I had decided at the grand old age of fifty four to pack my camera and set off to India for the fifth time, but instead of work, this would be my chance to explore and to chase the Buddha, with a few minor detours along the way. In the cold winter days, I sat and plotted my four week personal pilgrimage, to all things sacred. My journey, London, Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Orchha, Khajuraho, Bodha Guya, Varanasi then into Kathmandu Nepal and finally back to Delhi, my personal adventure was set.
Now you may be thinking he has no friends , why is he going alone?. The truth is India is like Marmite, an acquired taste. You either love it, or hate it, and to many they prefer, well something that is quieter, not so full on.
In the photo below, are two friends who three months earlier, having watch the television series Three men in a boat, I had coerced Mick and Simon into a four day kayaking, boys own trip, down the river Wye. So after a few beers, and me being an inclusive type of guy, I invited Mick and Simon to join me, thinking all along they would never accept, after all Mick wasn't in the least bit spiritual he is tidy and organised liking the good things of life and Simon was, gentle, always busy, how wrong can you be.
So three men in a boat were to become, three men up the Ganges, and on the 27th January 2010 armed with my itinerary, the latest fashion in trekking wear, several packets of diarrhoea tablets that can stop you up in minutes, baby wipes and a strong heart we were ready.
Delhi - 28th January 2010
Our Air India flight touched down in Delhi at noon and out taxi journey from the bustling Airport terminal to the Hans Hotel in central Delhi gave Mick and Simon their first taste of driving in India. Mick sat in the front passenger's seat Simon and me in the back. Very soon all we could hear from the front was :
"Oh my God," - "did you see that", - "we are driving up the one way street the wrong way" - "you must be kidding"
As our drive remarked, all you need when driving in India are three things. Good brakes, a good horn and good luck.
So when getting into any car, this was the daily ritual. - no one volunteered to sit up front, this was normally decided by the toss of a coin. - we all looked at each other in amusement and fear as our driver, before setting off, blessed everything in the car; the steering wheel, the horn, the stuck on deities assembled on his dashboard covering every religion know to man and beast and a few strange ones stuck on for luck, and finally himself. We the three fee paying passengers were not blessed.
To journey in India, by any form of road transport is an experience, it's like being in a fair ground dodgem, hopefully without crashing. Lots of horn, no signals, and anything goes. If you see a short cut to your destination you take it. One way streets they think it's fine to drive up the wrong way because they are only driving one way. It's not for the nervous. or those with a weak bladder.
So we checked in to our hotel, then straight out again to The Red Fort ..........(thats a Fort that's big and red), then our first curry where we met a local, Don was his name, a big jovial Canadian with a white handle bar moustache, an expert on the menu and the bill for all three of us 880 Rs amazing. We had survived our first taxi ride, our first day in Delhi and our first meal.
The Spice market 29th January
Our tuk tuk driver Badri or better know as "Patrick" was waiting outside, 9am, right on time. So it was back to the Red Fort to admire the machine gun turrets at the entrance and its lush gardens at the rear then we set off down the back lanes to the Spice market.
In the heart of Delhi "the spice market" where the air is filled with spices of every kind, was an assault on our senses. Patrick beckoning us through unlit passages, up dark narrow staircases, until we reached the roof top of the market. Laid before us was a scene that hadn't changed for hundreds of years, spices and the bustle of the city, coming to life.
Daily life in Mumbai
Leaving the market we passed the Jami Masjid mosque, then detoured to a small Janis temple, hidden in an ancient alley. After washing our hands and minus belt, camera, shoes, mobile phone and all things leather, we were shown our guide. He was little white bearded man in grey socks and a Gandhi robe. Our tour was over, with a red dot on our forehead, and after blessing each of us with happiness with watered down milk our donation was registered in the book and confirmed by a hand written receipt. Very British, very touching and very tax deductible. Then by tuk tuk to the five storey stone tower - The Qutb Minar
In 1200 AD, Qutb al-Din Aibak, founder of the Delhi Sultanate, started construction of the Qutb Minar. In 1220, Aibak's successor and son-in-law Iltutmish added three storeys to the tower. In 1369, lightning struck the top storey, destroying it completely. So, Firoz Shah Tughlaq carried out restoration work replacing the damaged storey with two new storeys every year, made of red sandstone and white marble. 240 feet in height at 47 foot in diameter it is world's tallest rubble masonry minaret.
