This is the earliest departure on our schedule for our India segment. We meet the driver & guide at 5:30am. We drive, then walk back to the Ganges for morning prayers and the bathing ritual of the Hindu pilgrims. The closer we get, the more crowded it becomes.
Our guide tells us the priests get water out of the river at 4:00 and take it back to their temples/shrines where they wash and clean the building. Then around 5:00am, morning prayers begin while the Hindu faithful begin to bathe in the river. There are priests available to receive gifts and pray for people. We saw a few instances of women mourners who were having their heads shaved for a loved ones memory.
We board a boat again and paddle along the riverbank, observing the different “ghats” or defined riverbank areas where different sects or groups regularly bathe. All I can think about is the sanitation issues related to bathing in water where ashes and bones are dumped, as well as all the other things effecting the water purity. After the baths, believers take water back to their homes (in every possible container) to add to their shower/bath water at home to “wash their sins away”.
After touring downriver, we turned around and went back upriver to the site of the cremations. There are none currently taking place since a memorial service must be held before the cremation, and few families are scheduling funerals at 2:00 or 3:00am, for a 5:00am cremation.
We’re let off the boat a hundred yards upriver from the cremation site, and begin a walk through the old section of town. The paths are so narrow, in places I can touch the walls on both sides at the same time. We meet motorbikes, bathers, beggars, priests, and locals as we walk. We had an encounter with some cattle spooked by a dog. Judy and our guide had to scramble up a small wall to avoid a minor trampling.
Much of the area is on the verge of collapse and the government has decided to widen and improve the access to a “Golden Temple” site that has significant meaning to the pilgrims. There are long lines of people with water, flowers, and other gifts for the priests of the temple. Military/police security is everywhere, and I’m told not to take pictures?
We eventually worked our way out of “old town”, found our car, and went back to the hotel for breakfast. After breakfast, we finished packing, and met our contacts at 10:30 for our 1:00pm flight to Khajuraho. The short flight departed a few minutes early. The airport in Khajuraho is small, and by 2:00pm we were checking into our hotel for a quick freshen up.
Our guide meets us at 2:30 and we begin the tour of the temple complexes in Khajuraho. Population of the town is only 20,000. It’s very small, accessible and quiet. We start our visit at the largest complex, which is a UNESCO site. It’s calm and peaceful, with beautiful landscaping, and some impressive temples built in the 10thand 11thcentury. Our guide gives us some the basic facts on Hinduism and the significance of these temples. To us, they resemble Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which he later mentioned were built at about the same time.
The carving on the exterior walls is very detailed and has survived the years in amazing condition. The temples are all sandstone, but built on granite. Along with the standard elephant, camel, and soldier carvings, there are many erotic scenes portrayed. Our guide keeps telling us the artists wanted to tell the entire story of the people of the time, including the sexuality of the times. It’s pretty graphic. One of the thoughts that keeps rolling through our minds is how great the architecture and design are for the temples, and how ramshackle everything is outside the walls of the complex. Not much of what exists in the area away from these temples will be here in 800 or 900 years.
Our guide offered us several opportunities for evening activities (light show, traditional dance, etc.), but we decided to relax back at the hotel. The early morning visit to the Ganges is beginning to wear on us.