23.09.2007 - 23.09.2007
It has been a few days now and it seems as though the sites of Varanasi never cease to amaze me. As previously mentioned, the first day started with a night boat ride down the Ganges. While I had a feeling then, I am certain now that we paid far too much by Indian standards for the trip - 500 RS compared with the 100 RS I have paid twice now for a much better view of the city! After the second shafting from our guide Pappu who took us to an 'authentic holy man' and a really dodgy pashmina shop (~ 300 AU for a itchy fake), I decided that the relationship needed to end with an abrupt goodbye. The products were the worst I've seen during my entire stay in India and are best purchased (particularly the pashminas if you are looking for the real thing) in Delhi. There aren't enough words for the 'holy man' experience!!! The only thing holy thing about him was his shirt and line about there not being any need to pay for a reading, which I had no intention of getting! I could, of course, leave a donation for the poor if I wanted...right.
I have since left the Rashmi Guesthouse for Ganpati Guesthouse just a few doors down. While the rooms are much simpler, the staff are great. Ganpati has far more ambience and a comfortable backpacker feel that is right in line with what I was looking for in Varanassi.
My time in India is sadly coming to an end in a few days and I have come to understand that there simply aren't enough adjectives to describe the whole experience!
As we (myself, Kylie and our new friend Jorge from Mexico City) approached the Burning Ghat last night, the guide paddled right up to the steps leading to the wooden pyres. I sat stunned, feeling as though I were intruding in the worst way. I was quickly motioned by those standing on the steps to come forward and with a fair degree of uncertainty, did. What happened next was a bit surreal. We were led up the stairs to a terrace overlooking several burning bodies, one of which was in the process of being lit by the eldest son of the family who prior to doing so must have his head shaved and bathe in the Ganges. For the first time in my life, I was speechless.
It had been explained to us that five types of people need not be burned prior to being placed in the Ganges - pregnant women, children, Holy Men, Lepors and those bitten by cobras. It takes about 300 kilos of wood to effectively burn a body. Each kilo would cost a family about 150 RS (~ $5 AU) per kilo. Before leaving the Burning Ghat, I was 'blessed' by an incredible looking old woman who touched my head and held my face in her palms.
I woke up this morning to another boat ride at 5:30 a.m. It sounds early but the entire city is awake as it is time for the morning bath in the Ganges. Aside from that, anyone might find it hard to sleep because the mantras seem to start promptly at 5:00 a.m. There are hundreds of people in the river by 6:00 a.m. Many of them are praying, brushing teeth, and soaping up.
I have been most impressed by the Japanese tourists who don't seem to flinch about diving into the septic but holy water of one of the most important rivers in the world! They are incredible, every one of them. I, on the other hand, have not been so brave yet. I have considered a lame excuse for a dip but haven't been able to bring myself to follow through in spite of the feeling I get when I watch everyone else take part in such a special ceremony. I just about worked up the courage this morning until I saw a dead cow and body floating passed me while on the boat! I suppose tomorrow is another day!
Love, A xxo