In a small hotel in Varanasi, my alarm rings at 4 A.M. After a very exhausting day and having slept for only 3 hours, I was trying to wake up. Oh, if you want to find out how I almost got killed the previous day, you can read the first part of this Blog published earlier.
Back on my feet at 4:30 (I am not a morning person..), I was getting ready to go to the Holy River, Ganges for the morning tour on the boat. I had already made an arrangement with a guy for the tour, one day before, so I didn’t have to search for one.
One thing that I didn’t like so much in Varanasi, more so in all India, it’s how locals are trying to charge foreigners more money for any service they are offering. So if you travel to India, be careful with the money!
In the darkness of the night, I could barely hear anything. But there is one certain noise that I will remember for a long time. It seemed that everyone got out of their houses with one purpose, to go to the holy river; but they weren’t talking to each other, they were just walking.
As I got closer and closer to the Ganges, I started hearing the noise made by people washing clothes. More precisely they were hitting the clothes on the rocks.
Then I saw it, oh God.. what a view. There were so many people in the river, either praying, chanting, washing clothes, washing themselves, oh yea, and a lot of boats. More than 100 boats. The view left me speechless!
When my boatman came I was a bit surprised, because he looked like he was 14 years old. Anyway, we took the boat and left. At the beginning there wasn’t too much to be seen, only other small boats that were selling different articles, candles and big boats with a lot of foreigners ready with the camera in their hands.
What’s the thing with the boat and why this tradition is so well known in Varanasi? Well, on the river bank are around 88 ghats. In simple terms, a ghat it’s a praying area next to the river. Most of the ghats are bathing and puja ceremony ghats, while two ghats are used exclusively as cremation sites. Usually in the morning you take the boat and you try to see all of these ghats.
Getting back to my story now.
One of the best things that I have seen in my life is the moment when the sun came out. I am a traveler and I have seen many sunrises, but this one was different. On one side there was this beautiful sun and on the other side there were thousands of people inside the water washing themselves. Men were only in some kind of underwear and women were fully dressed, and there were so many colours because of their clothes.
All foreigners that were on the boats, tried to make as many pictures as they could, because the view was amazing. We watched each other and smiled because of this amazing sunrise.
The locals didn’t care that we were so many, they kept doing their rituals in the Ganges.
The last place where I had been was the cremation area. Yes.. that area that I wrote about in the first part. We were pretty close to the ceremony. I could see workers dropping the bodies in the water or throwing the ashes in the river after the body had burned. My boatman warned me not to use my phone this time.While I was enjoying the moment, all of a sudden my boatman jumps in the water and chants something 3 times. He was a really skinny guy, but he got back into the boat in a couple of seconds with an amazing smile on his face. Of course, he didn’t speak English.
We reached the bank of the river and the first thing that I did was to remove my clothes and to jump into the water. Locals around me, started to laugh and kids joined me in the water. After I got dressed, an old man came to me and asked me, in a broken English, if I want to smoke chillum. I told him I don’t want to smoke and before he left he said one line I will not forget: “ no money, no honey”, I don’t have any idea why he could’ve said that.
I went back to the small streets of Varanasi, enjoying this beautiful morning that just started. It’s incredible how long the day seems if you wake up at 4 AM.
At some point, I felt one hand one my shoulder. Guess who?
The guy that saw me taking my phone out at the burning bodies the previous day. He started yelling that he knows me. I kept insisting that it’s not possible because I had just arrived there. He then tells me to give him my phone in order to check my pictures. Pretty smart wasn’t he?
I have reached the first ghat the one where I had been in the morning. There were so many people, doing different rituals. I was surrounded by kids that were begging for money, around 10 of them were around me. An old man started shouting at them to leave me alone or something. He showed me his belly and asked me if I want to come to eat.
I had to leave in 5-6 hours, so in my last hours, I went to a temple. One really nice sadhu (Holy Man) invited me inside and started to make a puja. He asked me to chant some lines for Lord Shiva.
At the end he asked me to donate some money. I didn’t know how much I was supposed to give, so I took 200 rupees out of my pocket. He looked angry at me and told me that locals are paying thousands of rupees for this kind of ritual.
I went back to river bank admiring how hard locals work.After some time, I see this guy from far away. Something was different about him. His clothes, his walk, his hair. He was carrying many chains of rudraksha and in his hand he had something similar to Poseidon’s trident. Which I found out later that it was Shiva’s Trishul. When he got really close to me, I showed him my phone and he slightly nod. It was the first time a sadhu didn’t ask for money after I took a picture.
I felt a really interesting energy around him. Although with all his accessories he looked dangerous, I didn’t have any problem staying so close to him. As I said, I’ve traveled a lot, but for sure that’s the most interesting person I’ve seen so far. Somehow he made me forget all the bad things that happened there, I felt that I finally saw the real Varanasi. Varanasi was an amazing experience for me and I recommend it to everyone. If I had to describe it in one word it will be: uncommon.
If you want to go, don’t be scared if you are alone. Varanasi will take care of everything for you!