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    All These Colors Tour: India Part 26

    Tuesday, October 9, 2012
    Varanasi, India

    A small, orange Hindu shrine in Varanasi, India.

    A silk store in Varanasi, India.

    I had a really mellow evening today with a “cruise” up the Ganges river. I had been thinking about doing it for a few days, and my decision was finally made thanks to a tout who offered me a 30-minute ride for the right price. So, I precariously waddled onto his weathered rowboat–which really looked more like a collection of aged, splintered wood glued together–trying not to capsize it and throw myself into the grips of the fecal bacteria lurking in the water below. (The Ganges river contains over 120 times the recommended safe levels of fecal bacteria for humans to bathe or swim in, and locals do that and a lot more here daily. Yikes!) Anyway, the man who rowed the boat was very weathered himself, and I was surprised he could even pull the oars, because he was so weak and worn out from years of sleeping on the ground. This harsh environment had definitely made him old before his time.

    A rowboat cruise on the Ganges river in Varanasi, India.

    A weary boatman struggles to pull the oars on the Ganges river in Varanasi, India.

    It was pleasant enough flowing with the current in the middle of the river past the Varanasi skyline around sunset, but the real treat was our destination–Manikarnika, the main burning ghat of the city. As we slowly approached the general area, I shot a few photos and video from the distance. But, I soon had to put away my camera, as photography at all burning ghats is strictly prohibited. Floating for a few minutes directly in front of Manikarnika, a truly astonishing scene unfolded in front of this visitor’s eyes. Multiple large funeral pyres composed of wooden logs were totally engulfed in flames, burning the corpses of loved ones, spewing smoke into the sky, freeing souls to be reborn.

    Manikarnika Ghat, the main burning ghat in Varanasi, India.

    An old boat all patched up with color-splashed signs on the Ganges river in Varanasi, India.

    Bamboo stretchers lay broken within massive mounds of detritus all over the ground, while large piles of ashes stood down by the waters’ edge, where men stood waist deep sifting through the charred dust looking for bits of gold. The whole somber scene was played out in front of a gigantic backdrop of majestic, castle-like buildings with broken out windows and empty interiors, their every surface completely charred black by the smoke of centuries worth of death and decay. It was raw and beautiful beyond belief. When my 30-minute journey was half over, I asked the boatman to take me back, because my growling stomach was ready to conduct a ritual of its own at the Brown Bread Bakery. If you ever find yourself in Varanasi, I highly recommend the BBB, as they make really yummy pasta that comes with free baguette slices, and great Chinese, Indian and Tibetan food, too.

    Roll over photos for captions.
    Words and photos ©2012 Arcane Candy.

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