20 Oct 2013
4.30am wake-up call today as we climb into yesterday’s clothes for our pilgrimage back down to the ghats for a dawn ‘cruise’ on the Ganges. It is much quieter at this time of day but there are already groups of people chanting and making music as they head to the river and at the river groups of women are sitting around a low table making clay figurines and chanting.
This was a magical time to visit as everyone is down at the river living their lives: washing, bathing, haircuts etc. There are boats heading out to scatter ashes (5 types of people don’t get cremated: babies, pregnant women, lepers, bitten by a snake, holy men), bloated carcases of animals floating downstream, holy men striking poses and the devout clearly enjoying their sacred encounter (3 dips in the Ganges to wash away your sins). The magnificent ghats were built by long ago Maharajahs so that pilgrims from their regions could have somewhere to stay in the holy city. It is said that you progress directly to heaven if you die here, so it is a popular place late in life.
We exit our boat ride at a burning ghat where a crowd of dogs are curled up around smouldering ashes and piles of golden cloth (presumably the remains of a funeral pyre). Back to the hotel for breakfast and to gather our belongings ready for our sailing/camping trip.
We load our gear onto the top of 2 jeeps and pile inside for a 2 hour trip to the boat. On the way out of the city we pass by some of the most appalling poverty and squalor that any of us have seen. It is a relief when we leave the city and reach countryside where there is greenery and people have animals and crops.
We eventually turn off and head towards the river. We are met by swarms of little boys all wanting to say hello and have their pictures taken. Our bags are carried down to the river by muscular young men. We have 3 boats with canopies and laid out with cushions. We recline like Cleopatra be-decked in our welcome garlands of marigolds and are served cold drinks. Two young men per boat row us out into the centre of the river where we raft up and the ‘kitchen boat’ pulls alongside to serve a delicious lunch – vegetarian of course: rice, vegetables, spiced fried potatoes, lentils, a carrot and cucumber salad, and naan bread. There was even a sweet dough ball for dessert.
After lunch we settle back to the serious business of relaxing as our ‘sailors’ row us gently downstream. Our rowers’ names were Mendel and Raoul. It is so peaceful with no motors or horns and just the occasional chanting in the distance. It is not quite as comfortable as it could be because there was no opportunity for a toilet break any where so we are holding on valiantly (7 hours!). There are no other craft on the river which surprises us – no one fishes in the Ganges because it is sacred but we do expect to see it used for transport or trade. There are no villages right on the edge of the river because it floods a lot during the monsoon.
Eventually we reach our campsite – a sandbank in the middle of the river! Tents miraculously emerge from under where we were seated and quickly our tents are erected, a tarpaulin laid out and hot chai served. Most important was the setting up of the toilet tent – much to our collective relief although for some being faced with a simple hole in the sand was challenging. We walked to the ends of our sandbank and watched the fiery red sun drop into the river, then settled onto the tarpaulin to tell ‘truth and lies’ before dinner – eaten in the dark lit by head-torches. Another fabulous repast of vegetarian fare (complete with French fries and banana custard).
When we sloped off to the tents, the moon was so bright it was like sleeping with the lights on. And the jackals howled on the other side of the river.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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