On the bar above, you can see that I’ve added a video section. I’ve put up a few videos I put together from earlier in the trip, and hope to continue adding more to it as I find time to edit more footage.
Varanasi has proven to be an interesting place…and also fairly crowded and noisy compared to my last two stops in smaller towns.
It’s a very holy city, located on the Ganges River, and it’s believed that dying here will result in one’s liberation from the cycle of life and death. And when one does die here, they’re typically cremated at one of the burning ghats on the bank of the Ganges.
It’s a very interesting process to see, especially being from the US, as there are basically zero similarities between our funeral process and what you see here.
I’ll give the most basic explanation…which is that the deceased is wrapped in cloth and carried on a bamboo stretcher through the streets and alleys (which you see numerous times each day just while walking around) down to the river. The body is then washed in the Ganges, the funeral pyre is built, and the body is cremated. The biggest shock to me is that it’s completely out in the open…but of course, out of respect, people are to keep their distance from the process and absolutely not take photos. A guy was caught taking photos there yesterday, and all I’ll say is that after all was said and done, he regretted doing it…but regardless of whether or not there are negative consequences with the police, I am happy to honor the wishes of the families that are mourning. And on the topic of mourning, it definitely was not nearly as depressing as a western funeral typically is. In one case, I even saw a group of about 5 guys following the body down to the river, playing drums and singing songs. As the cremation process was started, about 20 people stood near the body singing and dancing as the drumming continued.
Aside from the burning ghats, the rest of the river bank that stretches through Varanasi is entirely bathing ghats, much like the shoreline of Pushkar. Throughout the day, but especially in the morning they are absolutely packed with people bathing in the river. Looking at it from my non-Hindu perspective, it’s a bit strange because of how dirty the water seems to be…if this river was in the US, surely this activity would not be encouraged.
January 14 is an Indian holiday called Makar Sankranti, and on this day, children celebrate by flying kites. Supposedly the goal is to try and tangle your kite around another, cutting the string, and then catch that kite as it comes floating to the ground. The rooftops throughout the city were packed with kids, and kites filled the sky.
Tomorrow morning I head out towards Kathmandu, and I’m ready to be on my way.