Before 1974, the general public was allowed access to the top of the minar accessed through a narrow staircase. In 1981, 45 people were killed in the stampede, there were 300 to 400 people inside the minar at that time that followed an electricity failure that plunged the tower's staircase into darkness. Most of the victims were children Subsequently, public access to the inside of the tower was stopped.
Jaipur - 30th Jan 2010 The Pink city
The Kingfisher flight from Delhi to Jaipur was a forty five minute hop, our taxi a 1950s white ambassador decanted us at The Naila Bagh Palace Hotel in Jaipur. A gem of a find, this 150 year old colonial palace was our accommodation for the night. As three weary Englishmen approached the house we were greeted with a profuse apology. The owners brother was holding his young sons birthday party so we were now their newly arrived invited guests welcomed with free food, drinks, music and merriment. Hospitality at its best.
Now a history lesson - The Naila family belongs to the Champawat branch of the Rathore clan of Rajputs. They came from the Thikana Peelva of the former Jodhpur state. In 1849 Thakur Jeevraj Singh Ji of Peelva came to Jaipur. He was presented to H.H.Maharaja Ram Singh Ji, the then ruler of Jaipur, who kept him at his court. His youngest son Th. Fateh Singh Ji was made the Prime Minister of Jaipur in 1870s. He was given the Jageer of Naila Village.
Thakur Fateh Singh Ji Naila was a prominent figure in Jaipur in the late 18th century.He was the head of the Naila Family and the Prime Minister of Jaipur for 7 years (1876). In 1876 he was appointed as the Prime Minister of Jaipur. He re-organized the whole administration of the state and put things in order.
During his 7 year tenure as Prime Minister, he initiated various development activities in the city. The Famous Albert Hall was built under his initiative and supervision. It was during his time as Prime Minister that the city bazaars were painted pink. Electricity via gas was introduced, an underground water ways system was developed; The work on Janter Manter was initiated. A proper road system was introduced for the first time in Jaipur.
Thakur Fateh Singh Ji had two sons, the elder son Thakur Roop Singh Ji succeeded him as Thakur of Naila. Thakur Roop Singh Ji served the state first as Bakshi Quilajat and then as Sardar-i-appeal (session Judge) for a long time. H.H. Maharaja Madho Singh Ji made him a member of the council and also a member of the cabinet formed to administer the state. The Maharaja had great regard for him and use to consult him on all important matters.
Thakur Roop singh Ji was succeeded by his 2 sons. His elder son - Thakur Pratap Singh Ji also looked after state administrative matters and was appointed Sardar -i-appeal in place of his father.
Thakur Daulat Singh ji (son of Thakur Roop Singh Ji Naila) was Sardar in waiting in the personal staff of H.H the late Maharaja Man Singh Ji
Thakur Fateh Singh Ji's 18th century residence in Jaipur has now opened its doors to international travelers, The property provides guests a true feel of the old world charm of the 18th century whilst ensuring that all modern day facilities are provided to the guests in their rooms and outside. The current Thakur of Naila has ensured that the palace's original beauty is kept intact as a heritage boutique hotel.
It was a bright early Sunday morning as we walked into Jaipur walking down the alleys dodging sacred the and heaps of not so sacred rubbish, with the passing of each mound Mick became increasingly agitated "Why don't they use a bin" ......because there are no bins. this tourette's moment was repeated on every street corner, and in amongst this, I casually photographed a woman with a 6 foot high basket of popadoms on her head.
During the rule of Sawai Ram Singh, the city was painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, in 1876 so when we entered The City Palace museum and walked past the Hawa Mahal, guess what, both were pink.
On our way to the Amber fort, by taxi, Mick again in the front we all screamed out in unison "did you see that".
