Carry on up the Ganges pt 2

We flew into Varanasi yesterday on Jet Airways without incident except me doing some emergency lingerie shopping at Marks and Spencer, Delhi Airport. As soon as we got out of the airport it felt different – more Indian. However, that was nothing and over the last two days Varanasi has proved to be the India I wanted to experience. I really don’t think words can explain it but we’ll give it a go.
Our hotel is the Hotel Ganges View and it took an hour to get here. The drive was completely eye opening as we drove through v poor rural areas and then into Varanasi City itself. So – we’re talking not quite as biblical as rural Egypt but not far off. Sooooooooooooo busy it’s untrue where on earth are all these people going to I keep asking myself.
Our hotel does indeed have a view of the Ganges and is at the Assi Ghat which is at the far southern end. In order to get from our van to the hotel we walked past 2 cows, 5 mangy dogs and 1 monkey. Plus the monkeys owner who is beginning to look more like the monkey than the monkey itself. Turns out he lives just outside our hotel. Think he maybe a beggar but he’s not very good at it as he just seems to lie about watching his monkey eat seed.
We ventured out after afternoon tea on the terrace (sounds grand- it’s not but it is nice) and wandered down to the ghat to see what was happening (man). It was the first time I’d felt shocked since arriving. It is sooooo dirty and squalid and stinks of the Ganges mud and the doings of the cows, dogs and ….oh almost certainly..yes…humans. There isn’t much happening at this time of day though and we got quite pestered by kids wanting to sell us stuff and it was intimidating. So after a while we came back.
At 5.30 pm we were collected by Prem (todays guide) and taken for our evening boat ride down the Ganges. We were taken in rickshaws to Dasashvamedha Ghat. The journey here got busier and busier first on the rickshaws, then walking down a crowded street and then finally onto the ghat itself. There is only one word to describe this- CRAZY. Crowds of pilgrims, priests, beggars, tourists and not to be left behind -cows. There is loud music and bells coming at you from all angles and you just do not know where to look. The air smells of incense and the feeling is intense.
Somehow we got through to the waters edge with our guide and then, to get onto your rowing boat, you have to walk across a 25cm wide plank of wood. Oh god don’t let me fall in the Ganges….
By now it’s getting quite dark and we rowed out and then along the ghats. It’s dark and daunting as we rowed down to one of the cremation ghats. There were 13 fires burning here and that is how many people were being cremated. It’s all a bit of a blur but you could see the wrapped bodies on the bamboo carriers being dipped into the Ganges and then queuing to be burned. The families just leave the bodies after about 3 hours of quietly mourning ( no wailing) and the people employed by the ghats just sweep the remains back into mother Ganges. It is filthy, medieval and dark and I found the size of the wood storage piles completely shocking. We floated our little candles on leaves onto the water and made our way back. We then watched the student priests perform at the D ghat and it did feel like a performance with thousands of people watching as they ‘ohmed’ and swung their incense about.
We ate at the hotel and tried to make sense of it all but it was a struggle. Or perhaps we were just over tired?




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One thought on “Carry on up the Ganges pt 2

  1. Laura


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