India, March 9, 2017

Day 24

We are scrambling (we seem to do a lot of that) in the morning, so we can meet Dada for a 6 am Sunrise boat ride on the Ganges. We sat next to a British couple at dinner the previous evening. They had been on an evening boat ride and said the mosquitoes were in black, dense clouds and that they had to return early. Suzanne and I slathered ourselves in bug repellent for our morning boat ride. We went old school with a classic wooden boat and oarsman (featured photo), a quiet, serene way to see the city. The priests sit under the umbrellas (third photo down) and for a few rupees will watch people’s possessions while they take a dip in the holy river.

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I had read about the public cremations in Varanasi. We saw one on our boat trip along the shoreline. There are two main cremation spots along our nearby stretch of bank. The cremation spot in the photo below was in use. The fuel is electrically fired wood, which is the least expensive cremation. It takes about 2 to 3 hours depending on body mass. The traditional cremation is all wood fired and takes 3 to 4 hours, although our British friend said it would be 5 hours for him. Turns out that the mosquitoes aren’t as fond of daytime on the river…. lucky us.

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On the way back to our hotel, a gust of wind took my hat into the river.  The oarsman kindly retrieved it for me, so now I have a holy hat….

After a rest and breakfast at the hotel, we set out on a market/city walk, taking a small lane paralleling the Ganges that was lined with shops, ashrams and hostels. We enjoyed a very welcome breeze off the river that made the hot day bearable. The local sights along the way were varied and interesting.

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Here are some urban monkeys sitting on a wall watching the world go by. Someone put a string of fried bread around this dogs neck, he was having a hard time eating them as the string was so long he kept getting tripped up.  It appeared that there were stray dogs everywhere, but Dada kept calling them by name, so I’m unsure that they’re completely homeless.

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This photo above is of a Betel nut shop where people can buy the nut to chew. This to touted as a health practice, but in reality is extremely harmful with habitual chewers having a greatly increased risk of developing a broad range of serious diseases.

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We stopped for a break at a small cafe. Suzanne ordered a lemon ginger honey tea that was delicious and soothing. I ordered a chocolate brownie that was cooked to perfection in a wood fired oven. The portion was so generous that we gave about half away.

Back to the hotel for another rest up before attending the evening Aarati ceremony on the Ganges. The Aarati (Aa..meaning ‘complete’ & rati…meaning ‘love’) ceremony involves singing and waving lighted wicks before sacred images, in this case the Ganges, to infuse the flames with the deities love, energy and blessings.*

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A long day and we are off to bed for an 8 am pickup to the airport for Delhi and on to Darjeeling.

*from BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha London website

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