Sunrise on The Ganges

This morning, as promised, we were up early and headed to the Ganges to watch the sunrise and morning rituals along the river. Prayers were well underway when we arrived at 5:45. We sat for awhile on the stone steps and listened and watched. It was much the same as last evening but the crowd was smaller and seemingly more solemn. Once into our boat, we followed the shoreline for a couple of kilometers. All along the shore there were people praying, washing themselves, washing their clothing, living and dying. It felt like we were watching the most private parts of their lives as we floated along in our boat. Because the morning was quite foggy, the sun rose without much fanfare and we headed back to our docking point.

We had a quiet breakfast at a nice hotel along the street and discussed some of the aspects of our adventure on the river. I think that we are all having difficulty describing what we are experiencing in a way for other people to understand. There is so much beauty in the ceremonies and the rituals that are taking place yet we lack the understanding to fully appreciate them. As we continue our journey and continue to ask AJ the same questions over and over again, I hope that we will indeed have a much greater comprehension of all that is India.

After our breakfast, the rest of the day was our own. Most of us headed back down to the river as that seemed like a sensible starting point. Richard and I wandered along there for some time and then headed up one of the staircases back into the old city. We wandered through narrow streets and alleys, not having any real sense of direction. Throughout these wanderings we came across a bullcow trying to get into a temple (he wasn’t successful), many food vendors tucked into nooks and crannies along the street, people in bare feet, some walking or some riding bicycles, motorcycles squeezing their way through, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers and children going about their daily business. It is the most ordinary yet so very different from our own lives. And that is what travel is all about – an appreciation and compassion for those that are different from ourselves. Let us hope that we can bring these lessons home with us.

We finally found our way out of the narrow street maze to the main intersection that we recognized from the previous day. We decided to call for a tuk tuk and head back to the hotel. Once the line of tuk tuks realized our intention, we were bombarded with offers. The fellow that eventually took us actually evicted a whole family from his vehicle so that we could ride. We didn’t realize this until we were already committed which was unfortunate for the evicted family. As the driver did not know exactly where our hotel was, he dropped us across the street at a shopping mall. It was a bit of an adventure getting across the street but we are picking up the skill of following a local and going when they go. An important skill to have, don’t you think?

So, here we are back at the hotel catching up on our blog and planning the rest of our day. We will probably walk around the area this afternoon and then the group is heading out for dinner this evening. Just another typical day in the life of a traveller!!

Hope all is well with our readers and we always look forward to your feedback.  Miss you all!!

Observing the ceremony before heading out on the boat.

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Before the sun came up.

 

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It took a while to see the sun with all the fog or smoke, but he finally came through.

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Along the shore.

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The symbol below that looks like a swastika is not.  It is a Hindu symbol for good luck.  A swastika is orientated counter clockwise.

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Below you can see a picture of three areas (one still burning) that are used for cremation.  There were two main areas that we saw used for this.  During the Monsoon the river will flood not allowing these areas to be used at which point the bodies will be taken to a crematorium which is right on the shore of the river.  There is also a picture of people unloading wood from boats which is used for the cremations.

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More exploring.

Along The Ganges River

After freshening up, we headed off in tuktuks to Old Varanasi. Sachin from the train had warned me that things may be more congested and chaotic in Varanasi than Delhi, just because of the narrow streets. He was not wrong. We arrived at our destination in about 15 minutes after dodging a few cows, dogs, people  and vehicles. We walked along the streets of the old town, staring at the buildings, the monkeys, the cows, the dogs, the temples, the store fronts with mannequins dressed in beautiful Indian gowns, all the while making sure to stay out of traffic. Our first stop was a silk shop which we found off the main narrow road, down a narrow alley, off another narrow alley and up the stairs.  The owner of the shop gave us a very interesting lesson about silk, cashmere, pashmina and blends. He also treated us to Masala Tea and samosas – both were delicious! After our lesson, he encouraged everyone to look, touch and try on any number of scarves and sarongs. They were all so beautiful! As we are still travelling light, I could not justify buying anything but it was definitely tempting.

Following the silk shop, we headed to the Ganges River. The Ganges is the most holy river for the Hindu people. Many Hindus from all over the world make a pilgrimage here to pray and cleanse themselves of bad karma by submerging in the water.  It is also the final resting place for most Hindus. They either make the trip before death and are cremated along the river or they are cremated in their home country and a family member will make the pilgrimage to the Ganges with their ashes.  We arrived at the river about 4:30 PM and crowds were already starting to gather for the evening prayers. We walked along the river watching the people, admiring the architecture of the buildings and the wide steps leading down to the river. We witnessed a number of cremations taking place and somehow, it did not seem out of the ordinary. We boarded a small boat and headed out onto the river. We were each given a bowl of flowers with a lighted candle that we made a wish on and put into the water (much like we did in Chiang Mai). We then made our way over to the area where the prayers were being held. There were a couple of thousand people along the shore and we estimated that there were probably about 200 boats like ours crowded on the river. We watched the ceremony of fire, music, and dance.  The riverbank was lit up with flaming lamps and the smell of sandalwood filled the air. It was an amazing sight and hard to believe that it happens there every night. Tomorrow morning we will be going back to see the morning rituals that happen along the river. I am told that it is much quieter and solemn. We are certainly looking forward to that.

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