On the Ghats in Varanasi
It has been a while, but we are still here in India. We left you all in Sikkam the last time we made a journal entry, now it is time to catch up. The city of Varanasi is famous for the Ghats, or banks of the river Ganges. Everything happens here, from throwing goddesses into the river to great grannies ashes. No offense to great grannies either! We made our way down to the river one dark and smoggy morning last week, and Satu our Tuk-tuk wallah, dropped us about 200 metres from the entry to the ghats. We tip-toed our way through the fresh cow d**g and spittle to the edge of the ghats. What are ghats you might ask, some kind of tiny airborn insect or what a gnome wears on his head? Actually neither.
Preparing for a dip in the Ganges
It really is a long series of cement and stone steps leading down to the river below. The water of the Ganges at Varanasi is full, quite literally, the fishes were jumping out or maybe that was because there is no air dissolved in the water because of the amount of pollution or toxins or ashes from the bodies. Needless to say the water quality is less than ideal, this however didn't deter the many Varanasiennes from diving head first into the dark, chilly water, nor the people washing clothes for hotels and hospitals from using the water. While we were there they had a Holy day for a goddess (I just forget her name) of wisdom and education. The followers of the Hindu faith make a goddess out of clay and straw. They dress her in red and gold silk cloth and shiney costume jewlery.
On the Ghats
They are careful to keep her face covered lest anyone see their handy work and copy their goddess's fashion design. At the last minute, on the evening of the holy day, they take her to the river, remove the cover from her face and chuck her in the river, this is accompanied by much playing of loud, out of key music and cheering by children, teens, college students, and (most loudly) the parents and teachers. The clay goddess thus sinks into the murky depths of the Ganges, bestowing her blessings on those with the most faith. Along with the goddesses, the Ganges receives the ashes of the newly dead. It is a great honour to have your body cremated here and your ashes scattered in the river. The dead are brought by their families to the burning ghats, and there the stretcher bearing the corpse is piled with wood and set alight.
The male members of the family watch and there are people from the lower castes that tend the funeral pyres. It was a thought provoking sight. Hindu temples also dot the banks of the Ganges. There was music, fire, bells, and fireworks, is sounds like a carnival but it is just the Hindus busy at worship.
Tiger-tiger!! or is that here Kitty-Kitty?? We went on to Bandhavgarh National Park, it has the highest concentration of tigers in India and maybe the world. Well, they lived up to their claim. Not only did we see one or two tigers, but in all we saw a mother and her 3 cubs, and two, 2 year old brothers, and the dad of the cubs!! It was amazing, up early ( is there any other way to start the day in India) and by 6:30am on the look out for the tigers.
hey Lady! Would you be interested in trading those orange pants for this spear?
... Okay it really happens like this. We drag our bones out of our Marblepedic bed, famous all over India, one of us is sick with a 24 hour flu bug, that un-named individual has a mild fever, but is suitably drugged. Our open air jeep bumps along a dusty, dirty path. Did we mention the cold and dark?? It is. About 30 jeeps crowd around each other like hungry cows, the drivers go to the office to get there route for the day and when they get back to the jeeps, the park warden blows a whisle and " their off to the races" Quite literally. All the jeeps are jockeying for position to get to the tigers first. We weren't first to the tigers, but when we got there they were magnificent! We also got a look at wild boars, peafowl, a jungle cat, a jackal and the piece de resistance- a sloth bear who was being tracked by the tiger brothers, we actually witnessed the first blows of the tiger attack, and it was amazing! We are not sure who won, but our rupees are on the tigers.
After destroying the Taj Mahal Constance went on to crush the heads of several unsuspecting tourists.
From the tigers we went on to Orchha, a varitable treasury of 16th century Mughal cenotaphs, a fantasy palace at Datia and on to India's most famous building, the Taj Mahal in Agra. Those Mughals were very, very busy. They also had a lot of friends and relatives in the trades. The stone cutters, brick layers, marble fitters, and precious/semi-precious stone masters were all over employed around here back in 1600's. The Taj Mahal lives up to every romantic cliche you have every heard. But, it is very smoggy here in Agra, and although the government has started to try and control the pollution, it is a losing battle. The good news is that Mother Therese's Sisters of Mercy are doing a roaring business, we saw the line ups.