In need of some loud electronic music i went down to Arambol, Goa for NYE. Psy-trance isn’t really my thing but it sounded good after 15months without clubbing
I don’t have alot to say about Goa, possibly because it was a long time, possibly because it didn’t have alot to offer. It’s got alot of tourist trappings and i got a good fill of European food and chilling in the beach, i met some cool people, i met some idiots, i met alot of people loafing around.
Ultimately it was in some way a connection back to a more comfortable life that a missed alot, it satisfied my desire and sucked me in.
Varanasi sits on the banks of the Ganges and plays a hugely important role in the Hindu religion. It is the only place where the cycle of birth and death can be broken, releasing the soul from this eternal cycle. Bodies are bought from all over India to be ceremoniously cremated on the purpose built ghats. It is a great honour to be brought here to be cremated and both rich and poor descend on the city to release their relatives.
The atmosphere is quite unlike anything i’ve ever experienced, the air is thick with smoke, the place is constantly moving, bodies jostling in the small alleys which connect the town to the river side. The noise is quite unreal as well as groups of relatives and hangers-on sing and chant as they bring the decorated dead down to the river side to be handed over to the serfs whose job it is to make the fires and keep the body burning until its reduced to ash.
This is the main burning ghat ‘Manikarnika.’ Night and day the bodies burn, with groups of onlookers, people out for a stroll and uncomfortable tourists watch the numerous fires containing dead remains. It is a spectacle and you feel kind of morbid watching it, but you continue to observe, something holds you there. But i think its possibly the way we think about death in the West which creates this feeling of unease amongst most tourists.
For the relatives whose family members are burning this is very much part of the life cycle and for them to be brought here seems to be a source of some positivity. In addition as the live soul is released from the dead container out into the world, the life isnt over it lives on.
I was watching one fire, the persons blackened leg was sticking out of the fire and the man in charge of the fire simply pushed it back on itself, snapping the charred limb back into the fire. The leg had become a piece of wood just like any other in the fire, the important stuff had already left the body and was somewhere better, the container was just matter like anything else.
Huge stacks of wood line the small alleys, there is a huge buzz of activity as the relatives choose the different type of wood depending on what they can afford.
The selected wood is sold by weight
Hindus also wash, bathe and swim in the Ganges, it purifies them, some even drink it. Difficult to imagine with whats happening a few hundred metres up the river
Religious devotees come here from all over India. This family from Dehli were dubious of getting into the murky water but took the plunge
The Ghats can be crazily busy but there are little pockets of people alone reflecting
Even at night its busy, the ghats are constantly in use. People seem to enjoy being in proximity to the river
Temples line the Ghats
You encounter so many different people walking up and down the Ganges bank, India’s colour proudly displayed in this city.
A highly respected religious man, a living Ganesh with huge facial disfiguration. In the UK he’d probably be hidden away, but here he is the living representation of a God
Along with cricket, kites are hugely popular. Kids dart around trying to capture kites whose lines have been cut by another kites.
The only people on Christmas Day to be wearing Santa hats
I spent the day with Adele from the UK, it was a very un-christmassy day, i can’t say i’ll ever be watching people burn on Christmas day again, but it was great nonetheless.
There are so many different uses of the space beside the Ganges. These men are building a boat.
Having a shave
Personal clothes washing
Washing clothes for money
One of the Ghats is covered in washing laid out to dry
Boat rides are one of many things that are touted as you walk down the ghats. Adele made a poem which i thought was quite apt:
The tight maze like streets i didn’t really get a chance to explore as much as i would have liked to. I’d managed to secure a ticket to Goa for New Years so left Varanasi for the lure of the beach.
Dungs flattened and dried on a wall to be used as fire material
First view of the Ganges
I entered the city of Ballia eager to find a hotel and watch some films. Hotels in India can be particularly unhelpful sometimes as many don’t want the responsibility of a tourist staying there. They therefore claim that the place is fully booked when it was very questionable it was. I was helped by these guys who then showed me around the town and gave me some beef curry. I later found out they were Muslims which fitted their hospitality, reminiscent of Iran and Pakistan. Danish on the left is a dentist and lived in Mumbai so I took his email to reconnect once I was there.
My lavish (and expensive) hotel room, its usually only the more luxury hotels that accept foreigners outside of the tourist areas
Goats in jumpers
My last night before entering Varanasi proved to be a hard place to find a camping spot. I found one likely possibility hidden between small villages but a group of dogs eager to assert their territory gave away my position to a farmer having a hit in his field. He showed me somewhere I could put my tent and the whole village turned up. The next morning the tent was unzipped at 6.30am and the hand of a small boy asking for money, I told him this was no good and quickly packed away my things with a crowd growing eager to find somewhere private I could eat breakfast. Sometimes the invasion of privacy gets draining so I managed to find this refuge hidden behind a small building where I could cook an omlette and make a coffee.
Danish had introduced me to a sweet pastry dripping in syrup, an easy excuse to stop at the roadside
Sweets in India are poor considering the quality of curry you get here. Sweets generally taste exactly the same, the only difference is the colour of the dye they add. Turkey still hold number one spot for sweets on the trip
Varanasi was extremely busy and I had a hard time negotiating the maze of back alleys near to the Ganges where all the budget tourist hotels are.
A likely chance in India
Enormous bulls provide the pulling power for many people in India
After a short ride I was at Sugauli, where I had booked to be on a train to Mumbai for Christmas. This shrewd business man tried to charge me double price for a room at the only hotel in the small town, I spotted the correct price on the register and he reluctantly agreed. This didn’t stop him from begging from me everyday for ‘Bakshish’ so he could buy food, I told him I was equally poor to which he told me foreigners are rich. Not this one mate.
Huge piles of multicoloured food lined the street leading to the train station, attempting to entice train-goers.
I went to the restaurant on the right. The owner was completely pissed and tried to charge me double, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing I left him with the right amount, The next day his restaurant was shut all day, must have been a bad hangover
I spent many days waiting for the day of my journey to come. I’d stand on top of the hotel and watch the activity below. Around chritmas is a busy time for the trains and I was only waitlisted on the train meaning I didn’t have a confirmed ticket. If I couldn’t get on the train I decided to cycle to Varanasi for the festive period.
Foreigners priveleges meant I got to sit in the warmth of the ticket office, watching the ticket sellers get increasingly angry at people trying to argue the fare or short changing them. The day of the train came but I was waiting list 1 and would not be able to get to Mumbai for Christmas, a little disappointed I began the ride to Varanasi.
Chai on the street was a morning ritual
‘Paan’ is very popular in India and many sellers make the parcels of different ingredients wrapped in leaves which are then chewed. I’ve tried it a few times and its difficult not to swallow the contents as you walk around with a mouthful of leaf red juice and saliva.
Animals are given makeshift jackets to keep them warm during this cold period.
Camping was fine most of the time, not the hordes of onlookers I expected
The roads were always misty and cold
Roadside tributes to the dead
People huddled around dung fires were a regular sight on the small roads I took
And everyone was wrapped up in whatever shawls or blankets were available