Varanasi

Trip Start Jul 02, 2008
1
16
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Trip End Jun 19, 2009


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Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Sunday, September 21, 2008

Namaste!

Varanasi is definitely an experience. The mighty Ganges River, or the Ganga as it's known here, runs on the east side of the town. I'll start with some facts..

-about 60,000 people take a holy dip in the river in Varanasi each day
-in this same area 30 large sewers are continuously discharging into the river
-the water is so septic that no dissolved oxygen exists
-samples from the river show the water has 1.5 million fecal coliform bacteria per 100mL of water...in water that is safe for bathing this figure should be less than 500!!
-400 million people live along the Ganges River. These levels mean that waterborne diseases run rampant among many villages that use the water

Each day thousands of people come to the ghats along the river mostly to bathe, but also to pray, wash clothes, be cremated, spread ashes, wash their cows, do yoga, meditate, people watch, or just chill. At first I was disgusted seeing this knowing these people are washing themselves or their clothes in shit. But after awhile I learned to appreciate the tradition and spirituality of it.

From my hotel room window...
Live music during dinner...

Most of the ghats, there are about 80 of them in Varanasi, are for bathing, but there are some that are thought to heal diseases and there are two "burning" ghats. Yes, these are for cremations.

I took a sunrise canoe ride along the ghats to see the morning prayers and bathing. And yes, I did see the smaller burning ghat in action. You can't take pictures of the cremations but when we were further away I snapped a photo of the entire ghat. I'll talk about cremations after you see some of the pics.













Now about the cremations...The body is wrapped in a white cloth followed by many layers of metallic orange or yellow cloths. The body is strapped to a gurney, two bamboo poles with cloth, and carried through the winding streets of Varanasi towards the ghat. The body is then submerged in the Ganges. According to the weight of the body, the amount of wood needed to completely burn the body is calculated. Different woods cost different amounts, sandalwood being the most expensive. There are five fire pits along either side of the steps leading towards the river and piles of wood everywhere. The body is carried towards one of the pits that has already been prepared with wood. The body is placed on top of the pile of wood, with the white cloth still wrapped around the body. The other cloths will be placed in the fire later. The pit is set on fire and the body, very slowly, burns into ashes as the family, and whoever else wishes to, watches. The ashes are given to the family and they have a ceremony at one of the other ghats where they spread the ashes into the Ganges. About 100-200 bodies are cremated here each day.

This was an extremely disturbing experience as you can imagine. I think what bothered me the most was how public it is. Watching a loved one be cremated is not something I would like to share with just anyone, including foreigners. Actually, it's not something I would like to experience at all.

Also disturbing was that there were people bathing in this ghat. You can't walk 100 feet to the next ghat to bathe? There were also cows in the water. Again, bring them to the next ghat please.

I was watching this one body burn. The white cloth had already burned so you can see the head, body, and bones. The guys working on this body kept hitting the bones with sticks to try and break the bones apart to burn faster.

Moving on...
I took the bus to Sarnath, which is about 15 km from Varanasi. This is where the Buddha gave his first sermon after reaching enlightenment in Bodhgaya, which I'm leaving for tomorrow.

I started at the Mulgandha Kuti Vihar Temple where Buddha's first sermon is chanted everyday. Sorry for some reason the pic of the outside of the temple didn't go through. But here's the inside.

Outside of the temple grows a bodhi tree. A branch from the original bodhi tree that Buddha attained enlightenment under was brought here in 1931 and now this tree flourishes. The original, or the offspring of the original, is now in Sri Lanka.

Dhanekh Stupa marks the spot where Buddha preached
his first sermon.

Remains of the main shrine.

And the Archaeological Museum.

Happy Birthday Mom!!!

Peace,
Jen
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