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Sunday 3 Dec
Varanasi, India

This is Varanasi...

Just as I pulled up my chair to write my next blog a group of men came down the small alley way road loudly singing mantras...while carrying a dead person on wood wrapped in gold fabric...

This is Varanasi...the holiest city in India and 110% full on. Arriving here at night was like rocking up to the land of the living dead. I know that may sound dramatic but at night when the pollution sits low, the fires from the cremation are burning and all of the lower class people come out of the woodworks this is what it feels like. Intense.

Thank goodness that I met a lovely couple, Amanda and Paul (England) on the train. It was one heck of a journey...24 hours!!!! I rocked up to the train station rucksack on my back, guitar in hand---sussed out the situation and realized that I was a mear 5 hours early, perfect! I parked my butt on the step and busted out my guitar. I was chatting with my Uncle Steve a couple of days ago and he said 'It's not that hard to tune without a tuner.' So I tried---took me a mere 40 minutes to do it but when I did it was I just pumped. That ones for you Uncle Steve!!! So yes, I killed some serious time on the step tuning and learning chords, fantastic! I had the usual issues men and women kawking, cows approaching me, monkies wanting cookies, rickshaw offers...the usual!!! haha.

Then as the time approached a nice baba (Yogi) came and offered me help. He was in love with the fact that I came from Canada and all that...he sorted me out and put me on the train! It was kind of a mess because this family all wanted to sit together but of course I speak no hindi so I moved forward in the train---I ended up sitting with a group of Doctors. There were really funny...at first I don't think that they knew what to make of me...no, not married...no, no boyfriend...yes, traveling alone! But after some serious discussions about Canadian and Indian lifestyle I believe they got my message...whether they would do it is another story! I settled in for a long nights sleep---oh yes, and another lovely young guy gave me a blanket!!!! It was a long night snuggling my guitar and listening to people chat and snore...but I made it through.

Once we hit Lucknow the train really emptied off. I was sitting with a seriously weird dude so I moved up to sit with Amanda and Paul. As we were chatting away what we didn't realize was that Paul was being robbed. Ok---so this is what went down. Top bunk, wire meshing and a wall to separate the top beds...if that makes sense. Someone had climbed on the bunk (We couldnt see him) and put a wire or something through the mesh, broke the lock on his bag, and pulled mostly everything out. Thank GOD that he was only looking for money and found none because Paul had his cameras, cds, ipods all in this bag. The most AMAZING part is that a group of woman witnessed the whole thing and said nothing. After we discovered that someone had done this they figured ok now we will tell them. What the heck!!!! Lesson learnt---mostly all robberies occur during the day because our gaurd is down.

Other than that the 24 hours went by pretty smoothly. The scenery was just fascinating. Rice fields, water buffalo, yak, sheep, goats, people,

ohhh another dead body

...all living together on beautiful farm land. I spent a lot of the time at the door of the train (they stay open!!) just checking the scenery out and listening to music. Anywhoooooooo,

We arrived and as I said it was just intense. I was so grateful that I met Paul and Amanda---although if I was alone I would have also sorted it...no choice really! We made our way to a phone and got hooked up with a hotel right on the main burning ghat. It is a charming little place but totally confusing to find. Through all these amazing alley like streets things just pop out. Being lost is the only way to be as a tourist here...people are more than willing to tell you where it is...along with trying to sell you something! My room is fantastic and has a stellar view of the Ganga.

Today I awoke and got some breaky...met up with Amanda and Paul---oooooh yah----I also ran in to this guy I met in TURKEY!!!! Seems like years ago!!!! Such a small world. Anyway, we headed straight for the burning Ghat. It is just unbelievable...something that I am sure nothing will ever compare to. Burning bodies on a river, performing rituals while it burns. So here is a brief run down of the situation... ohhh another dead body---Varanasi is the main place to spread ashes, on the Ganga. The burning goes on 24/7/365...about 150 bodies per day. Firstly, the body is carried to the river with all the men in the family (no woman allowed), the body is wrapped in either gold (old person), red (young woman), white (young man) and colourfully decorated with flowers and fabric. Then the body is taken and 'cleansed' in the Ganga (remember, the body is wrapped so you dont see it), then they are placed on top of fire wood, covered in sandal wood flakes (to make it smell nice!!!), more wood and then lit. oooh another dead body....The son usually performs the lighting rituat and the body is burned for 1 hour...after this the son takes a big thing of bamboo and cracks open the skull. Hindus believe that this will release the soul of the body to heaven. Then the body is burned for 2 more hours and their ashes are spread in the Ganga.

This is the 'summed up' version. But really that is what I saw today. It was spectacular. What an expression of religion, culture...life!!!!! Oh yes, also, the cast system still plays in to the burning. Different levels and woods are used for different casts.

Then we all took a walk down the ghats. Full on. People EVERYWHERE, bathing, dying, singing, washing, eating, farming....there are cows, yaks, water buffalo, monkies, cats, dogs, chickens...everything you name it...it is all here living and co-existing along the Ghat. Can you imagine cleaning your clothes or drinking the water that millions of people die in, go to the toilet in, wash in, animals drink, bath, poop in????????????????????? Well people do it (OOOp another dead body)...every second.

AMAZING. Tonight aarti on the Ghat tomorrow sunrise on the Ghat and then I leave in the evening to see Tyler from Canada!!!!!!!! I am excited.

I am safe and sound.
Love you all
x
ash

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