14.07.2009 - 16.07.2009 40 °C
They say Varanasi was already old when the Buddha was young. It is probably one of the oldest cities on Earth. Upon arrival I got a big double room with fan for only a 100 Rp, so I was quite pleased. It is only in the course of the afternoon that i saw the catch: The power cuts in Varanasi are not only frequent, they also last for hours. So you're left sweating like a pig just lying on the bed. The owner told me with a wicked smile that the fans in the more expensive rooms where plugged in the emergency power generator and working 24 h. I decided to tough it out.
Varanasi is holy to the Hindus because if you die here you are supposedly breaking the cycle of rebirth and go straight to Nirvana. For most of the Indians a rebirth means another lifetime of suffering, so I can see why they would prefer not to be reborn. The other thing is that the holy Ganga River flows through the city, so people like to bath in it. Unfortunately there are about a dozen sewer outlets that come out all along the bathin places and the water is generally so polluted that it is septic. It also contains about 10'000 times more fecal bacteriae than what is considered safe for bathing. But hey, since when have religious peole listened to science or medicine? So you have all those happy people praying and immersing themselves in those waters. Crazy!
On the first evening I went down to the main ghat and was led by some street kids to the burning ghats (Ghats are broad stairs that lead down to the river). At the burning ghats families immerse their newly deceased into the water, let them dry for 20 min and than burn them. I spent some time watching people burn. Taking pictures was of course not allowed. They use a special kind of wood (from the Sayan tree I think) that reduces the smell quite a lot. You can actually stand around the fires without being troubled too much by the smell of burning flesh. However the smell goes all over the city. Especially in the night, when I was trying to sleep despite the 40 deg in my room, the smell of burning flesh was quite disturbing. You probably get used to it after a while.
On the second day I decided to be a tourist and went on a boat ride on the Ganga. Most pictures are from the boat ride. The rest of the day I was sick (probably just from being too close to the river water).
Here are the pictures from Varanasi:
An evening Puja at the main ghat
Going on the boat ride
People bathing in the Ganga River
Morning Yoga (It was about 5:30 am)
The main ghat in the morning
The burning ghats. I took the picture from the boat and far away, so I guess it's ok.
People also do laundry in the river