We were in the middle lane of a three lane highway and our taxi had just swerved around a legless beggar ......No, not a drunk, but a beggar with no legs, shuffling across the highway, in rush hour, on his hands. Of course no one stopped, the rush hour traffic treated him like a road cone. Other memorable moments; seeing a family of six on a moped, a moped being driven with his passenger holding a 4 foot square piece of glass, or a 12 foot ladder transported by a bike at each end. Driving down the motorway at 70 mph dodging cows, and lorries driving down the fast lane, yes you guessed it, in the wrong direction, in order to take a short cut. Only in India.
The Amber fort is not pink, it's amber, and it's big, very big. Built of red sandstone and marble it was built by Raja Man Singh I. The fort is known for blending both Hindu and Rajput elements. With its large ramparts, series of gates and cobbled paths, the fort overlooks the Maota Lake. Reduced to a dried up puddle.
Simon & Mick - on "the long a winding road"
Pushkar - 1st Feb 2010 "Wish you were here".
Our taxi driver (organised by the hotel) was six foot tall, very thin, and stoney faced with a "death wish" stare. The 70 mile drive to Pushkar took 2.5 hours with Mick still in the front seat, still unblessed, and crawling up the battered seat in fear. Pushkar is a small town, in its centre, a sacred lake. The town is full of stalls, restaurants and camels. Yes camels: you know the things with humps, and the other oddity, no meat, no eggs, or alcohol, a car toll to enter the town and to make it greener than green, signs up saying that plastic bags are banned, all very noble, all totally ignored.
Now when the travel guides say the priests will fleece you, what is the last thing you do? - I sat next to Simon both chanting, both with a red dot on our forehead, both poorer, but at least our parents, wives, grandparents, children, chickens and pets were blessed. Oh how Mick laughed and repeatedly on the hour chuckling"tell me again, how much did that red dot cost you?"
The Taj Mahal - 4th Feb 2010
The most visited site in India is the Taj Mahal at Agra, south of Delhi this sprawling regional centre once hosted a large colonial British cantonment. A legacy of the Mohammedan invasion from the north, it was built by Shahabuddin Muhammad Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal Emperor of India. This mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal, his favourite consort, is decorated with floral inlay and Koranic script, as is typical of a mosque. It is a magnificent tribute to the Jahan’s wife, who died in 1631 giving birth to their 14th child.
If ever there is a building that defines spiritual beauty it is this. We were told the best times to visit The Taj Mahal are sunrise and sunset. So on 4th February at 6.30am Mick Simon and me were waiting at the gates to be the first visitors that morning to gaze upon the white marble edifice, now rendered pink as the sun's rays crept above the river Tumuna. From the time of wakening to the time we arrived at the gates Mick had for the past half an hour, like a naughty school child, repeatedly, and I must stress the word repeatedly asked the question
"Tell me again why do we have to get up in the middle of the night and be the first ones to look at it. It will still be there later on". As I have explained Mick was not into his spiritual side.
The morning was silent, mist rose off the river banks, the air cool, fresh with the morning dew, and the moon still pinned in the clear blue sky as the first rays of the sun appeared. No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, to stand between day and night. It was as if God said " Let there be light". This was ethereal perfection.
All I wanted to do was to spend the day siting in the garden, living each moment, then look to the west for the setting sun to darken the sky and look at moon beams to striking the marble sarcophagus and reaffirm my presence amid the grandeur. The spell was broken by ......."can we go now"?
Video - Sunrise over the Tai Mahal
We are never so wise as when we live in this moment
Orchha - 5th Feb 2010
With its magnificent preserved examples of Hindu architecture standing on a heavily fortified island in the Betwa River
Khajuraho - 6th Feb 2010
Our journey from Agra to Khajuraho was memorable. How can you forget a drive of 12 hours notable for our driver accompanied by a white knuckled me, in the front seat wondering why a miniature Elvis statue was stuck, in amongst all the other religious icons, to the dashboard, a new deity perhaps.
And yes, before you ask, as we set off even Elvis was blessed.
Now I started this journal by saying that this was a spiritual journey, now this is 9th c pornography, tons of it, mountains of...... well have a look. For the mature reader Khajuraho is a small village in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Built in the 9 & 10th c by the Chandela dynasty They lay hidden for a 1000 years hidden by the jungle. It is believed they were built to illustrate the emptiness of passionate desires, while others suggest they were used to educate boys before their release from the hermitage. It is believed that every Chandella ruler built at least one temple in his lifetime. Therefor all the Khajuraho Temples were not built by a single ruler but the process of construction of Temple was a tradition and almost every ruler of Chandella Dynasty followed it.
