Varanasi October 13th to 16th
November 13, 2018
My next destination was the long awaited mystical city of Varanasi (Benares). I had heard so much during my travels. I knew that it was going to be a bit of a shock to the senses and by all means it was… This is the place where all hindus know that at the end of their life they will be coming to. Project that to the population of hindus in India and you start to see the scale of it.
Well as it so often happens with reality, there is more to what you hear in the media. Varanasi is a large city 1.5 millions persons, 50% bigger than Brussels… so when I first arrived at the train station of Varanasi after a night train of 11 hours, which by the way was very comfortable and met a 70 year old Japanese traveler, it is the big city aspect of Varanasi that hit me. The cacophony and chaos of the traffic at early hours in the morning was quite intense!
Then you go to the historical part of Varanasi and things are the least to say, different. Hundreds of tiny and narrow roads, very hot, dimly lit and packed with people. Even google maps has trouble triangulating your location! And if you are lucky like I was, you might get to see a corpse being transported to the ghats. Happened to me while I was a having a lassi… In summary Varnasi is a place that makes your senses run override but it is a place that cannot miss!
Narrow street of Varanasi.
Preparations for the Ganga Aarti
A man being fully shaved and preparing him for the cremation ritual.
Next to the Ghat.
Out of respect for the families, photos of the cremation ritual are not allowed. Below pictures were taken at specific spots where it was allowed. If I remember correctly the ritual starts with bringing the corpse, through the streets of Varanasi chanting, to the ghat, that has been already been wrapped in cloth and other ornaments. Once at the ghat, they are placed in the burners which have already been stocked with fire wood. The family has the option of having the face revealed during the cremation or not. Once there the appointed family member, who has had all his facial and head hair shaved and dressed in a white kurta (not sure), will go around the deceased body 5 times and then set light to it. Once the body has been cremated the ashes are thrown to the Ganga river.
However there are exceptions to the cremation rule. If the person is:
1 – Holy person, 2 – pregnant woman, 3 – death by a cobra, 4 – child under 10
these people are put straight into the river. I had the opportunity to see a corpse of a pregnant woman floating during my boat ride…
As you would expect cremations are performed using wood. Like anything you have different grades of wood and thus the rich would pay for better quality of wood.
I never thought I would have Japanese meal while India but I found one that is owned by a Japanese lady who is married to an Indian. Great food!
Best lassi I had so far in Blue Lassi. So good that I went twice!