Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Varanasi: stragnely fascinating place

Ok, just to let you know i have a very dodgy 'shift' key on this computer so I can't promise that capitals letters will be particualrly perfect, but I will try. Soz.

Ok, just discovered the 'enter' key on this keyboard is also rubbish... bear/bare (not sure which?) with me.

This computer is rubbish.

24th February 2009

I hated Varanasi when I first arrived. It was hot, busy, full of cow poo and mysterious puddles of water runing to the river. i was also very tired.

As we walked along the river ganges to find our hotel i deliberately chose not to take antyhing in, there was lots going on, but i wasn't in the mood to appreciate anything, i just wanted to be rid of my bags and to have a sleep.

A few hours later we were sat by the Manikarma ghat - one of the two burning ghats in Varanasi. It was strange.

Bodies were carried down to the ghat on stretchers that were decorated with brightly coloured fabrics and flowers. The stretchers were then pushed into the river ganges (india's holiest river), sprinkled with water, and pulled back out again. The flowers were then thrown into the river and the bodies were placed on a pyre, sprinkled with spices and then cremated. In the space of about 40 minutes 4 or 5 cremations were taking place.

It was quite horrible to watch, but was strangely compelling. Horrible becuase it was such a private occasion, and there I was intruding on someone's funeral who I had never met. But compelling just by the nature of the ritual.

There were no women around, only men. The family members who watched the proceedigns were all male, none of them cried. They just seemed to watch over. It was very strange. Fascinating, but very strange.

But i think the strangest bit was the fact that while the cremations were going on, life just went on too. People were washing themselves in ther river, others were washing away their sins by giving offerings, cows were being encoyuraged to have sex, boat men were pouncing on tourists to take boat rides, men were selling mango lollies on sticks to everyone. No one really took notice of the cremations. it was just one of the many things that was just happening. one of the many things that was just a normal part of life on the ghats. i think it was this more than anything that i found very strange.

I mean all of these private actions were taking place - people being cremated, people washing - in the most public of arenas. Yet because there was so much going on, these actions were still very private in spite of everything. I hope this makes sense.

I don't have many pictures of all of this, it just wasn't right to walk along taking photographs.

It's a difficult place to explain without seeing if for yourself. Really difficult.

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