The site lay abandoned until It was discovered in 1838 by a Captain of the Bengal Engineers by the very British name of TS Burt. A wonderful chap.
In 1839 Captain T.S. Burt published in the pages of the prestigious Journal of the Asiatic Society an account of his discovery of an overgrown and abandoned Hindu temple complex in central India. The good captain, writing in the restrained style of the early Victorian era, noted that:
"I found in the ruins of Khajrao seven large diwallas, or Hindoo temples, most beautifully and exquisitely carved as to workmanship, but the sculptor had at times allowed his subject to grow rather warmer than there was any absolute necessity for his doing; indeed, some of the sculptures here were extremely indecent and offensive..."
There were 85 temples, today only 26 remain, each one adorned head to foot with artistic poses, and infamous for being a "X" rated UNESCO world Heritage site
It was mostly their isolation that saved Khajuraho from the destruction wreaked by the invaders of northern India, the first being Mahmoud of Ghazni. He took back vast wealth from the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples and, fortuitously, was repelled twice on the outskirts of Khajuraho, in 1019AD and 1022AD.
Several books have been written about Khajuraho, ranging from a maximum weight of 2.5 kilograms to a minimum price of Rs 12 published by the Dept of information & publicity, an excellent document if you can read Hindi.
Roughly speaking the sights of Khajuraho can be divided into three categories (a) the temples (b) the sculptures and (c) the tourists. Further details of the temples can be obtained from the booklet mentioned above. As between the sculptures and the visitors the latter are more interesting, but having read this far a few words should be said on the former.
There is a praiseworthy economy of effort about the sculptures. Apparently only two models were used, one a well endowered man and the other a well endowed woman, beautiful in her 37-25-37 proportions, all carved in hard river sandstone. It is understood that she was a girl friend of the ruler.
Three activities are portrayed in the carvings war, worship and whoring, the last one is incorrect but it is funny, the 3 Ws, it should be physical activity, but that's not as funny. To continue all three w's follow a set pattern.
Large numbers of men, all really the same man, go to war. After about 50 yards of mayhem, they switch over to physical culture ( whoring), with the aid of what ever is at hand. Mainly the female model, and a few weird things thrown in along the way. The physical culture is obviously of Yogic origins including the Shir Shasan ( standing on ones head ) aided by two assistants, all naked of course.
I can hear you say, but where is the worship?, I made that up as well.
When you walk round a corner at 8am on a beautiful sunny morning feeling very cultural and see a panel on a frieze of a man having sex with a horse I can tell you its a shock. Then you photograph it in a artistic way, taking care to focus it correctly, thinking, who should I show this to without them thinking strange that he's showing me this, then you shout " Mick you have to see this". I wonder if Mr TS Burt said the same thing all those years ago.
What followed from Mick was boyish schoolboy laughter that set the tone for the rest of the tour. I hasten to add we were alone, no tour guide, no other visitors just two Englishmen looking at 80,000 images of the same woman wondering, this is a bit OCD?
Both Guya - 9th Feb Bodhi tree & the Mahabodhi Temple
Bodh Gaya is the holiest site in the Buddhist world. It was here the Buddha was enlightened under the Bodhi tree. He spent the next seven weeks here before heading off to Sarnath to begin his teaching. Buddhist pilgrims from all over the ancient world also visited the site, including Hsuan Tsang, who visited the site twice during his pilgrimage to India between 630 and 644 A.D and the great Buddhist king, King Asoka, who arrived in 252 B.C.
Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history … the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star.” – H.G. Wells
Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BCE) is undoubtedly one of the most significant, yet often overlooked figures in the creation of modern India. As leader of the region’s first great empire, Ashoka Maurya wielded a fierce, bloody and iron-fisted approach to the expanse of his kingdom, which at its height engulfed a vast swathe of land from the Hindu Kush to the Bay of Bengal.
