Burning Ghats of Varanasi

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India – Our train arrived Muglie at 9.a.m. and we jumped on the bus for one hour ride to Varanasi. We arrived no problem and Rich and I got a rickshaw to the outskirts of the old city. No autorickshaws allowed in there.

We were wondering around the old city looking for this hotel when he went one way and I went another, so now I was on my own. I finally found him at the Shanti Lodge where he had booked us a room with doors opened up onto the sundeck and the view of Varanasi. We rested a bit and then changed 20 US so we would have enough money to get out of the country since we were headed to Nepal the next morning. The Indian rupee became a free floating, fully convertible currency like two weeks before, so the foreign exchange rate had been steadily going up. US $1 was equal to 31 rupees 70 paise.

Varanasi is known as the holy city on the Ganges and people from all over India bring their deceased relatives of Varanasi to have them burnt on the banks of the Ganges. It is really special prestigious thing to have this done to you. After a nap and a shower, Rich and I were relaxing on the roof when Barry and Kim Stone came over to our table and started talking to us. I had met the two of them on the roof admiring the Taj in Agra. We chatted for a while and I mentioned Rich and I were going to hire a boat and take a sunset cruise down the Ganges. Barry and Kim said they would join us but they would like to stop at the burning ghats on the way down because he was thinking of making a movie about dying.

You see, Barry and Kim are Canadians and he is a movie producer/director. I did not think much about it when I first met them. I would not have known him from the post but I guess he is well-established director. He did like talking about his work too much but he did mention in passing that the film he has made might be going to the Cannes Film Festival and he might have to cut his trip to Nepal short because he would have to fly back and do some work on the film before it went to the next round of judging. He has filmed a pilot episode in Budapest for NBC and the way he was talking, he and Ryan are seem to be pretty good buddies. I think they liked being around us because we had no clues who the hell they were. No questions about the movie business from us, which kept them relaxed. Barry Stone, Oliver Stone, any relation. I will do the research and find out.

The four of us headed down to the burning ghats and watched as the mourners brought the shrouded bodies down the steps, dunk the bodies in the holy waters of the Ganges, then place it at atop the pyre which is a wooden pyramid and settle it. We all stood there and watched, fascinated as these bodies burnt in the fires. We could actually see the skin bubbling and noticed the defined features of the bodies. Like seeing the slaughtering of cows in Uganda, this kept us in trance due to shear morbid curiosity. Rich and I were finishing our trip through the Indian subcontinent that day and here we were at the holiest finishing point in the country –  very appropriate.

We moved down the banks the river a bit and found a captain to take us down river in his boat. The boat took us slowly pass the bathing ghats and the marked down to the other end of the city. The Ganges river is so holy to the Indian population and there are certain traditions they have which would disturb Western minds. The Indians do not believe that babies, priests, and white cows should be burnt on the pyres when they die. They consider these things pure enough to just throw the corpses directly into the river. Along with this, all of the people come down to the ghats every morning to bath in the holy waters of the river. Bathing where these corpses are thrown, not my idea of sanitary.

During our sunset cruise, we did see the body of a dead baby go floating by but it was no as gruesome as I expected it to be.

The boat let us out near the markets and Barry, Kim, Rich, and I grabbed a bite to eat before wandering the narrow streets back towards our hotel. We came across the most amazing Indian treat, dried mango slice just like fruit roll up but the mango does not get stuck in our teeth. We went back to our room and chatted with Kim and Barry some more about Nepal before they left to go to their hotel. Really nice people and they are headed to Pokhara, Nepal as well to go tracking, so may be we will see them over there.

Comments are closed.