Offerings and Funerals
At 5 as promised I went to see 'don't worry chicken curry' boy (as I'll now refer to him or dwcc for short) to tell him I'd rather take my tour with him another time as I just wanted to go for a walk this evening and maybe take a boat on the river during the aarti ceremony. So he told me to be at the river at 6 and he would arrange a boat for me. I found a nice little staircase that leads through the hotel floor right down to the river then started my walk past many people shouting "boat, boat, you want boat?!" at me, me constantly shaking my head. I then came across a man doing the usual "hey my friend, where are you from, how long are you here etc (this happens every 2 seconds in this country) he seemed pleasant enough though and never once mentioned any sort of service or activity where I'd have to part with my hard earned rupees! He walked with me right towards the burning ghats (where they cremate bodies), the term Gaht refers to the steps leading down to a body of holy water ie. The Ganges, I was going to stand and watch from afar but then an old man who looked a little priestly beckoned and told me to walk with him. I never thought you could go so close but he took me right over to the fires where I could see the remains of burning corpses all the while explaining the whole process. The bodies are brought from far and wide and the temple behind me houses elderly or sick people waiting to because if you die in Varanasi or are cremated at the ganges, you will reach heaven and receive instant enlightenment. The bodies are then washed in the river and then laid (I could see 3 or 4 wrapped up bodies on the steps) out before being burned on a wood pire. The family then circle the body 4 or 5 times, you can tell who the youngest son is as they shave they're head) and then take a bundle of burning grass from the the fire in the temple which has supposedly been burning for hundreds of years and light the wood. It takes about 3 hours for the body to burn (they do about 300 a day!) and then they gather the ashes and the remains and throw them in the river, then they get in pool of ashes and sift through it for jewellery that was burned with the body. I then found myself being bumped into by other family members carrying another body to be cremated, they are doing about 4 as I'm standing there and it's a constant process, a few of the bodies I could see around me didn't have anything covering the head so I could see they're faces, it was also so hot around the fires that my lighter burst in my pocket! The whole thing was a little bit unnerving to watch as funerals are such a private quiet sad occasion in the west but here I could wander around between funeral pyres! It was a bit of a shame that afterwards the man shoeing me around told me it would give me great karma to donate to buy wood for the pyres for poor families, I do believe in karma but unfortunately for him I do not believe in tourist scams, thank you Rough Guide for the tip-off!
When walking back the way I bumped into dwcc boy who insisted I take the boat now so I bargained my price and hopped into the rowing boat. It was all very relaxing and peacful and it was the best view of the river so I turned into a right happy snapper and took many a photo has dusk settled in. The boat rower took me down stream a little and stopped on the other side of the river where it was very sandy and told me I could get some good pictures of the river from this side but he didn't tell me I would get accosted by two little boys on horse back grabbing my arm and saying "get on horse, on horse very fast!", a little pony right on the sand I may have said yes but I was not about to jump on the back of this crazy horse with a angry 12 year old! Back on the boat in the middle of the river as it begain to get dark, I lit my aarti (little candle offerings for good luck and karma from the gods) which I purchased from a little girl who hopped on my boat with a hard sell just before I set off, I believe I got a good price but the other girl who came after to sell me hers which I refused because I already had, told me I would get very bad karma and my candles I bought were bad! Moody little... so I little all 7 one for each member of my immediate family and one for mysef and watched as they floated off. Was very pretty and made me feel a little emotional actually for a minute.
After I manned up, we went over to watch the Aarti ceremony which is a Hindu religious ceremony of worship where offerings of light are offered to the deities. It was all very fascinating to watch all the chanting, singing, clapping and waving around inscense and I got a front row seat on my boat! After this I headed back to the guest house (I'll stop using the word hotel as they are more like guest house hostels or something...) and had Thali (a typical Indian dish where you get your curry, rice, dhal, chapati and salad). Bed time now as I have a tour of the city and the other Ghats at 8am!