Eventually reformed by his encounters with Buddhism however, Ashoka is said to have undergone a profound personal transformation that compelled him to rule his empire no-longer by military force; but by spiritual wisdom, humanistic values, tolerance and respect. In honour of this, the ‘Ashoka Chakra’ is today emblazoned at the centre of the Indian national flag; emblematic of the influence Ashoka still has on the fabric of the nation itself.
It was King Ashoka who first built a temple near the Bodhi tree. In the second century A.D., the original Ashoka's temple was replaced. The present temple, which has gone through many alterations over the centuries, dates from around 600 A.D. The last full account of the temple was written by the Tibetan monk Dharmasvamin, who arrived in 1234 to find only four monks there and the place deserted. Sri Lankans did much to restore the temple, in 1286 and again in the 15th Century.
It is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick, still standing in India, from the late Gupta period.
The history of Bodh Gaya is documented by many inscriptions and pilgrimage accounts. Foremost among these are the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims Faxian in the 5th century and Xuanzang in the 7th century. The area was at the heart of a Buddhist civilization for centuries, until it was conquered by Turkic armies in the 13th century. The place-name, Bodh Gaya, did not come into use until the 18th century.
With the decline of Buddhism in India, the temple was abandoned and forgotten, buried under layers of soil and sand. During the 16th century, a Hindu monastery was established near Bodh Gaya. Over the following centuries, the monastery's abbot or mahant became the area's primary landholder and claimed ownership of the Mahabodhi Temple grounds.
In the 1880s, the-then British government of India began to restore the Mahabodhi Temple under the direction of Sir Alexander Cunningham. Cunningham had joined the Bengal Engineers in 1833 (note at the same time TS Burt was also in the Bengal Engineers)
In 1885, Sir Edwin Arnold visited the site and published several articles drawing the attention of the Buddhists to the deplorable conditions of Bodh Gaya. For three hundred years it had been used as a Hindu temple and many of the Buddhist carvings in the niches around the temple had been pilfered or destroyed and the ancient Ashokan pillars and much of the magnificently carved stone railing around the bodhi tree had been looted. He was guided in this undertaking by Ven.Weligama Sri Sumangala
The modern history of the Mahabodhi Temple begins with the remarkable Sri Lankan Theosophist, David Hewivitarne, better known throughout the Buddhist world as Anagarika Dharmapala.
On January 22, 1891, Dharmapala was on a pilgrimage to the recently restored Mahabodhi Temple, accompanied by Japanese priest Kozen Gunaratna. Here he experienced a shock to find the temple in the hands of a Saivite priest, the Buddha image transformed into a Hindu icon and Buddhists barred from worship. As a result, he began an agitation movement
He wrote in his diary,
"As soon as I touched with my forehead on the Vajrasana a sudden impulse came to my mind. It prompted me to stop here and take care of this sacred spot so sacred that nothing in this world is equal to this place where Prince Sakyasinha gained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree".
In 1891 Dharmapala founded the Maha Bodhi Society. One of its primary aims was the restoration to Buddhist control of the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya, To accomplish this, he initiated a lawsuit against the Brahmin priests who had held control of the site for centuries. After a protracted struggle, this was successful only after Indian independence (1947) and sixteen years after Dharmapala's own death (1933), with the partial restoration of the site to the management of the Maha Bodhi Society in 1949. It was then the temple management of Bodh Gaya was entrusted to a committee comprised in equal numbers of Hindus and Buddhists.
Visiting the Dungeshwari Cave,
Dungeshwari Cave Temples, also known as Mahakala caves, lies 12 km north-east of Bodhgaya. The three caves contain Buddhist shrines, where the Buddha is believed to have piously meditated at this place for six years before he went to Bodhgaya
The Bodhi tree -
It was under this tree that Buddha sat for enlightenment. The present tree is considered as the descendant of the original tree. There is a tradition that Ashoka's wife had it secretly cut down because she became jealous of the time Ashoka spent there. But it grew again and a protective wall was also built at the time. Many sacred trees in India and other countries are originally raised from seeds brought from the ancient Bodh Gaya tree.
