holy river, had steeled myself to see the ash strewn steps leading down into her murky brown waters that hold the remains of innumerable human corpses. I was wrong. Walking down the ancient cobblestone boardwalk, we passed brightly painted monuments, delicately shaped minarets and tiered walls of the fortress like Ghats. All beautiful and unique in their own regard. As the evening fell though, the scent of burning teak and sandalwood emanated from beyond and overpowered us with its heady aromas and stifling presence. We had reached the Shiva Temple, the oldest and most revered temple in this city of a thousand monuments. It's here that people come, day and night, to bring their dead and return them to ashes from whence they came, breaking the karmic cycle of death and rebirth that all Hindu’s believe in and bestowing upon them the eternal bliss of clear perfect nirvana. Pictures were strictly prohibited here so my words won’t do it justice, but standing there amidst a family of mourning husbands, sons and brothers, watching the faint shrouded body of a mother,
daughter or sister being placed gingerly onto the pyre and the hand of the one they loved spreading the starved flicker of spark amongst the wood until it’s at a fever licked rage - consuming bone, body and flesh amidst the red coals of cinders and ash - it was so powerful, so moving, I was stricken with a solemn silence. I don’t know how long I stood there, staring into the pure white heart of the flame, watching it dance, twisting and writhing with every gust of wind and taste of cloth. It held my body captive in its cloud of sweet sanguine smoke, my eyes swollen and red, my nostrils burning with each breath. Life and death. Birth and rebirth. The love of your family and friends. The ones we leave behind. All this tore through my mind as I watched the stoic composure of the mourners; a reassuring hand on the shoulder of a man about to break down, children grasping their parents legs, clutching as if to let go was to lose it all, family held close together, arms around each other in a gentle embrace. It was almost enough to make me break down myself, standing here next to complete strangers and feeling their pain like it was my own. We all lose the people we love in this life and
there is a time when our own clock will stop ticking, but this inevitability doesn’t stop us from living. Far from it. It gives us a reason to live stronger, with purpose, with passion, with meaning. Such a short time to share what makes us unique and give it all to the people who matter the most. Standing here watching these souls, who lost a part of their lives they can never get back, they were strong, they were proud, they were alive and most of all, they were happy. To them, they were setting the soul of their loved one free, releasing them from the endless cycle of living out their mistakes and good deeds in the next life. No tears were shed and no vows were said. Simply a blessing and a burning. A simple goodbye and a return to the Earth in the purest form. There can be a lot said for the way they treat death here in India. It’s a natural part of life and it comes for us all, but in the end it’s not how you died, but how you lived that counts. When we all go, we would be so lucky to have touched enough peoples’ lives to be remembered and respected, loved and forlorn, relished and released to
the great unknown with a light heart and a faint smile on the faces of those around us. I know when my time comes the legacy I leave behind and the people I have loved are all I'll need to show my worth in this world, and I am a lucky man to have each and every one of them in my life. If I don’t say it enough, thank you to you all. You’re what keeps me going and gives my life meaning. I love you beyond words and when my spark goes out, don’t be sad for me. Be happy I lived and followed my dreams while I still had breath in me. Release me to the great infinity and know that everything that means anything to me in this world is standing there watching over me, or waiting to meet me on the other side. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Everything goes away, but in love we trust.
Let me start by saying Varanasi is not a city for the faint of heart. It immediately assaults all of your senses - good and bad, enticing and appalling, pleasure and pain - in the rawest, most obscene way possible. One of the oldest cities on Earth, built up and burnt down over countless centuries by long dead despots and faceless rulers, each time born again in the hallowed cradle of the Ganges river. Varanasi has more history and religious significance to millions of Hindus than any other landmark on Earth. People of all castes and backgrounds make pilgrimages here each year to bathe in the sacred waters and perform last rites on friends and loved ones before they are consumed by the flame. I knew of the Ghats before I came here, was prepared to see the mass public cremation that goes on day and night, year round at the banks of this