We arrived to Varansi after taking a 12-hour overnight train. As soon as I felt like I queen it was stripped away again with the rawness of a 3rd class train ride. We were assigned specific sleeper cars and for some odd reason Amy and I got separated. There were 6 beds in my couchette, 3 of them on each side stacked one on top of the other, suspended in mid air. Guess which one I was assigned? After Amy and I chained our bags to her bottom bunk, I went to my seperate couchette with 2 other indian families. I tried reading but being on the very top bunk I wasn’t able to fully sit up without hitting my head. Then all of the sudden, the light was switched off by a fellow bunkmate without warning so it was mandatory bedtime. Sleeping on a train bed is anything but fun. You are constantly rocking back and forth which prevents you from fully allowing yourself to sleep due to fear of falling off the bed. That, however, is not what kept me awake, it was the man in the bed across from me whose snore rivaled any wild pig! After a few hours, I decided to move my bags around loudly to make some noise in hope that it would wake him and he would shift positions but no luck. When that didn’t work, I reached across the aisle and started clapping my hands as loud as I could. I know it’s terribly but I was sick with fatigue. It worked for 10 minutes but then it was back to the animalistic snoring. An overnight train gives you an involuntary look into peoples lives, it’s so intimate to be sleeping in such close conditions next to perfect strangers. It’s very interesting but I”m glad that was our last train ride for the rest of the time in India.
Varanasi also known as Benares, is the holiest city in all of India for the Hindu religion. It is claimed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world; meaning civilization has never been disrupted here due to war or natural disaster. It is 5,000 years old! The holiness and spirituality comes from the magnificent Ganges river which is believed in the Hindu religion to wash away sins and provide eternal life. It is suggested that all Hindus make a pilgrimage here at least once in their life to bath in the mighty river. In death, Hindus are cremated and their ashes are spread back onto the earth. If the body can be cremated in Varanasi and spread into the Ganges all the better but for most that is not possible. There are 2 major crematoriums in Varanasi directly on the river bank. We took a sunset boat ride to the major one. The ritual is for four close relatives to carry the dead body, dressed in white, down to the river and dip it into the water to purify it. Then a fire is lit from the main fire (that has been burning for 2,000 years) and the body is burned. The burning of a body takes about 3 hours. Upon arriving at the crematorium in our boat we saw 17 fires going. After a few minutes we saw people carrying dead bodies down to the water to be washed. Keep in mind, this is the same body of water that people come to wash themselves in during their pilgrimage and that many of the locals use every day to bath in. We stayed in our boat, and for the next 20 minutes not a word was spoken between Amy and I…….we were dead silent. We had never seen such a sight….not in our wildest dreams. Smoke covered the air, people were bathing in the water, dead bodies were being cleaned, fires were being lit, incense and sandalwood wafted through the air, the dead were being laid into flames, others were walking around barefoot and in the midst of it all, cows were walking inbetween the fires and mourners watching their loved ones burn. It is something that I will never forget for as long as I live.