The Holy Ganges, Burning Bodies and lots of Poo
Trip Start May 11, 2005
320Trip End Ongoing
Now to address an issue that has happened on most of our bus journeys that is simply infuriating... I have not spoken of it before because it happens so often that I have accepted it as part of traveling in India. However, this one particular time since I was on a 16 hour bus ride, it really chapped my ass! This is the phenomena I have dubbed as an Idiot Jam. Indians love to pass each other on the road at all cost...uphill, blind corner, not enough speed...it does not matter they will pass hell or high-water...the only problem is that when the entire country is doing this sooner or later they run out of road. The Indiots (Half Indian half Idiot..run them together) then use what ever drivable space is left on the sides...when this fills up, traffic comes to a stand still in that particular spot...oh but wait the Indiots in back with smaller vehicles (ie compact cars, motorcycles, tuk tuks) try and sneak around and go through the cracks...this procedure is done in both lanes of traffic until finally there is a Idiot Jam miles long with absolutely no place to to go. It is impossible to back up because the guy behind is boxed in for miles
After 16 hours on the bus with no sleep, we were only half way to Varanasi. I was dying to get some shut eye. We arrived in the random town of Lucknow, sleep deprived and on our last nerve......Luckily we were able to book a first class, air con, reclining seat Volvo bus and slept blissfully all 10 hours to Varanasi...after riding that government bus we were in heaven.
(Now for some Dave MccPune)
We are in Varanasi right now. It is one of the most holy sites in India. This is where pilgrims come to wash in the Ganges. Also, this is the most auspicious place to die for Hindus as they believe it will break the cycle of reincarnation and free them to their version of nirvana. It is pretty sobering to watch bodies be burned... actually watch the cremations. The bodies are placed on a stack of wood, then more wood is piled on top...depending on how rich you are. Arms, heads, and legs are poking out of the burning pile, so men come by with huge bamboo poles and break the bones so they can fold the body back into the flames. They also turn the torso over to burn both sides and you can see the exposed skull and vertebrae in the poorer bodies. Then the ashes are just dumped into the river. Some bodies don't even get a fire. They are just tied to a rock and sunk in the river... the same river people are swimming and drinking in. Little boys are even diving to the bottom to get the jewelry off the burned up bodies. Fuckin crazy! It has such a sense of finality it makes me never want anybody I know to die. A visual ashes to ashes. Utter proof they are gone forever.
Thats it for Dave, now I'm going to be taking over in order to drop some knowledge on your dome piece.....
Varanasi is a holy city in Hinduism, being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations. More than 1,000,000 pilgrims visit the city each year. Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself. The spiritual and religious significance could be compared to what the Nile river meant to the ancient Egyptians. While the Ganges may be considered holy, it could not be more polluted. It is filled with chemical wastes, sewage and even the remains of human and animal corpses which carry major health risks by either direct bathing in the dirty water or by drinking.
I had read about how dirty the Ganges was before I got to Varanasi, and I thought that everyone knew that it was foul..... but for some reason not a single Indian there had received the memo. The religious pilgrims drink the water! They have organized swimming lessons for children.... the river is simply filled with people frolicking in the filth and they are all fine! I even was told by the locals that the river only makes you sick if you think it will...basically it came down to mental toughness....
I had read in the Economist the following about the Ganges.... "To know why 1,000 Indian children die of diarrheal sickness every day, take a wary stroll along the Ganges in Varanasi. As it enters the city, Hinduism’s sacred river contains 60,000 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 milliliters, 120 times more than is considered safe for bathing. Four miles downstream, with inputs from 24 gushing sewers and 60,000 pilgrim-bathers, the concentration is 3,000 times over the safety limit
Hooper caught a train the next day back to Delhi leaving me and Dave to sweat it out. The temperature during this time of year was lethal.... We spent our time here roaming around the river Wats, teasing a small white dog outside our hotel, exploring all the nooks of crannies of one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and trying not to step in giant mounds of cow shit. Dave was terrible at avoiding these steaming piles and due to his poor choice of sandals (Chaos) he often ended up with cow shit between his toes....Keens are the way to go by they way...
Every night at many of the river Wats there was a nightly Puja where holy men would do some sort of ceremony to the setting sun... These Puja's would draw major crowds along with children trying to sell floating candles. It was interesting to watch all the hullabaloo but, just like with all religions, it got boring fast.
There is so much to see along the banks of the Ganges... Sadus begging for money, children playing cricket, funeral processions leading to funeral fires, water buffalo wallowing in the mud...Hindu pilgrims getting their heads shaved, holy men performing Puja, pilgrims bathing, men offering boat rides or hash every 30 seconds...It's life on the Ganges and no matter how gritty or annoying I found it, I could not have been more pleased.