Star Date:  Sept./Oct. 2018
Varanasi

     
 

Hello Dear Family & Friends!

 

" Shubhkamnayen"
( Best wishes Hindi)

 

 

 

 

 

 

" Death is more universal than life;  everyone dies but not everyone lives. ... "
(Andrew Sachs)

 

 

Death.  End or Beginning?  Or simply the continuance of existence in another form?  Eternal.  The Cycle of Life.

What happens when a person passes depends on the culture, beliefs, traditions of those left behind.  After all a funeral or memorial is for the living.  In our travels we have witnessed intriguing, mind puzzling events surrounding death on all continents.  Some cultures wail and sob, others joyfully celebrate with songs and praises. 
 

Most of us would like to leave a legacy behind.  Many cultures ensure that happens by building shrines or pagodas or temples in their honor.  One remote hill tribe we hiked to in Asia had all the coffins under the house for each person, pre-made, customized and ready.  Others in Sulawesi carved life size wooden figures of the deceased and lined them up in opera box seat fashion over looking the family land.  Still others killed water buffalo in the families honor and proudly displayed the 30 or more horns above the house's entryway, often leaving the remaining family in insurmountable debt for generations to come.  Keeping up with the Jones', even at funerals!

In the Americas it is often land burial, in Tibet sky burial.  Thought provoking.  Our personal belief is just that.  Not everyone shares the same idea.  We must allow each his or her own belief/practice.  Who really knows what happens for sure?

In the west often people don't even want to visit the dying.  They don't want to 'dirty their hands' or be bothered.  In a land where if people had to catch, slaughter, butcher and preserve or cook animals, many people would be off meat for good.  Just present it to me in sterilized cellophane packages.  We want the dirty work to be done behind closed doors and thus it is with death.  Dress the deceased up and 'lay them out' before burial or cremate and surround the ashes with photos, etc.  A memorial celebrating the person's life is a fine tribute to a life well lived.  Still we are not touched by the reality of what death of the body means.  Not a pleasant occurrence.  Without the thought of the soul leaving the now mortifying body behind, and moving on to heaven or hell or just 'beyond'; it is an unpleasant option.   Grieving is often incomplete because of the neat and tidy way that a person disappears, only photos remaining.

Such is not the case in many corners of the planet.  It is a more hands on experience and thus grieving goes through many stages denied the west.  The person usually is cared for and dies at home.  The reality of the cessation of suffering becomes apparent.  Death is welcomed or better accepted.  Once death occurs the body is prepared by village members and laid in the families' living room, where family and friends visit 24 hours a day, talking to the person or singing their favorite songs, and saying their farewells.  Ending with ceremonies of burial or cremation the whole process is just a natural progression of our existence on Earth.  The eternal spiral.  As one passes another enters life.

India on the other hand plays out the end of a persons' life to the nth degree.  The body or 'vessel or cocoon' of our soul no longer has any purpose once the soul passes.  The body is cremated in the Burning Ghats of Varanasi, an experience to witness but not for the faint of heart.

It is an honor and privilege to be cremated in the Ghats and have your ashes scattered in the Mother Ganges River below.  Such is the honor, that dying people flock to Varanasi to prepare for their cremation.

Entering the macabre world of the Burning Ghats is possibly better experienced from a boat on the river.  The sight at night is quite spectacular with dozens of blazing funeral pyres burning at a time - like campfires on the hillside; just minus the hotdogs. 

To get the real feel of this holy ceremony one must walk through the maze of back streets down to the river.  A loudly ringing bell warns pedestrians to step aside as a wrapped body on a hand carried pallet is coming through.  Family and temple ceremonies finished, it is simply a honored system to dispose of the outside un-needed body.  The soul has already continued it's journey on...

Logistics now kick in.  How much money does the family have?  The wood for the funeral pyre is weighed and bought by the sons.  Hard, dry wood, in copious amounts burns quicker and hotter.  Inferior wood doesn't do such a great job and no money, well the snapping turtles of the Ganges have been known to do their work quickly and efficiently. 

