Varanasi, holy of holies, where all of life happens on the Ganges, is flooded. The river in all its filthy glory is 12 foot higher than normal. Which means no boat rides and no walking along the ghats (quays) people watching. Hmm. Probably not the best time of year to visit. Our original plan was to camp here, but I think Karen changed her mind when she realised we weren’t going to arrive until midnight, so instead we’re in a hotel with the comfiest beds we’ve had so far, beautiful showers, a bar, a swimming pool, and A SPA. I may not be able to float down the river watching the locals pray, but I got to have a religious experience of my own with a cooling mint pedicure and head massage. This is the life (I have pretty much decided to screw the budget and do what I want and if I have to come home early so be it – having said that 75 minutes of bliss and a haircut thrown in cost me less than 15 quid. I could get used to that)
We did get a smidge of Varanasi tourism in the evening at the nightly pooja (blessing) ceremony, and a mini tour of the cremation ghats. The ceremony is to bless the river, and with the amount of crap in there I think she needs all the fire and incense waving she can get.
The cremation ghat was more interesting (but no pictures allowed, and honestly, pretty sure I wouldn’t take pictures of someone’s funeral anyway). All Hindus want to be cremated here as it is supposed to break the cycle of rebirth, so Indians pay a fortune getting over here to wait for their relatives to die and buy all the wood they need, which is sold by weight. The bodies are wrapped up in sparkling fabrics and garlanded with flowers, then dipped in the Ganges to purify them. After they dry out they are burned on the shore (female members of the family aren’t allowed to watch because there can’t be any crying), and then the ashes are scattered in the river. There are five types of bodies that they don’t burn – animals (because who’s going to pay for all that wood?), holy men, pregnant women and children under 10 (because they have a pure soul so they go straight to the Goddess) and lepers. Lepers worried me. They don’t burn them because they’re unclean so ‘they will create problems for other people’. So instead, they carry them out to the river and dump them in. The same river where people are washing their clothes, bathing and for god’s sake DRINKING on a daily basis. I never got an answer on why rotting leprous bodies weren’t going to cause a problem to the drinkers. Good luck to them.