A burning sensation

After settling in we head into town. We are curious how the Ganges river looks here and wonder how it will be to see a cremation. We have heard stories that it is a peaceful thing but have no clue what to expect. The old town is a maze of little alleys and it doesn’t take long to get lost. Its basically impossible to find your way to the Ganges and the ritual bathing stairs called Ghats. As every where in Asia there is always someone to help you. Aziz, a little boy offers his help and we follow him through the dirty narrow streets avoiding the wandering cows by inches and trying not to inhale the poo and piss odours. Locals are pissing everywhere and cows do the same making the alley slippery and very dirty.

But we manage, zigzag around it, and arrive clean at the most intense place we have ever seen; The burning Ghat. This is the place where fortunate Hindu’s cremate the dead. It requires some money to buy the wood and get the paperwork done but it gives you a free ride to nirvana. Then we are invited to enter a building next to the Burning Ghat and are shocked by what we see.

A near dead man is lying on the floor and a woman, thin as paper is sitting next to him. They are the unfortunate, we are told by a guy who seems to work there. We provide free food, he tells us, and accommodation so they can save money for the wood. They are waiting to die. We are shocked and are happy to be invited on a balcony overlooking the Burning Ghat.

Then we see it. Six huge piles of wood are burning and in between we see the remains of humans. We also see a couple of bodies covered in sheets waiting with the family besides them. It’s an impressive and spiritual site… literally! In silence we see a new pile being made and watch the family when they place the body on top. Then the wood is set on fire and within minutes the pile is blazing with fire. The family seems happy.

We donate some money to the paper thin lady so she can save it for the necessary wood before leaving. Then we are asked to have a close look at the burning Ghat. It must be a weird form of curiosity but we go. We make our way up the stairs avoiding the men who keep running past us with fresh wood. The heat gets more and more intense and when we finally reached the top the heat is nearly unbearable. We have a glance and must say it wasn’t shocking. It was quite peaceful except for the burning heat in our face. We leave quickly due to breathing problems and not to disturb the men working there….

We ask Aziz if he can help us find a rooftop restaurant. When we get there we thank Aziz and give him a token of appreciation. Then we head to the rooftop. There we sit down, watch the sunset over Varanasi and try to deal with all the images we have seen. Too much in such a short time, we must say.. too much.

When we leave the restaurant we are almost overrun by a group a chanting men who are rushing to the Ganges River. In the middle are four men carrying another dead body. Definitely too much! We head back to the hotel, sit down and try to relax….. what a day!