Scott in India 2005 travel blog

Sunrise on the Ganges River in Varanasi

Boarding our boat on the Ganges

A ghat on the Ganges

The Ganges River

Washing laundry

Washing laundry in the Ganges River

On the Ganges

The Kedar Ghat on the Ganges

Women bathing at the Kedar Ghat

The electric crematorium

Boating down the Ganges

Men bathing in the Ganges river

Water buffalo at the Ganges

At the Ganges

A cremation at the Ganges

Cremations (woman's body in the orange shroud)

Firewood for cremations

A temple on the Ganges

A bazaar in Varanasi

The hindu goddess Kali

Making chai

In the Muslim Quarter of Varanasi

Boiling silk fibers

Boiling silk

Gillian with boiled silk

Dipping the silk in color dye

Silk with color dye

Gillian with boiled silk

Children of silk workers

Silk thread

Stretching the silk threads

Stretching the silk

Stretched silk threads

Template for silk weaving

Punching cards for a loom

A hand-operated silk loom

A silk loom

A silk loom

Children in the Muslim Quarter

At the bazaar in Varanasi

Mary wrote:

VARANASI (BENARES) - "Early morning boat trip on the Ganges, followed by a short city tour. Afternoon at leisure" said the itinerary.


In the pre-dawn chill we were bussed back to the banks of the Ganges. Our guide helped our group aboard one of the dinghies tied up against the long string of ghats (wide stone steps). The eastern sky was gray, swathed in a chiffon-like mist, and the morning air smelled faintly of wood smoke. The horrid hubbub of last night seemed very far away.

A high goal of every Hindu is to make a pilgrimage for a sin-cleansing dip in this holy river. To die in Benares, and to be cremated here on the banks of the Ganga, is to be absolved of karma, freed from the wheel of reincarnation and absorbed into the Infinite. All along the banks we watched these private ceremonies being carried out by people alone or with their friends or families. Others were meditating facing the rising sun, or were whacking commercial-sized batches of laundry on stones and laying the items out to dry on the steps. One sweeper worked at collecting a large pile of trash, which he blithely brushed into the water. I didn't realize that we were not to photograph the Marnikarnika burning ghat, so I took pictures of a small cremation in progress. About that we learned that women are not allowed to participate in cremations because we are too emotional and might cry, retarding the soul's journey.


Downstream we offloaded and wandered back through very, very narrow stone lanes teeming with life. In a gap between walls almost too narrow to walk shoulder-to-shoulder we saw: school kids heading out in their uniforms, chai peddlers with their cooking pots and stacks of earthenware cups, flower and spice vendors, cows and goats of course, several niche temples to the fierce goddess Kali, tiny shops offering everything under the sun, wooden doors opening to reveal cramped and dark living spaces. The clamor and smell thronged our senses.

In order to enter a religious compound where a Muslim mosque abuts a Hindu temple we had to yield our cameras and submit to pat-downs by armed military guards. Seems the 17th century mosque-builders had destroyed an earlier Hindu temple on the site, and Muslims have since been buried on the grounds. Now radical Hindus are using the site as a rallying point, hoping for solidarity among believers on other political issues.

Back at the hotel that afternoon I was again certain I wanted nothing more of Varanasi. But adventures beckoned, so Dave went with me to buy an inhaler and I began routinely wearing a dust mask (they go with every ensemble). The city is famous for its hand-loomed silk, afterall, so there was shopping to be done. And we did.

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