Varanasi, the holiest city in India… It is the place where everything is forgiven by Indians and to westerners it is unforgettable and unforgivable.
It is a city where you can open your bowels where you like, even at the kings palace door. I could never figure out why the palace is such a popular place to take a dump. Men can also pass urine where they desire. And women, well I’m not sure if they take a more dignified approach or just don’t go.
You can walk completely naked in the streets, or jump in the Ganges naked for a swim. No problems.
Speaking of the Ganges, known as Ganga to Indians, it is surprisingly relatively cleanish looking. But don’t be fooled, 32 sewerage pipes in Varanasi go straight into the Ganga. There should be less than 500 faecal coliform bacteria per litre for safe for bathing. But in parts of the Ganges there 1.5million per litre!!! I won’t be putting my big toe in. Indians swim, bathe, open bowels, wash clothes, pray, and have ceremonies in the Ganga. There guts must be made of iron!
We saw a few cremation ceremonies at two of the burning ghats. A wrapped body is place onto the top of a log stack and takes about 2 hours to burn. One ghat is designated to males and another to females. We also saw a cremation on a higher podium which we were informed was for people of higher caste. Babies and children are covered and then thrown into the Ganga, no cremation for them. I hope not to find a body down stream.
The locals come to the Ganga every morning and night to perform ‘puja.’ Morning puja is a ceremony at 6am to ask the Ganga for what you want to achieve in the day, and have a bit of a wash. Then they return at 7pm to give thanks for what they received that day.
We took a boat which was rowed by a cute old man at 7pm and the sights and sounds are magical. He took us from one end of the city to the other. We lit a candle and let it float off with all the others, looking like little stars. The whole shore is transformed with lights, colours and chanting. Hundreds of people sit following the chants and rituals of holy men. You see other lone figures knee deep in the water praying and some dip their heads in or take mouthfuls of Ganga water.
It is said that if you live and die in Varanasi you will go straight to heaven, no other place in the world offers this benefit to Hindus so many come here even if it means living on the streets. We’re also informed that being a nurse brings good karma too. Lucky Jill.
For others here cricket is the main religion. We had a great night watching IPL (Indian premier league) with our hotel manager, and the rest of the staff stopped to watch when they could. The 2 month season has just started and he got us up to date with who the better teams are, how much the better players earn and a myriad of facts about the players while sipping on his ‘special’ marijuana lassi. It was funny to see how quiet the streets were on the night Delhi and Mumbai, the 2 strongest teams, were playing each other. We are looking forward to going to a match when we get to Delhi.