After my holiday I read that all pilgrims seek the Bodhi Tree's seeds and leaves as blessings for their monasteries and homes. At 6am first light I walked into the temple complex and sat by the Bodhi tree reflecting that this would be my last chance to visit Bodh Gaya and to recall the sights from yesterday, I had seen a tall elderly European monk collecting the fallen leaves off the Bodhi tree. As I looked up a brief gust of wind and a single leaf fluttered down to my feet. An elderly woman looked at me as I picked it up and handed the single leaf to her, with hands placed together she smiled and thanked me. Now do you believe in fate?.
The wind blew again, two minutes, with leaves fluttering down all around the monks, I gathered 8 leaves and with wet rain drenched socks and a large grin I collected by boots and caught the tuk tuk back to my hotel, and my precious 8 leaves. We were on our way to our final stop in India, Varanasi, the Ghats and the Ganges.
Varanasi and the Ghats - 10th Feb 2010
This was a lengthy journey, again by car, so after a few hours hot and weary we pulled into a dusty lay bye, attracted by the inviting rusty Coke sign. Now try to imagine three Englishmen pulling up metal chairs expecting afternoon tea and scones. The table looked as it hadn't been wiped in days. Mick threw his hands up in frustration " you think they could have wiped it" Seeing an elderly man walking wiping the dirty marble floor with a rag Mick enquired if he would be kind enough to wipe the table. This was duly carried out ........with the floor cloth............ sparking off another Tourette's moment. We left.
The Ganges is not just a river, its an experience, a powerful religious significance to millions of Hindus who take part in the ageless pilgrimages and festivals held along its banks.
The 87 Ghats in Varanasi mostly built after 1700 c are the riverfront steps leading to the banks of the river. Most of the ghats are bathing and puja ceremony ghats. On the western bank the fires of the Manikarnika Ghats have been burning for thousands of years for this is the most sacred place on earth for Hindus and it is believed that if a person’s ashes are scattered here then their soul will finally achieve nirvana (moksha). But to liberate the soul, the worn-out body must first be burned.
Cremation on the Ghats
Up to 300 people a day are cremated Cremation is the preferred way of disposing of dead bodies among Hindus, who believe that fire purifies the soul and frees it from the body, allowing for the person to be reborn.
For centuries, the old and sick have flocked to the site to die on the banks of the Ganges, and special buildings on the site are reserved for those awaiting their final hours but the atmosphere at the giant funeral site is not one of sorrow, as mourners instead laugh, chat and play cards as the funeral preparations are carried out
Piles of mango wood logs, which are cheaper than sandalwood, are used for burning human bodies. About nine million people die in India annually, so for practical reasons other methods of cremations are being introduced using electricity or gas instead
A body is taken down to the Ganges on a bier, wrapped in an orange shroud. It should be burnt in 24 hours of death To begin, the remains are carried through the alleyways of the old city to the holy Ganges on a bamboo stretcher swathed in colourful cloth. The closest male relative must perform the funeral rites, while women are traditionally not allowed to be present for fear they will cry and ruin the respectful atmosphere. The body is then immersed in the Ganges before being laid out to dry for two hours on the steps. Once it has dried, the body is taken to the burning pit and the piles of wood, which have been carefully selected and weighed depending on the amount the family can afford to spend on the ceremony.
No coffins exist in the Hindu world, and only a select group of people are buried instead of burned. These include holy men and, children who die before reaching two years old, as it is believed that their spirits are pure and don’t need to be cleansed by the fire. Criminals and people who have committed suicide are also buried, as their sins are too great to be cleansed by a funeral pyre.
A typical funeral pyre requires 300 kilograms of wood to burn the body sufficiently. Wealthier families may choose to use the much more expensive sandalwood instead of the cheaper mango wood, while the poorest may just use cow dung, and some simply throw the body directly into the river. Clarified (and edible) butter called ghee is smeared on the wood. In the old days, ghee was also used to fill the body before burning and finally Sandalwood powder is poured over to cancel out the smell of burning hair.
But death is believed to be contagious, and only a certain subcaste of the 'Untouchables', an oppressed group of people people shunned by society, are allowed to come into contact with the dead body. The members of this subcaste are called the 'Doms'.
