It was very crowded on the ghats as people went about preparing their food. Most of the women were making some kind of chappatti then frying it and there's an overwhelming smell of paraffin as hundreds of these little stoves fire up to cook their breakfast. The other major activity is the children having their heads shaved. This is done by the father with a cut throat razor
! They are pretty skilled at doing this as I didn't see one child with any nicks on their scalp, did see plenty bawling their eyes out, but in general they sat quite still as they had their locks removed. The reason the children have their heads shaved, is because their newborn hair is deemed to be impure. According to the child's birthday and their horoscope a priest will decide the most auspicious time to carry out this ceremony and it could be anywhere between 6mths and 5 years. We were being asked for money by a lot of children this morning, the sad thing is if you give to one you will have 100 others expecting the same, that's provided you survive the stampede. We sat for about an hour just people watching - fascinating.
Doris has been trying for the past day to post some of her unwanted belongings back to Blighty. The idea being that she creates more space for future purchases. She's been reading Diary of a Shopaholic - I think that book may have been based on Doris! I'm sure she'll cover this epic trip to the post office in her diary, but the upshot is that she's spent another 1/2 day trying to accomplish what should have been a simple task. Fred & I waited around for her for a few hours, and when she still hadn't returned, me and Fred set off to visit the ghats where the funeral pyres take place. I thought the religious day was yesterday but in fact that was the workers day of protest, today is the religious holiday.
The streets were heaving, it was total madness, very much a carnival atmosphere and everyone appeared to be having a good time. It took us twice as long to get to the ghats than it had done previously. It must have been a very busy day for the woodman as he had two big wood piles stacked quite high in front of his yard. As we approached the ghats a young man came up to us and asked us if we would like to watch from the tower above where the funerals were taking place. There were 4 funerals in process, they ranged from just being lit to just the remains of the dying embers. I somehow expected to smell something rather unpleasant but that wasn't the case. They use a certain kind of wood, and in some cases sandalwood, if the family can afford it. We've seen quite a lot in Varanasi, especially the rituals associated with the Hindu religion. At 3 pm we travelled by auto rickshaw to the railway station to catch the overnight train to Calcutta. If you want to know what crazy is then it doesn't come much crazier than this. At times the traffic was gridlocked, compounded by the fact that there were hundreds of people walking in the streets, horns never stopped honking and our driver kept doing these amazing 90 degree turns to cut in and out of traffic - this journey definitely rates up there in the white knuckle ride department. Our train journey was quite pleasant, we still had the odd inquisitive Indian ripping open our curtains and just staring at us but nothing excessive. I have taken to telling them in a very stern voice, that there's nothing to see here, move along! Our experience so far of the trains is that they have pretty much run on time, the compartments have been reasonably comfortable, it's a good system, if only they could just sort the toilets out they'd be onto a winner.
It's 5.30am and still dark as we headed down to the river for a boat ride and hopefully catch the sunrise. It's a hive of activity as people go through their morning rituals, bathing, washing teeth cleaning etc. If you think about how much care we take in the western world making sure that we sterilise all our babies' feeding bottles, bowls etc, and then you come here and see babies being washed in polluted water, you can't help but ask yourself, are we overdoing it with antibacterial this that and the other. What happened to just plain old soap and water to wash your hands, why does it have to be antibacterial hand wash. I believe we are making a big mistake over using these products.