Here we are in Varanasi, site of learning, many Hindu temples and the holy Ganges. It's hard core India, over populated, extremely hot (over 100 degrees and expected to be 113 this week).
We are staying with Jon and Garima who are working for Wiwam. It's been an incredible experience here good and bad.
Garima took us on a prayer walk around the city through tiny alley ways crammed with shops, people, motorbikes, dogs, cows and bulls. We narrowly avoided being hit by bags of excrement that had been thrown from rooftops! The Monkey god and Shrivee gods ( who revere bulls) are worshiped. If a temple is erected it can not be torn down and so there are many crude temples even some in the middle of the road! At the Red temple infertile women yearly flock there to bath in the water with their spouse sacrificing a round vegetable in the water (usually a pumpkin) tucked into their sari which is then left behind (their sari too). They are not allowed to eat that vegetable until they are pregnant!
We had an early start yesterday so we could see the sun rise over the Ganges river. Hindus flock to this river which they consider holy. We were rowed by a young lad who was born into a Boatman family and will always do that job. The river was still and serene but the banks were thronging with people who were washing, brushing their teeth, washing their clothes,bathing with their friends for the water's powers having fun swimming and fishing. It was a strange experience because on the one hand the river was so beautiful but on the other it held grisly secrets! Do not read on if you can't handle gruesome stuff!
As we floated down the river we saw a grisly sight- a corpse floating butt up covered with flies. Jon immediately suspected foul play and we instantly panicked until Garima said that bodies are routinely buried in the river. Any Holy man, pregnant woman, a child, anyone who has died of a snake bite or from fire are already considered holy and thus don't need to be burned! The untouchables are also deposited in he river. As we got over the shock of witnessing the body we saw more horrors: a crematorium right on the river's edge where we saw orange robe clad holy men committing bodies to the flames on funeral pyres. Garima said that the family have to bring the body themselves to the river and then negotiate a good price for the cremation! It's truly another world here and I'm very grateful for the ways in the UK.
After getting over the secrets of the Ganges we strolled into the town, it was bustling with life. Jon was stopped by a film crew filming for the election, as he and Justine were interviewed ( I stayed well away), 2 bulls were charging down the street as a poor young man on a motorbike was vomiting blood on the side of the road. There is never a dull day in Varanasi!
It was lovely to connect with Jon and his Wiwam team in Varanasi, they reach out to the locals in many ways and lead a sacrificial life.
We are off to Nagarland next with a one day stop off in Kolcatta. Fun times!