Messing about on the river!

Trip Start Sep 09, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  ,
Sunday, October 28, 2007

So after several hours of waiting around at Howrah train station in Calcutta, we were finally upgraded from 'waiting list' to confirmed seats and we could board the night train to Varanasi. The station was so crowded with people sleeping everywhere and anywhere and children playing amongst the crowds. The cleaning of the station was a good form of entertainment for us - one man walked around shouting at people 'up up!' before he started throwing buckets of soapy water all over the floor. About five minutes later his mate came round with a broom, pushing it all around without really cleaning anything. During this time people were slipping all over the floor, much to our amusement!

Once on board, we were surrounded by 'India's Big Babies' - grown men and women eating with their mouths open slapping their food, slurping drinks, belching, shouting to talk, coughing, farting, sneezing and scratching their particulars freely with no attempt to be discreet. Lovely! The worst of these was an important-looking fat Muslim man, complete with armed military escorts who was in our 4-bed cabin. When he left at 5am he felt the need to turn on the main light and fan to wake us up to the sound of all the above!

Our first impressions of Varanasi were great: a quaint little city with many rooftop restaurants with an extremely spiritual feeling to the whole place. Tom was delighted to discover that wild monkeys roam freely around the houses and temples, stealing food and clothes! The area has a lot more tourists than we've been used to and this shows in prices and the lack of 'fame'!
Within an hour of checking into our room we saw our first dead body being carried through the streets to the funeral pyre on the Ganges, but we soon got used to this as approximately 400 cremations are carried out here every day.

We learnt through Sanju, a local man, more about the ceremonial ritual: the bodies are taken for cremation immediately (within 3 hours of death) to the Burning Ghat where a pile of wood is built by the male friends/family (no women are allowed). A torch is then lit from a flame in the temple behind the ghat, which has been burning continuously for 45 centuries. The head male is then shaved of his bodily hair with the exception of a small tuft on the back of his head, and is dressed in a white robe which he keeps on for the 13-day mourning period. He then takes the torch and lights the pile of wood containing the body. It takes approximately 3 hours to burn the body and once burnt, the ashes are collected and scattered into the river. The family then bathe themselves in the holy water. It's a very open and almost casual ceremony with happiness instead of grief at the thought of reincarnation. People stroll past and one procession even stopped as a relative answered his mobile phone! We sat and watched for a while (it's fascinating but eerie!) but decided to leave when we could hear the crackling of the body!! Tom's been put off pork for a little while...

Belive it or not yesterday we got up, by choice, at 4.30 (yes AM!) to watch the sun rise over the Ganges. Even at 5am people were down at the riverside praying, blessing, drinking and bathing in the river. We hired a small boat and were taken down the river and then across to watch the sunrise. From 7-8am the banks and ghats filled up with worshippers,laundry washers, artists, fishermen, tourists... and not forgetting the 'Ganga Supermarket' - even on a boat in the middle of the Ganges you're not safe from people selling tack!!

Back on the banks we took part in a Ganga Puja in which both of our families were blessed with good fortune and long life. I was also blessed with many children, which I asked for him to delay a little while!! We held offerings as the guru placed Tilaks onto our foreheads and poured holy water from the river over our hands.

We met a young lad called Pappu who taught us some useful Hindi phrases over breakfast. Tom now has a new favourite saying: whenever we are being bothered by people trying to sell us cack he says to them "Jao Bunda Kasat Kaylo" (Go away and play with monkeys)!! Some people have found this hilarious, others weren't so pleased...

We also saw the biggest chicken we've ever seen - unfortunately she was sitting by a cremation and so we couldn't take a picture but we're going on a hunt for her today!

Also last night Tom was run over by a cycle-rickshaw!


1). Take me to the river - Al Green.
2). Dead in the Water - David Gray
3). Fire - Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
4). Smoke on the water - Deep Purple.
5). Anything by Ash!
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loulou1 on

I told joe about tom saying to people go away and play with the monkey's...he thought it was so funny, then kept on saying it to me!!!
Sound like a dream, i thought on the video you (charlie) were talking at first just joking around, then the camera went on the little lad. lol

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