Saturday, November 25, 2006

Greeting Dawn on the Ganges.

"Varanasi, the city of Shiva, is one of the holiest cities in India." (Lonely Planet) Pre-dawn we rushed through the streets in our excellent private car from our hotel in the Cantonment to the Old City and the Ganges River. We are drawn to the many "Ghats" that line the western bank of the river. A Ghat is a flight of steps leading from the river edge to palaces once owned by maharajas (rulers of royalty and/or wealth). Locals come to the ghats to bath, meditate, pray or simply congregate. Perhaps most interesting are the "burning ghats" where bodies (of those lucky enough to die in Varanasi) are publicly cremated.

The Captain of our tour boat (pictured) described five classes of people who are not cremated, but simpy sunk into the river whole, with weights attached: pregnant women, babies, victims of Cobra bites, holy men and lepers. (When I suggested mob "snitches" also belonged on the list, he didn't seem to understand.) Later, we came across one of these half-submerged corpses floating about 3 yards from two bathing women. I guess the weights didn't quite hold.


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