When visiting it is important to quietly walk to the area and sit unobtrusively on the steps or in a doorway.  A guide, hired by donation, will explain the happenings.  Once the fees are paid the body is put in place and the pyre torched.  Slowly the fire consumes the once important body, with an occasional head or foot sticking out, in the end leaving just ashes.  From dust to dust.  This it is - for all of us.

Considered by many as one of the most spiritual places on earth, Varanasi is especially spiritual and magical when one is allowed to become totally immersed in the backwaters.  Wander.

And so we set about enjoying what Varanasi has for the living!  Our first hotel, booked on line, was one of those, "Please show me the room where the photos were taken".  Of course it doesn't exist and all that is left behind is a dingy shadow of the glories displayed on the internet.  That being said, it was in an interesting neighborhood and stepping outside our door was stepping into real India.  But then all of Varanasi is real India.  Joseph said, "You haven't been to India until you've stayed in Varanasi."  I concur.  One plus year traveling the buses and trains of India had prepared me for the chaos and unpredictability but the exquisite cultural richness can only be experienced in person.  

I walked the grid of alleys along the river knowing that the perfect room existed somewhere.  Looking up I spotted a slightly demolished room, with another directly below, gazing on the river.  When it's hot no one wants to walk up 4 flights of stairs but I persevered.  Up we went through the interior of the family's home.  The persistence paid off.  The room was spacious, with balconies on two sides, one facing the Ganges.  Wow!  A bit like moving from Hell to Heaven.  Things mostly worked, a nice breeze through or AC, fantastic view, off season rates, and even the corners were kind of clean.  Yes Heaven in India.

Turns out the family had built one more room above but because they didn't pay off the right officials, men arrived with sledge hammers and demolished it.  And so we were on top of the whole kingdom of Varanasi.  The only unanticipated excitement was when an enormous rogue male monkey stormed our balcony in a reign of terror on the surrounding rooftops; uprooting potted plants and grabbing brightly colored saris on the fly.  Luckily we hadn't hung anything outside and a quick slam of the door put a heavy glass pane between us and the curious marauding intruder.  The rest of the week we learned to hear the commotion getting closer and closer and were prepared for our mischievous guest.  We found many hole in the wall restaurants and enjoyed their delicious Indian food; marveling at how effective our taking MMS 4 drops a day has been on preventing Delhi Belly.

We walked twice a day down to the river and witnessed ceremonies and sadus, eclectic holy men dressed in sarongs or not much at all.  We simply sat and observed.  Or we strolled along the riverside stone walkway enjoying the breeze.  Or walked the back alleys in total amazement at what sight awaited us.  India rewards the intrepid traveler with a surprise around every turn! 

 

 

And so it goes......................................... Next month traveling north to the rooftop of the world, in Nepal.  Until then remember that everyone dies but not everyone lives.  Make a vow today to live life to the fullest.  One never knows when our number is up and it is our turn to return to dust.  Live!  Now!  Thanks for joining us.  We enjoy hearing from you.  Take care!

 

 

Love, Light & Laughter, 


xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph

 

 

 

 

Travel notes:

$1.00US = about 70 Indian rupees.


Varanassi:

 

P G on Ganges

Address: B 3/18 A, Shivala, Shivala, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India

Phone:  Arvind:  09005517835  +91 92369 27648
B3/18-A Jain Ghat, Near Mata Anandmayi Hospital, Shivala Road, Assi Ghat, Varanasi, India, 221001 agoda  Helpful staff and Arvind/owner can solve any question
Call owner and take a rickshaw to Singh Guesthouse.  He will send boys to help with luggage.  Treat yourself and book room #52 - with the unforgettable Ganges view.  Up on top of the world above the river and temples.  Visits by monkeys on the balcony.

