On Saturday, July 5 we woke up at 5:00 a.m. to take a boat tour of the Ganges River. We were supposed to do this the night before but rains threatened to cancel our trip so we proactively postponed it. The Ganges is regarded as the holiest river in Hindu religion. Many people believe that if you die in Varanasi, you go straight to heaven without being reincarnated. This makes being cremated on the Ganges River a major ideal for many Hindu people.
It is also said that the Ganges is the most polluted river. It was amazing to hear our tour guide Raj explain that people are cremated right on the banks of this river and some are simply covered in cloth and floated out if they aren’t able to be cremated and yet just down the river bank there were people bathing, doing their laundry, and filling containers of the holy water to carry home.
It was quite peaceful on the river in our two-paddle boat. Raj told us the history of these buildings and we just took in the sights and sounds. At special places called ghats, cremations take place. We were able to silently observe a family preparing for the cremation of their loved one. They lovingly wrapped their family member in a saffron sheath and prepared the funeral pyre in the early morning hours. Only men can help prepare for the process. Women aren’t allowed to participate in the cremation of loved ones, but they do have a memorial service before the official service takes place.
After the somber boat ride, we made our way back to the bus. We were swarmed by peddlers trying to sell their wares. Let me insert a little commentary here. We (the women of the group) were told to not venture off by ourselves due to recent attacks on women in larger cities in India. I am not a feminist activist by any means, but my mama and daddy raised me to be an independent person in my own right. It was very frustrating to hear time and time again to stick with one of the men in our group at all times. I do not like having to depend on someone—it removes some of the satisfaction of being a grown individual in my own right. I can say, however, that I have never been more thankful of the men in our group than when we were in India. They watched out for us, guarded us, protected us from peddlers pressing in at our sides. They took such good care of us (the women in our group). There was a time when we were walking back to the bus that I kept stepping on Duane and Brandon’s heels because I was following them so closely. I always had a man in front of and behind me and never once felt unsafe. They really stepped up and looked out for us and for that I am grateful. I have bonded tremendously with the women in our group over the past two years and I am great friends with the guys too, but that solidified the bond with these guys for me. It’s humbling to depend on others, but I’m glad I had such a good group of men to depend on.
After our eventful morning, we flew to Khajuraho and began sightseeing right away. Khajuraho is a remote village where the majority of the people depend on tourism to make their living. There are two groupings of Hindu and Jain temples. These temples were built between 950 and 1150 AD and were rediscovered by a British hunter in the late 1800s. They then became a tourist attraction that is now considered one of the seven wonders of India.
Since I’m keeping this PG, I’m not putting too many pictures up of the carvings, but these temples (particularly the Kandariya Mahadev Temple) are famous for their erotic sculptures and are related to the Kamasutra.