Varanasi is one of those places (like Amsterdam) that is so famed for certain things that people neglect to tell you how attractive it is.
We arrived in the small hours of the morning, and made our way through the maze of alleys of the old city to the river. There the mist concealed the water, swirling through the darkness around the intricate carvings of shrines on the banks. Extraordinarily atmospheric, but what we didn't realise then was that, mixed with the mist, was smoke from corpses burning just a few metres away. Equally impressive was the view when I stumbled blinking into the sunshine on the roof in the morning, with the long curve of the old city's waterfront fading into the distance in both directions. The river is wide, and the far bank undeveloped. Not at all what I was expecting.
The curve of the Ganges at Varanasi
The bodies burn in interesting ways, sometimes reducing to just the upper torso, the head and stumps at the shoulders (like a Roman bust), sometimes to a whole charred backbone and skull. Eventually just the skull remains, which is broken with a stick to release the spirit. I was amused by a puppy lying asleep in the ashes near a burning pyre. As Bernard pointed out, it must be heaven for dogs - plenty of bones and sticks.
A Varanasi leap with a baby clinging on
The first kick after an engine re-build
As it was, the trip passed almost without mishap - at one point, I felt something strange going on around my rear end. For once it wasn't bowel-related... the seat had become unwelded from the frame! This made things a little precarious until I found a man with an oxyacetylene welder. Highlights of the trip were camel-drawn carts (a novelty to me), and a siege of herons overhead (OK, so I had to look up the collective noun). Or was it a mustering of storks?
Today I've been playing tourist in Agra. The Taj Mahal really is extraordinarily beautiful, particularly during the half hour at dawn when I had it to myself. Having gorged myself on the other sites, the aim is to break the journey back with a night in the holy city of Mathura, taking in some other sites along the way.
A dusky Taj
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