Singh Guesthouse - old favorite with lovely garden but rooms a bit dark

Hotel Rivera Palace - Across from Singh Guesthouse.   # 972 197 4111

Two years old and luxury rooms.  Talked down to 1800 a night but were booked solid  Look at all three above - compare online - and choose wisely.  But remember Room #52 at PG on Ganges, third floor is an experience not to miss.

Divali: Thousands of diyas will be floated down the Ganges River in Varanasi  The steps along the Ganges River are lit up with lamps in honor of Holy Ganges, and its presiding goddess. The god is believed to descend to Earth to bathe in the Ganges on this day. The light of the countless candles and lamps floating on the Ganges is quite a feast for eyes, along with millions of fireworks blooming in the sky. To better enjoy the fabulous view of fireworks, stay at one of the riverside hotels in Varanasi. Make sure that you donít miss the special Ganga Aarti, a very powerful and uplifting spiritual ritual just to make Diwali more spiritual.

Note: Varanasi is much more famous for its "Dev Diwali" which falls 15 days after the Diwali, which is roughly around on November 14 in 2016. It is the time when the "Devs" or Gods wake up and people celebrate their awakening.

 

Aroma Garden
Great essential oils
On main road before Picasso Hotel
9841 124674
 
Assi Ghat is a great place to experience Varanasi.

Cozy Corner  Sundeep will make you wonderful tasty food.  Around the corner from Haifa Hotel. Dumraon Bagh Colony, Assi Varanasiassi
9793069702

Mail Packages with:
Preshak the sender
Assi ghat  email:
kukku80@gmail.com,
My package got 'stuck' in Delhi P.O. - Responsible Preshak found it and the box arrived 3 months later. 

If needed:  Sat Isabgol - psyhillium husk good for diarrhea. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Burning Ghats of Varanasi.

 


Step aside.  Body coming through.

 


His or her last journey.

 


The alleys are filled with colorful funeral
supplies.  No black seen here.

 


A beggar in the side alleys.

 


White is considered a mourning color. 
 Black is considered very inauspicious
 in India.

 


Heading to the Ghats or gates of the Ganges.

 


Managing the enormous woodpiles.

 


Front of the Burning Ghats.

 


Family members and Holy men watching
the burning.

 


A sadu "emerging from his cocoon."

 


Plenty of work for the sisters of
Mother Theresa's order.

 


Having a bath just down from where the
ashes and remains are thrown in the river.

 


Boys swimming - see this lad mid air?

 


Sitting in the shade by the river.
 



Sunset in Varanasi.

 


River boats.

 


Having visited in the day time we hired a boat
to row down to see the Ghats at night.

 


 
The sight from the river is eerie and a bit
unnerving at night, although less so than
observing up close in the day time.

 


Walking the river promenade at night.

 


A group of dancers entertained the strollers.

 


Time for a nap - right in the walkway.

 


We happened on a fascinating fire ceremony
 in Assi Gate.

 


An offering is lit...

 


And your burdens float down and are
enveloped by Mother Ganges.

 


Sadu next to colorfully decorated yoni
and lingams (female and male symbols).

 


Lovely lady off to work.

 


We love staying in vegetarian countries!!

 


The streets off hours.

 


The streets rush hour.

 

 


The view from our balcony, far away
above the noise and the chaos.

 


A mischievous little fellow playing on
the balcony of the demolished room above.

 


Caught in the act.  These naughty fellows
were pulling out plants, tearing down sari's from
the line and using this satellite dish as a slide!

 


We like to visit Universities.  Benares Hindu
 University is over 100 years old.

 


Taxi stand in front of the library.

 


A very helpful head of the library. Some
librarians were old thinking and others are
modern and looking towards the future.

 


Old manuscripts being digitized hopefully,
before they rot away to dust.

 


Library of the future.

 


Our chariot awaits.  The University is so
large that one needs transport to get around
 the grounds.

 


Our friendly rickshaw driver dropped us
off at this attractive temple down the road.

 


Sundeep teaching me to cook their wonderful
veg curry, in the Cozy Corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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