Steps from the Ganges

On my way to the Vodafone store, I saw a corpse.  I can’t say that it was totally unexpected in this holy city, as lonely planet had warned us in its descriptions of Varanasi.  Varanasi, or Benares as the locals call it, is draped along the Ganga (Ganges).  The old city sprawls away from over a dozen Ghats or “beaches” on the river that are more aptly described as large cement stairways/amphitheaters leading to the water.  While some Ghats are mainly used for strolling, kite flying, relaxing and bathing, others serve specific purposes like clothes washing, puja (river worship), and finally cremation.  Which brings us back to our corpse.  We had stumbled across a funeral procession carrying a body through the tangled streets of the old city to be cremated on the banks of the Ganga at Manikarnika Ghat.  At this Ghat bodies draped in fabric are doused in river water and then placed on top of a carefully constructed pile of wood and lit afire.  Later Sarah and I respectfully visited this spot, and it can only be termed as a life experience.  We don’t have any pictures to share for obvious reasons, but it was fascinating to experience these rituals.  The Ghat was somber and more peaceful than I expected.

We found a great little budget hotel, (650 Rupees a night or about $14,) on Meer Ghat with a large balcony and restaurant looking out over the river.  From our room to the river felt like 20 feet.  It was great to have this oasis of calm as the city of Varanasi assaults you.  Navigating through the tight and confusing alleyways, we had to dodge cows, motorcycles, touts trying to get us into their store (“Madame, sari? Kashmiri shawl?  Sir, come look, 100 rupees”), cow dung, food carts, police with big guns, and plenty of other hazards.  I’m glad that I visited Varanasi as I learned and experienced a lot, and I would encourage others to visit, but I doubt that I’ll be back.  The Ganges is a majestic river, and as Ghandi wrote, “it was a joy to be on it with a boat and an oar” , however I think that I have had enough of the Varanasi assault for one lifetime.

–Gabe

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