Saturday, December 31, 2011


I took the intercity train today from Lucknow to Varanasi. I sat in the AC class car, it's five seats across with reserved seating. Not quite as nice as my first train ride but at least it wasn't comfortable, better yet I didn't have to use the bathroom for this six and a half hour ride. This is the popular train as its affordable and stops numerous times along the way. My cousin Deepak picked me up at the train station and took me to his hotel. He actually owns two hotels here, the one I'm in is three buildings down from his home. After freshening up a bit I walked over to Deepak's house and met my aunt. She's my father's sister and the second eldest of eleven siblings. I also met Deepak's wife, youngest son and his family.

My cousin is very well known in Varanasi. When he talks, every one listens. When he walks everyone makes room. As such I'm being treated quite well in this city so far. His house if full so I'm staying in his hotel and the staff here are taking very good care of me.

This evening at 5pm Deepak picked me up and we went to the ghats along the sacred Ganges River. (Ghats are steps that go into the river). This is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and is now divided into two sections; the old city and the new city. The new city is quite modern and as 15 shopping malls with 15 more under construction. The old city is absolutely amazing. These buildings are thousands of years old and still used. For each home here there is a temple. There are no streets but rather a maze of alleys no wider than two feet. Cows get right away unless you're brave enough to tell it otherwise.

Deepak and I went to the river where a sacred Hindu ceremony was being performed. We rented a small boat and watched the ceremony from the river. After the ceremony the boat took us upriver along the stretch of ghats. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats where hindus come to bath in the holy river Ganga (that's what the Hindus call the Ganges River). Further up we came to the ghats where the deceased are cremated. I saw eight fire, some with fresh flames reaching high into the sky as the cremation was just starting and others where the cremation was coming to an end as the flames were dimming. There is a cast of men who's job it is to make sure the bodies are properly cremated. The stacks of wood here is indescribable. Deepak told me that the fires here burn 24 hours a day as bodies are brought here for cremation. As we walked through the maze of alleys we saw one procession where a family was bringing a body towards the water to be cremated. There is actually a detailed ritual that has to be done, including washing the body in the holy Ganges River before cremation. It was an interesting sight to say the least.

I didn't take any photos tonight, I didn't feel comfortable pulling out a camera at a holy ceremony, and I wanted to not only respect what was going on I wanted to take it in. And the same goes with those bathing in the river to wash their sins away and also to respect the recently departed. These are just things that need to be seen and respected.

You can however find a lot of media on the internet. Do a google search for Varanasi Ghats and you'll come up with a lot of pictures and youtube videos. There's really no need for me to add to what's already there. I will though try to get some photos in the next few days of every day life in Varanasi, if I can.

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