The train ride to Varanasi was going to be our biggest challenge yet. 13 hours on a train, overnight, in sleeper class. We got the train at 4pm and started watching a film on Kris's phone. It got dark at 6 and people starting putting the beds up! That's right, its dark so it must be time for bed. They forgot they were actually adults and don't go to bed til later!
Once they had their power nap they were wide awake by 8pm, at which point they must have realised that bed time isn't 6pm as they're not kids!
This was particularly annoying for us as our beds were up and were at different levels on opposite sides so we just led there wide awake listening to them play their ringtones, shouting on the phone and shouting really loudly at each other, you would think they are standing in front of a jet engine!
Come on Indians, you made us goto bed, how about some quiet time?!
After pretty patchy sleep in between the man belows telephone conversations we arrived at Varanasi just after 5am! We were hoping the hostel would be there to pick us up as arranged over email, but no such luck! So begun the tuk-tuk negotiations!
We managed to get to our hostel easily enough, despite having to walk the last 5 minutes as the streets by the Gange are too narrow and windy for tuk-tuks. After a power nap one of the guys from the hostel kindly took us out on a free tour to explain the craziness of Varanasi! First stop, the burning ghats, where families burn there loved ones on an open fire for all to see. It definitely took some explaining...
The family have 24 hours after the death to get the body to Varanasi. They are then given a time slot, which could be any time as the burning ghat runs 24/7. The family buy golden robes to dress the body in and they are then laid on a stretcher, looking rather like a decorative mummy (don't worry you can't see anything of the actual person). They are then dipped into the Gange to purify the body. The Gange is seen as a very sacred river in India, although you wouldn't think that from all of the rubbish they throw into it! Also, apparently not one of the 40 towns that sit on the edge of the Gange prevents its raw sewage from going straight into it.
Next the family must buy wood to burn the body. This costs 10 Rupees per kg of wood, and it takes about 300kg to burn a body. The gold is removed and they are wrapped in a white cloth and placed on top of the wood. The person lighting the fire is the closest relative and must have his head shaved! It then takes 2.5-3 hours for the body to burn. For some reason only the men attend the ceremony, and no one is allowed to cry as it is thought that the salt from the tears will prevent the process of the soul. There is actually a man that will ask people to leave the area if they start to cry. Seems harsh, but the whole ceremony is so different to anything we are use to this is just another difference.
Pregnant women, children under 13 and those who are killed from being bitten by a cobra (!!!!) don't need to be burnt as they're already pure. So they simply tie stones to their body and drop them in the middle of the river!
We watched for a bit and saw the odd foot and head going up in flames. It wasn't as horrific as it sounds, 1 because its a ceremony and just what they do and 2 nothing can surprise or shock us here! Photography is prohibited so don't worry there's no gory photos!
When the body has finished burning, apparently the chest of men and the pelvis of women still remain so are thrown into the river, along with ashes!!
There is another burning ghat where people deemed not to be pure are burnt. These are people that didn't die of natural causes. So if you got murdered or knocked over by a car, you get burnt at the not so great burning ghat.
We wondered along the river front past the other ghats which are mainly bathing ghats and it was facinating people watching for the next few hours.
There were lots of people washing in the river (even down stream from the burning ghat!) Indian tourists had come to Varanasi to take a dip in the Holy Ganges river (or the Ganga as they call it!). But there was so much rubbish in there! They didn't care though, they just kept adding to it!
People tried to get us into their shops as Varanasi is famous for silk shops don't you know. Anyway, one guy had a good technique but we're not sure if he did actually have a shop! He said come to my 'shitty shop where the quality is shit and the prices are bullshit'! Very different approach!
We then caught a sunset boat ride which involved a 20 minute stop to watch a 'famous' ritual which happens twice a night. It was a good atmosphere on the water as hundreds of boats gathered to watch. However, the ceremony was pretty bad and seemed more for tourism rather than a sacred event (especially as they held it twice every night). We had more enjoyment watching the crowded boats full of Japanese/Korean tourists as we sat in the same size boat with just the 3 of us in!
We decided to do a sunrise boat cruise too which was nice as the sun came up without there being fog or smog in the way!
We chilled out for the rest of the day before going to the station to catch the night train to Kolcata. Whilst we were waiting on the platform a man decided that it would be a good idea to have a wee from the bridge above onto the tracks. We couldn't believe our eyes as this wee fountain from above passed us and landed on the tracks. Animals! Speaking of actual animals, a monkey went up to a fruit cart and stole an orange from the fruit seller, but he just happened to take the one at the bottom of the stack which caused them to fall on the floor which is always amusing!
Varanasi has been so bizarre