In general, Varanasi is hard to enjoy. Massive amounts of people hustle you on the street, beggars are in your face, and the smog produced from diesel generators clouds both your throat and your mind. Makes it hard to breathe. It is supposed to be a spiritual city — one of the most spiritual in all of India — but is hard to take in, what for the distractions.
One way to distance yourself from the crowds is to wake up early and cruise along the Ganges River at sunrise. The Ganges is revered for its healing power, albeit soiled by conglomerates and corpses. Yes, corpses. There’s an art to it, really: people go to Varanasi to die.
Death surrounds you. Public cremations are the norm, and can be quite graphic. Ever seen human feet sticking straight up out of a fire? You can’t quite prepare yourself for it, although there is (mysteriously) no smell. Women and children are among those whose bodies are not burned; women produce children, and children do not sin until the age of 15, according to our guide. Holy men are not burned, however, but are floated out to die peacefully in the Ganges. As they are holy men, they have (presumably) never sinned.
The boat ride at sunrise is emotional. On one hand, you — the traveler — have no connection to the religious tradition. (Unless, of course, you’re looking to take a shower, like many bathers by the side of the river, because the Hotel OK International does not have hot water.) On the other hand, this is a tradition continued for many years, and you’re just there to take it in.
Check out our pictures of our boat ride, and come back soon for a more detailed description of our guide and his views toward the tradition.