26th January 2016 – Varanasi

What a fabulous sleep. Fell asleep at ten and woke at 9am. Earplugs worked a treat. Feel much more alive today.

Its Republic Day today so sat and watched the ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier on TV. Went out to try a naughty MacDonalds. We tried a Maharaja Big Mac Meal and felt very guilty. It was fab. Took a wander around the local modern shopping mall – the first we’ve seen.

Back to the hotel. Drying off after a hot shower, revelling in no Deet for half an hour.

We got a moto-rickshaw and headed towards the Ghats. We strolled through the old town. Through the burning Ghat. There were so many cremations today, it was an intense heat. Ash everywhere. The amount of logs they have stacked up is incredible. It costs around 4000rps to be cremated here. Its an odd place. Not peaceful at all.

Along the small alleyways you often have to make way for a group of men walking though carrying an orange clad body covered in marigolds, on their way to the Ghat. The dead are burned within 24 hours, and the grief is raw.  For a moment, when they pass by, it strikes you. Then just as quickly, life resumes, if it ever really stopped before. No women go to the burnings because there is a fear that they may be stricken by grief and throw themselves on the pyre. Instead the women do something else together.

We pass by buildings and see through openings to the basements, people lying on slabs, surrounded by family, waiting to die.

We walked towards the bridge, just past the Canary Ghat, past a dog who was giving birth to puppies.

Life went on. People doing their laundry in the river, washing, cooking, playing cards. We sat a while taking it all in until the monkeys got too rowdy.

On the way back we stopped off at a hotel for a coffee. We sat and watched the kites fly in the sky. When you walk along the Ghats, your feet often get caught in kite wire.

Heading back, we bought some beads and sat and listened to our favourite Indian song on the backs of the river. Some people stand and sit in front of us, taking selfies with us in the background. Goodness knows how many mantelpieces I’m on.

We made our way to Dashashwamedh Ghat to sit and watch the evening’s ceremony that we had watched from the boats before. Performing the ceremony was just as wonderful as the first time we saw it. It was spectacular, with bells constantly ringing, fire and marigolds, praising the Lord Shiva, the river, the sun and fire and the universe.

Tuk tuk home. We met Frank and walked over to the poshest hotel in Varanasi in search of a Kingfisher, but to no avail. Its national dry day today. Back to the hotel for a sneaky G&T instead.


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