A Travellerspoint blog

Of TV crews and burning smells.

17th-18th Jan 2012

sunny 17 °C

I love TFL! I love National Rail! To most people this will sound odd. After all, the underground is dirty and overcrowded and National Rail trains are often late and in many ways soul destroying. If this is what you are thinking, try taking the Indian Railway! After the last blog in the town that time forgot I headed to the station (accompanied by more staring adults and shouting children) and discovered that the train was delayed by a few hours from 8pm until 1am. No problem. I met a Danish couple at the station waiting for the same train and we went to have dinner together in the town's only (and I do mean only) restaurant. Full of food and cheer we head back to the station at 11:30 and discover that the train is delayed a further 3 hours till 4am! Realizing that this time dynamic could continue indefinitely and that if it does the train will never arrive, we called our respective travel agents and complained relentlessly until they got fed up listening to the whining foreigners and booked us into the same hotel in my favorite city.... Agra! The Danish couple and I hung out for the day in Agra during which the lady who's name was Maria ended up on the national evening news! She went in to a fish foot spa while her boyfriend and I hung out outside when all of a sudden, a TV cameraman and reporter turned up complete with mic and camera, thrust both in to her face and proceeded to interview her about the treatment she was getting. That evening (second time lucky) we caught the train (which mercifully ran according to schedule) and a mere 15 hours later we arrived in Varanasi.

Varanasi is India's oldest town (even older than Bruce Forsyth). It's a town on the bank of the river Ganges where the elderly go to die.... Kind of like Bournemouth. People go to die in Varanasi because they believe that dying here remits sins and ensures a persons soul reaches Nirvana. I'd imagine people go to die in Bournemouth for the tea shops. No trip here (Varanasi not Bournemouth) would be complete without a boat trip down the river Ganges, so with this in mind I headed for the riverbank.

After a lot of back and forth bartering I secured a boat (and boatman) for 150 rupees (2 pounds; UK minimum wage be damned) for the hour. The trip up the river was pleasant. We rowed past the various ghats (steps down in to the river), decrepit buildings and innumerable cows. To most people, this would have peaceful and maybe rather beautiful but to me it was simply an opportunity to spout stereotypical pirate phrases in a hilarious accent at confused looking Chinese tourists. On some of the ghats, people were lighting fires, and crowding round in groups, shouting things. Soon after, we docked in a ghat with many more fires than the others and I got off thinking that the trip was over. However the boatman motioned me to go with a man who told me he would explain the culture and what was going on. As I walk through India in a near constant state of confusion, I agreed, eager to try and make sense of all the activity. The guy explained that the Ganges are sacred and then pointed to a crumbling building behind all the fires. "This" he said, indicating the building, "is where people from all over India come to await death". We walked in to the middle of several fires as he explained a little about India's caste system and pointed out the different groups of people standing around in groups and identified their caste for me. The fire was sweltering hot and ash was hitting me in the face the whole time. The man continued talking for sometime and then motioned to the fire. My heart stopped! Staring out of the fire back at me, partially concealed among the wood was a dead, naked woman. Half her face had seemingly melted off, her one unburnt eye staring blankly into mine. I watched transfixed as her skin slowly disappeared before my eyes and suddenly became very aware of the smell of burning flesh. I looked around at the other fires and could make out other bodies laying in them too. "The people around fire" said my guide, unphased by it all "are the male relatives". "Women no allowed at cremation because woman see her husband get cremated sometimes throw herself in to fire". Horrified by this startling news, I studied the people. None of them appeared at all upset at seeing Grandma get barbecued. The guide, noticing my focus, explained, "Yes no-one is sad because family member reach Nirvana now. Is very happy occasion". I wiped the dead body ash off of my face and vacantly nodded.

Posted by OmarInIndia 10:42 Archived in India Tagged trains ganges varanasi ghats cremation

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Wonderful, funny writer. Love reading about what your doing, sounds so exciting. Good on you for going for an adventure!
We are all fine and busy with usual life, must catch up when your back and hear more tales more fully!

by Aunty Jen

Thanks Jen. It's great fun but miss you all a lot. Can't wait to catch up and find out what you've been up to when I'm back x

by OmarInIndia

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