Varanasi is a very sacred city sitting along the Ganges river. There are Hindu temples lining the riverbank as far as the eye can see. What made Varanasi so compelling for us was that there was so much happening every moment of every day; it was impossible to put the camera down! I think between 2am and 4am things quieten down, otherwise the following is being played out in the water:
- Cows taking a cooling dip
- Boys leaping in for fun
- Men washing clothes and linen for a living
- Small candle lit offerings being set adrift
- Dead bodies being ceremoniously dunked in
- Men and women bathing and cleansing themselves of sins
- Sewage being pumped in
- Fish leaping out to catch a glimpse of the world
- Tourist boats gliding past in awe
- Locals in boats selling bits and bobs to the tourists in boats.
If that wasn’t enough, on the steps of the temples pooja (prayers) are given and large religious ceremonies, with bell ringing, clapping and singing take place every single day. There are also open air yoga classes, dope smoking Mums and Dads and very imaginative and dedicated salesmen doing everything in their power to persuade you to part with your cash in exchange for something you do not want.
Of all the amazing and unusual things we saw the most extraordinary was the handful of bodies being cremated in bonfires on the riverbank and steps. The bodies are wrapped, however the limbs and heads protrude out of the flames. The cremations are done in full view, with no attempt at privacy and the mourners are indifferent to the many onlookers.
The openness of life and death in Varanasi is a powerful experience which left its mark on us, probably forever.