A Holy dip
19.01.2009 28 °C
The River Ganges. I have read about this river and seen it on films and documentaries and my childhood ideas about India were based on this river. Crowds of people bathing in the morning sun while holy cows wonder in the background. As it turns out it really is like that.
The town we stayed in was Varanasi. An ancient town with very high religious significant to the Hindu world. Before you reach the river you have to navigate your way through a labyrinth of lanes and pathways. No cars can fit through them so it's mostly foot traffic. It's a wonderfully claustrophobic experience. Kite sellers, food, sweets and silks are all sold from tightly packed "hobbit hole" shops either side of the alley ways. A real sensory overload. And then you meet the mighty river.
We sat on the banks of the Ganga where all of humanity seems to pass you by. In front of us People make there way down the stone steps of the Ghats to the river, make a small prayer then get on with the normal business of getting clean. It's hard to imagine that they would be getting any cleaner than before they started because to the left of us were the billowing funeral pyres. Logs are piled high then the wrapped body of the deceased is place upon them and set alight after a quick dunk in the river. At times you can see the burning charred remains of the human form twisted in unnatural shapes as the fire gets hold of them. It was a spectacle and one that you at first feel uncomfortable watching. The shock soon wears off and the old saying "ashes to ashes" springs to mind.
It's not hidden away or closed off it's all done out in the open. Children play cricket and fly kites, boat wallahs shout for custom and holy cows and not so holy buffalo do what ever they do mere meters from the piers. The only concession, understandably, that no photos are too be taken of the dead.
Sue and I spent hours people watching and just relaxing on the busy embankments of the river. As holy as the river is we were not driven to take a dip in it. Burnt human remains, cow droppings, plastic bags, the odd sewage pipe are all dropped into the river at some point. The locals and pilgrims don't seem to mind and due to the strong tropical currents of the Ganges it has the ability to clean it's self. Cholera was found in the river but only lasted a few days unlike similar river that infected thousands!
Varanasi is one of the must see towns in India. It's a place you could lose yourself in for days or weeks. A place I’d love to go back to but for now Nepal is calling. Back to the hills and mountains.