My World Tour: Varanasi, India
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Varanasi, the city of Siva, on the bank of the sacred Ganges is one of the holiest places in India. Hindu pilgrims come to bathe in the waters of the Ganges, a ritual which washes away all sins. The city is an auspicious place to die, since expiring here offers moksha - liberation from the cycle of birth and death. It's a magical city where the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public on the city's famous ghats. It's this accessibility to the practices of an ancient religious tradition that captivates so many visitors.
The Ganges is not only for a ritual bath, but to do yoga, offer blessings, buy paan, sell flowers, get a massage, play cricket, get a shave and improve their karma by giving money to beggars.
While here we witnessed a cremation on the banks of the river. A body wrapped in linens were placed on logs of wood and set ablaze by a holy man. The holy man was completely naked. Women in the family are not allowed to be present, as they will wail beyond control. A professional photographer is on hand to take photos of the family with the dead body to later show to the family at home.
The Ganges River, or Great Mother as it is known to Hindus, provides millions Indians with an important link to their spiritually. Around 60,000 people go down to the ghats to take a holy dip every day along a 7 km (4 mile) area on the river. Along this same stretch, 30 sewers are continuously discharging into the river.
The Ganges River is so heavily polluted at the end of Varanasi that the water is septic- no dissolved oxygen exists. Samples from the river show the water has 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml of water. In water that is safe for bathing this figures should be less than 500! Now throw in (literally) dead bodies into the river and it's really bad. People who can't afford to pay for wood in a cremation are tossed into the river. One of our friends were on a boat down the river and a dead cow came floating by. It's amazing that all of these people are swimming around in this river every day.
Bruce and Julia, World Travelers and
Adventure Seekers Extraordinaire.
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Revised: 05 Feb 2007 20:21:26 -0600 .