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Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be, as a friend, as a friend... (Nirvana)

INDIA | Tuesday, 14 July 2009 | Views [1182]

festival at the ghat

festival at the ghat

Another overnight train from Kalcutta so Varanasi, home to the probably one of the most sacred places in India-the might Ganges River. This is reportedly the one place you can escape the life and re-birth cycle by being having your body burned at the Ganges River therefore reaching Nirvana. We arrived mid-morning the evenign after we left Kalcutta and made our way to one of the ghats in the city. Ghats are a serious of steps leading to a body of water, in this case the Ganges where bodies are burned and life and death come together. We settled for a cheap hotel at the Assi Ghat at the end of the major ghats in Varanasi with a room overlooking the river. Nothing special about the room except the power went out for at least two hours every night and randomly throughout the day so it got hot in our room with only what the Indians call an air-cooler. We would call it more like a swamp cooler except they lined the sides with hay with water in the bottom. After this we set out for a late lunch and west down the alley to a nothing special cafe. but wait upon further inspection Jessica spied apple pie and ice cream on the menu, well we had to try it. It was divine, at least according to self-proclaimed apple pie afficionado Jessica. Of course after I tried hers I had to have my own piece, yummy! We had pie after every meal, every time we went there which is stay say every day. This was dessert heaven after all the dessert hell we had traveled through in Africa, the Middle East and India-Amen! ok back to the serious stuff.. That afternoon we took a bike ricki to Baranas Hindu University, one of the oldest in India and supposedly the largest in Southern Asia. Once you cross the gate it is almost like another world with much quieter and emptier streets and lots of trees. The campus is very spread out so it is difficult to walk so we had the ricki driver just pedal us around. We also stopped at the largest Hindu temple in the city but it was closed for lunch so we took a few pictures and went back to the ricki for the hotel. Once back we started walking from our ghat all the way to the other end of the city along all the various ghats along the river. There are many, I am not sure how many but because there was a festival going on there was lots of activity which we stopped and admired. We also saw our first burning body, nothing too spectacular and out of resepct to the the families you are not allowed to take pictures. The pictures on my blog are from our sunset boat ride the following evening so from a respectful distance. That night to frequent power outages we read by candle light and headlamp while we sweated in bed. The next day we made our way more into the old part of Varanasi which has man small alleyways leading up from the ghats. We managed to get a lost a few times but managed to always find our way to a road or river. During this time we also saw just how dirty and rundown Varanasi was, especially close the rivers. The Ganges River is not the cleanest river as I am sure most people outside of India realize. But to see it firsthand and how much trash and sewage are dumped in is beyond words. The most frightening and utterly confusing thing for both of us was how many were in the river-swimming, bathing, washing and yes even brushing their teeth! It would seem over the centuries Indians who visit the Ganges regularly have built up a tolerance because I don't think we would have fared as well if we had taken a dip! We also went to the busiest ghat in Varanasi where the fires for buring bodies are going 24 hours a day. We were told by a few of the hospice 'workers' that they burn up to 200 bodies a day! While we were watchign they were 5 different bodies at various stages of burning. It is not as spectacular as one might think, actually quite busy preparing the funeral pyles and stacking the wood, which depening how much money you have can cost very little to a lot depending on the type of wood. We decided to head back to our ghat to catch our sunset boat trip on the river. We had met a CHinese traveler earlier the day before and invited him to join us. Our boatman rowed us up and down the river for an hour as we watched more people play in the river, buffalos wade and bodies burn on the banks. It allworks in haramony, from life to death. After dinner we watched the stars come out from our balacony as we sweated through our shirts. ANother night without much electricity! The next day as we waited for our train we had our last piece of apple pie, mailed some sarees to the Chettys in South Africa and tried to find shade. We made it back to the train station with an hour to spare so we waited on the platform in the stiffling heat with all the Indian people. At 5:20pm we boarded the overnight train for Agra were we shared our cabin with two German girls who had just started their around the world journey, ah those were the days! Besides freezing my ars off at night because of an overactive a/c (be careful what you wish for!) the journey was stress free. The next morning we awoke in the city of Agra, home of the world famous Taj Mahal...

Tags: burning bodies, ganges river, varanasi

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