17.04.2011 - 17.04.2011 40 °C
We were up, out and enjoying the substantially cooler streets at 5.30am this morning as directed by our boatman who was waiting a few yards down from our hostel. He claimed he had been waiting for us since 5am and joked about how we must have “slept in.” I gave Ste a suspicious sideways glance, there was no way this early riser was using that as an excuse to squeeze a few extra rupees out of us! The boatman, or should I say Boat boy, led the way to the River while filling us in on the details of his daily routine, which started with a 4am dip in the Ganges. He had the right idea though, beat the heat! There was also that wonderful feeling of early morning tranquility which I didn’t think would have been possible to find in such a frenzied place as Varanasi.
The sun was just rising as we reached the riverbank and the cremation ceremonies were already underway. The Boat boy un-tethered a much larger boat than yesterday and we hopped on board. When I remarked about the beauty of the early morning he replied “You must come when the sun is not up yet to see real beauty of the Ganges” …hmmm… it seemed like a proposition for yet another boat ride, if two wasn’t already enough.
Firstly he took us to the opposite side of the bank where people were arriving in their masses for an early morning bathing session. There were rudimentary fences for safety perhaps, to avoid being washed away with the currents, but people were blithely splashing around outside the suggested parameters. It was an ‘anything goes’ approach and people were performing all their early morning bathing rituals in public, which in included anything from washing hair to brushing teeth…and yes, using the water from the Ganges. There were even hordes of children who put on a performance of doing starfish jumps off the moored boats, as we glided past.
We arrived to shore and I was surprised at the white desert sands that greeted us. I stood, feeling a little out of place to watch the spectacle, and what a spectacle it was! It was a beautiful sight watching a particular girl cupping the water and sprinkling it over her face and then her friends, the both of them smiling innately.
But I couldn’t steer my mind from the subject of hygenie! Doesn’t this make these people sick?! There are 12 points in Varanasi where the raw sewage flows freely into the river. Surely this sort of pollution is devastating people’s health?! But asking such questions to the locals is only met with dismissal. It is so utterly sacred and everything to the people, that they seem to be in denial. There is a project currently underway to clean up the Ganges by 2013, but I still saw pipes with sewage gushing out directly where men, women and even children were brushing their teeth!
“You go for bathing now” our boat man suggested, which put us in an awkward situation of politely refusing. We agreed to Chai Tea instead. The tea came served in an espresso sized glass and smelled great! It wasn’t until I took the first sip that a sudden thought occurred while gazing out at the Ganges. Where did they get this water from? “Is this water from the river” I joked to our boat boy. I wasn’t met with quite the response I had hoped for, he just laughed “Ganges supermarket!” and carried on supping his Chai. By reflex the tea nearly ended up on the floor, but not wanting to seem ungrateful I passed it to Ste who had already downed his and thought a little more wasn’t going make much difference now. We wandered away from the shore into the sands where a young guy offered us a ‘pony ride,’ but not the British seaside sort, this was a huge, frisky looking stallion he was offering us! I egged Ste on, but he wasn’t tempted and so we made our way back down to the boat.
Back on the boat, we headed down to view the Manikarnika cremation Ghat (the most auspicious place to be cremated in Varanasi) but we didn’t venture close out of respect.
At this point he spun the boat back around and headed back, this time hugging the main shoreline where all the action was going on. There were incredible amounts of people gathering by this time, all performing their daily rituals. The entire scene was blindingly colourful.
There was even a string of boats, each carrying one section of a colossal strip of fabric from one side of the Ganges to the other as some sort of ceremony. I watched in awe. It was so early and yet the whole of Varanasi seemed to be down by the river.
The sun was already beginning to sizzle when we stepped foot back onto dry land. Our next quest was to find an ATM, which proved rather difficult, but we got there in the end…4 cash machines later! I was glad to return to the hostel, as I wasn’t feeling on top form from the Indian cuisine! I had already accepted that I was going to be ill before I even got to India and so I just spent the rest of the day sleeping and trying to convalesce with some antibiotics.