Mark and Mika Take on the WORLD!!! travel blog

The beautifully clean water of the Ganges

One of the funeral gnats cremating bodies

Panorama of Varanasi Gnats

Mark charms the snake charmer

Bathing buffalos

Releasing ghee candles for our families and friends

Sundown ceremony

Women bathing in the Ganges

Hanging around and biting an itch...a real talent!

Puppy gnawing on pigeon wing. He must be hungry

Watch your step!

Mark de-evolved

After a 30-hour train ride, here we are in what seems to be the thumping heart of India, Varanasi. Everything we've seen in India, we also found here with three times the magnitude and then some. But first, we had to learn to really watch our steps. There was more cow poop littered everywhere in the narrow alleyways here than the amount of dog poop in Paris. It quickly became obvious why people took off their shoes before entering any store, home or restaurant. Surprisingly, some people walk around Varanasi barefooted. Yuck!

After checking into our hotel, we headed straight away to the Ganges River, or the Great Mother. Oh, what a sight! The first ghat we came to along the river, we saw a cow in front of a sewage outlet feeding on bits of rubbish that were pouring out. The sewage water was bright, bright GREEN. Ah! India at it's finest! And, within 100 feet from this sight, bodies were being burned on pyres. Now that's something we hadn't seen before, and probably will never have the chance to see again. For a generous 150 Ruppee donation to help buy wood for the poor at the hospice located just behind the crematorium ghat, a guide explained to use the art and customs involved in completely incinerating a body. The family of the deceased pays 150 Ruppees per kilogram of sandalwood needed to burn the body. A scale is available to weigh out the exact amount of wood. It takes 3 - 4 hours for the body to be consumed, and whatever jewelry or gold from teeth, etc. found in the ashes are left for the workers to keep as their salary. Up to 400 bodies are burned daily at this particular site, with burnings going on 24 hours of the day. Interestingly enough, not all people are cremated. Children under 13 or pregnant mothers never are cremated since they represent innocence or carry innocence, thus not needing the purification ritual of cremation. People bitten by cobras are also not burned because the people believe the poisons from the cobra would be released into the air during the burn. These people are instead sunk with stones in the middle of the Ganges. Now if this wasn't enough, just wait...

Walking further along the ghats, we found people doing their laundry, bathing in the "holy" water, swimming, shaving, receiving massages, dumping their trash, eating, pooping, peeing, selling, praying, bathing their buffalos, playing cricket, flying kites -- all of this within a few hundred feet of each other...oh, don't let us forget to mention the puppy gnawing on a pigeon wing...It's no wonder the Ganges is so polluted that there is no longer dissolved oxygen in the water and the fecal coliform concentration in the water is way, way over what's even considered safe for BATHING, let along drinking. Yet, we even saw some Korean tourists with their swimming goggles on doing the butterfly in the river. Go figure.

One kid we met, Pablo Picasso, as he calls himself and his gang of postcard sellers, showed us the two towers that supposedly filter the Ganges to supply Varanasi with its water. Not having too much confidence in the filtration system here, we took showers with the hottest water possible, nearly scalding ourselves. At least there was that minor cold showers. Oh, and Pablo Picasso ended up spending the entire day showing us around. He was the best tour guide we've had yet!

The next day, we woke early to take a boat ride at sunrise down the Ganges. We lit some floating candles and released them in the water in honor and blessing to our families and friends. Already at sunrise, the Ganges was buzzling with activity. Afterwards we took a cycle rickshaw out to the Monkey Temple to see Mark's best friends. The people feed the monkeys there, so they are quite close, even taking food from people's hands. Sadly, we also witnessed a poor, old lady picking up the food that the monkeys had left behind for herself.

Ahh, India! We are definitely glad we came to learn what this country is about, but we are also glad that we will be leaving India in a few days. We both need some fresher air and some time to get healthy again. We are headed to Myanmar, flying out from Kalkota. Our travels should be "easier" from now on, we think.

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