Well we took Tuesday slowly after a pleasant evening taking in the sights of the celebrations and festival in Agra. It was the day that we walked through the East gate of the Taj Mahal, Alan’s first thought was that it was much bigger than he expected and indeed it it huge and so majestic. From a distance it is one thing but then when you walk up the steps and actually touch the walls it is something else. The craftsmanship of the work is phenomenal and you can’t help but see the love, blood sweat and tears that must have gone into the construction of this amazing place. It is perfectly preserved not fluro’s or fancy lighting on the inside – something that one seems to become accustomed too when traveling in India.
After the walk around the Taj it was off into the back streets through the south gate for a spot of lunch at a roof top cafe. It was a grungy little place where the owners children, who had been at school, served the guests, practiced their English and Math skills and ran up and down the steepest staircase I have ever come across (well until Varanasi but that’s coming up soon!)
we spent the evening in much the same way, just wandering through back streets before heading back for some sleep before our train journey back to Delhi! And a little like our journey to Agra we were delayed, but such as life in India. Our seats were taken but that was resolved harmoniously and we settled in for the journey back.
When we got to the hotel we decided that we would first of all have a hot shower, something that seemed to be missing the whole time in Agra and when it’s warm outside a cold shower is not too bad but when it’s a bit cool then that’s another story! After that wonderful showering experience it was off to explore the main bazar at Panah Ganj and yes I concede, I have left Delhi for the final time this trip and have grown to like the place. Great little nooks to eat. tiny little shops desperate to do us a good deal! Alas it was had to end because next stop Varanasi!
We flew into Varanasi and the first thing to notice is that obviously the tourist trade is really taking off because it now has a fancy new airport. Our accommodation is on the edge of the city and is OK (more about that later in travel tips!) This afternoon was consumed with about a 6km walk into the centre and down to the Ghats. What can I say other than Varanasi is a complete assault on your senses! Noise, colour, smell, taste and touch! The noise is unbelievable, the traffic and people are huge in volume, smell varies depending where you are, there is colour everywhere!
Our first experience of a dead person was as we entered Varanasi as a family carried the bamboo stretcher through the streets, with about 6 – 7km to get to the Ghats. Then there is the burning Ghat – what can I say???? We heard that each caste was burnt at a different level, Bhramins of course at the top and the Dalits at the bottom. How much money one had depends on what wood is used in the burning. As we stood talking to a Brahmin guide bodies where being brought down the the Ganges and washed for the final time before they were burnt – basically as a child people are washed int he Ganges and before the burning they are also washed.
The bodies are then placed on the fires that burn all the time and it takes about 3 hours for the cremation to complete. As we spoke the air was thick and every now and again your lungs filled with the smell of burning hair. Men would come past with something charred between tongs and we were informed that the first one we saw was a man’s chest bone because it doesn’t burn completely, as is the case with women’s hips. The charred remains are basically taken by either the husband or eldest son and thrown in the Ganges. there were so many other things that we were told but so little time to write it here.
We finished our night at the Ghats on a boat in the Ganges watching the ceremony as people lit candles and releases them down the river. The ride home was an interesting one, traffic congestion, no problem, quick back hander to the local traffic police and seriously it is amazing how the traffic in your way is stopped!
All I can say is Varanasi is worth a visit despite the assault on the senses – we will head out again tomorrow for another day of adventure before it’s back home to Brissie!