’ (It was warm and we all had sleep! Yeah bonus!)It is probably the most holy and spiritual city in India. People flock here and I’m told every Indian would like to visit before they die. And some actually come here to die.
We take a boat out onto the ‘Ganga’ ( Apparently it is called Ganga not Ganges as I’ve always heard) and we watch the sunset rituals of hundreds of people. This could involve a variety of things from:
*’ taking the holy dip’ so emersing themselves in the water. In preparation we see a lot of people stretching and jumping up and down on the spot.
* some take it further and swim in the river, its quite cold this time of year and I think how brave they are for just getting right in. Some people that we witness doing this sing loudly to disguise the yelp that would probably come out from the shock of the cold water!
*we see a lot of people just sitting and meditating facing out towards the river.
* opposite the ghats on the banks of the Ganga is a sort of beach. On here some people will come and leave an offering of Hair. There was literally lots of piles of hair all over the beach.
The sun set is pretty amazing ( I need new words!) And we carry on down towards the burning ghats. Here is where people whom have passed away come to be cremated.
It feels strange as it is not a sad place. Although the temple behind is blackened with soot and smoke from 100s of years of cremations, and could, at first site be a very gloomy place, to me its not. Each body is surrounded by family members all watching. It is believed to be a blessing if you pass away in Varanasi.
There are over 3 million people living in the city and people from local towns may also be brought here for cremation, so everyday there are cremations here…all day…everyday.
The bodies are covered in bright cloth and flowers as they arrive with their families. Women do not attend the cremation as they are thought to be too emotional so there were only men there.
The bodies are then blessed with the holy Ganga water and then covered in Ghee- a butter to assist in catching fire. The families will stay until all that is left is ashes and then release the ashes into the Ganga.
Surrounding all this are thousands of logs mounted up on each side of the temple and life goes on as many animals wonder around and boats like ours sail past and watch…it’s just truly another world…
We are all so quiet on the boat and I’m guessing everyone was reflecting on their lives to date…
Varanasi is different to the other big city’s to me and one of the main reasons is that every inch of the streets are covered in rickshaws…hardly any tuk tuks! ( Rickshaws are little carriages that sit two people pulled along by a man riding a bike and tuk tuks are little covered motorised vehicles with 3 wheels that produce a lot of smoke!)
Because of this the sound of bells ringing ( their horns) is so loud. I felt really sorry for our rickshaw driver -he looked like he was going to keel over by the end of the ride trying to pull me along!!! Tuk tuks can be scary but with rickshaws you are totally exposed! We rode into the back of a few motorbikes and the odd man that got in his way! I have some videos of this and basically all you can hear is me screaming over the top of bells! I know they say you are blessed if you die there but I wasn’t ready but I can laugh about it now!
The following morning we go out on a boat again for sun rise. We take part in the flower ceremony and each of us release a little bowl of flowers with a candle in, onto the Ganga and make a wish….I love this and everyone looks really peaceful and happy…
This didn’t last long as Dushyant decides to get us all a snack…turns out its not for us but for the birds!
Now I immediately thought I was going to hate this but it turned out to be a really nice experience. You had to throw the food up into the air and the birds would sweep and catch it. I was amazed that no one got s**t on them.
I was a little poorly in Varanasi and although it’s never nice, I’m glad I had some time to myself to reflect on this unbelievable place…