The feet of the body are positioned pointing south in the direction of the realm of Yama, the god of death, and the head positioned north towards the realm of Kubera, the god of wealth.
Traditionally it is the chief mourner, lighting the pyre. He is likely to be the eldest son or closest male relative. He shaves his head and wears white out of respect then sets light to the pyre by accepting flaming kusha twigs from the Doms, and the body becomes an offering to Agni, the god of fire. Heavy wood is placed on top of the body, this is important as heat causes muscles to contract which could cause the body to sit up
After the body has been burned – a rite that is left incomplete if the family can’t afford enough wood – the flames are extinguished with water from the Ganges, and the ashes are scattered into the river.
11th Feb 2010 - Simon had departed from us after the Taj Mahal to pursue his hobby of fishing in the nearby Royal Chitwan National Park later joining Mick and I in Varanasi. We greeted each other with excited tales of taxi journeys, images of men and horses, big fish and tigers on the loose, and oh boy was Simon scared, well its not very British when fishing to be stalked by a tiger. And yes before you ask, he did catch a fish, and he did throw it back.
So at dawn we set off to walk down to the Ghats, it was a groundhog day, a certain person who will remain nameless, a lone voice in the mist muttered....... "Tell me again why do we have to get up in the middle of the night and be the first ones to look at it. It will still be there later on". Simon and I shook our heads in silence and carried on walking.
At 7am there we were on the Ganges in a fog so dense all that could be made out were ghostly shadows, so as intrepid explorers do, we went back to bed.
12th Feb 7am we set off AGAIN to walk down to the Ghats, another groundhog day, the same lone voice in the mist muttering....... "Tell me again why do we have to get up in the middle of the night and be the first ones to look at it. It will still be there later on". Simon and I bowed our heads, and in despair carried on walking.
It was still dark, no fog and behold thousands of Hindus bathing in the Ganges. Now this is a simple question and a simple reply is required, would you walk into a cold polluted river at dawn, when I say polluted I mean look at this four year old report -
A 2006 measurement of pollution in the Ganga revealed that river water monitoring over the previous 12 years had demonstrated fecal coliform counts up to 100,000,000 MPN (most probable number) per 100 ml and biological oxygen demand levels averaging over 40 mg/l in the most polluted part of the river in Varanasi. The overall rate of water-borne/enteric disease incidence, including acute gastrointestinal disease, etc. and was estimated to be about 66%.
A systematic classification done by Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board’s (UEPPCB) on river waters into the categories A: safe for drinking, B: safe for bathing, C: safe for agriculture, and D: excessive pollution, put the Ganga in D. Coliform bacteria levels in the Ganga have also been tested to be at 5,500, a level too high to be safe for agricultural use let alone drinking and bathing.
The leather industry in Kanpur which employs around 50,000 people in more than 400 tanneries uses chemicals such as toxic chromium compounds. Effectively, chromium levels have not decreased in the Ganga even after a common treatment plant was established in 1995. It now stands at more than 70 times the recommended maximum level
A study conducted by the National Cancer Registry Program (NCRP) under the Indian Council of Medical Research in 2012, suggested that "those living along its banks in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal are more prone to cancer than anywhere else in the country".
Now seriously, what would you say ....WTF...... springs to mind, but as my photographs prove, we witnessed a man catching fish, no not Simon, a group of Japanese tourists, oblivious to the cremated remains floating past them, having their photographs taken, obviously for their impending insurance claim. We three sat in our boat and floated down stream watching the daily ritual of bathing and burning, unfold before our tired eyes, and in my head I hummed the immortal nursery rhyme
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.....................................Eliphalet Oram Lyte (1842 - 1913) an American teacher
“Life for now as we floated down the Ganges was a dream life and death being acted out before us on the stage of the Ghats.
So, we three Englishmen, rowed our small boat, and yes two were merry about it. For now?
And as we eat our last meal in the hotel, we were astonished to view out over the terrace a huge wedding parading past, with the groom, dressed in all of his finery, on a white horse. The images of Khajuraho came to mind, only in India.
13th Feb 2010 - we flew out of Varanasi leaving India behind, heading towards Kathmandu Nepal our final leg of this adventure.