Waking up 4.45 am is something we are normally not good at. But today we are going to make a sunrise boot tour on the Ganges River to see the morning bathing rituals. The bathing ritual takes place near the Ghats or the stairs that lead to the Ganges River. These intimate rituals are going hand in hand with the cremating rituals that take place in Varanasi as well. This is something that comes as a bit of a culture shock for us westerners, knowing that the Ganges river is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. The river is 3.000 times more polluted then the maximum level of pollution given by western standards for safe swimming. So I guess you can understand we are very careful when jumping in the small rowing boat. We leave a bit before sunrise and see men and women scrubbing their whole bodies with soap and all and then dip their whole body underwater.
Only three minutes on the water and Michel notices something floating. Our worst fear comes true. Poor people who cannot cremate the dead throw the body in the Ganges River in the hope the deceased will reach Nirvana anyway. But these bodies tend to start floating after a few days. We look in shock as the body approaches as we are on a collision course with it. Then our boatman notices the body himself, turns the boat a bit more and gently lifts his paddle. All in a days work for him but, in shock, we see the naked body float past by. Then we smell it and we nearly have to vomit. It’s a scene taken from a horror movie. When we look up towards the bathing men and women only a few metres away and see a man flushing his mouth with the Ganges water, our culture shock is complete. The complete boat ride we see the image of the floating body….
The tour also includes a visit to the sacred Shiva temple. But after the images we saw early this morning we are not really interested anymore. Even the sacred black shiva fallus symbol doesn’t impress us.
In the afternoon we go back to the old city. This time, we go back to put everything on film and do a bit of shopping. Although a bit shocking this morning the Ganges has a certain attraction you can’t resist. Soon we found ourselves in between the bathing crowd. Today is a hindu festival and the hindu god Ganesh is being worshipped. To make the pollution of the Ganges a bit worse, large groups of excited men throw self made statues of Ganesh and flowers in the Ganges in between the bathers. When the crowd sees our camera they even get more excited and they all want to be on film! Back in the city we film the busy streets and also a cow which stands in the middle of it all. Like a popstar, the cow doesn’t want to be filmed and Elles has to jump away only being hit by one the horns on her arm. Scared but luckily not hurt we continue our way.
In one of the alleys we meet Aziz again, the little kid that guided us through the old city the day before. This time he invites us in his house and what we find makes us realise how much wealth we have. He, his father and three sisters live in a room of 2.5 by 2.5 meter. A single lamp lights the room and we see a small cabinet in the corner with a stove. Behind the cabinet we notice two mice wandering around amidst cockroaches. We know now why azis was eager to help us in exchange for a small token. His mother has died recently and as his father has a little shop, he feels responsible for his three sisters. We chat a bit and ask Aziz if he can help us again, this time finding a special place to do some more filming. Happy as he is he shows us round!
We also visit the burning ghat again. We watch in silence how the rituals take place….and find it less shocking then yesterday. Just before dark we say goodbye to our little friend Aziz and leave the old town. On the way back to the hotel we decide we could use some entertainment in the form of a hindi movie. When visiting India, this is also something you should experience. The movies, most of them produced in Bombay or also called Bollywood, are a mix of dance, action, romance, humore and intrigues all packed in a three hour film. But unfortunately we pick the wrong movie as we already notice by the crowd, just men. It’s an action movie only…. So after 45 minutes of gung ho fighting and bad acting we leave.
Outside the crowd is still partying and still we see groups of young men heading towards the Ganges carrying Ganesh Statues. We reckon thousands must have been thrown in by now….
Today was India at is max… what a country!