Very central, very crowded, very noisy, but surprisingly, we will blend almost perfectly in the background and will not be disturbed. As if people were focused on something else… It is true that the streets are filled with pilgrims dressed in orange (holy color of this time of the year), families that came to accompany their deceased, of holly men, tuk tuk bringing all the people from the main streets to the ghats along the banks of the Ganges.
A certain tranquility, which will allow us to catch up a little on school and take our time, before heading to the Manikarnika Ghat. Great luxury, it is only 500m from the banks of the river, so we walk through narrow and congested streets, where temples and stalls selling flowers, and other items serving as offerings in the temples, are in number, almost as much as the eternal sacred cows and their innumerable dung. The atmosphere is very different, for the better, from the one that marked Loïc 15 years ago: more breathable (garbage cans are collected), and more dignified (no more corpses in the streets, crippled bodies crawling on the ground, extreme signs of poverty). The constructions also evolve, with many demolition sites of what appear to be ancient temples.
Then appear the huge piles of wood used for the cremations, then the promontory from where we can observe the perpetuation of these millenarian rituals that vary according to the castes (even if this system is officially abolished): ultimate bath for the cloth draped bodies in bright colors, which are removed to leave a simple white shroud, before a dance with the men around the stake, and ignition from a log taken from the sacred hearth that has been burning for 3500 years. All these gestures and incessant back and forth help to « sugarcoat » death with children (no need to give them nightmares!).
We then reach the edge of the water, and go along the quays to join the Dadhashwamedh Ghat where the grand and luminous daily ceremony of offering to the goddess of the river (Ganga aarti) has already begun. The stairs are crowded, and the boats full of spectators glued to each other, their eyes riveted on the dancers wielding the flames with dexterity. Well, not quite everyone: the groups of pilgrims who bathe in the sacred river are a little more unruly…
The crowd disperses and the boats get empty at the end of the show. We continue our way along the quays, where the many murals follow each other, in the company of two very friendly Indians, to the steps of Narad Ghat and contemplate the largest river in India, the believers who bathe there and the Holly Men in smoking orange, or reading in the light of street lights. A whole new world!
It will end with a tasting of local cakes before returning to our rolling house in the heart of this city that never seems to sleep (but we do)!
Retreat the next day with a morning boat trip from Assi Ghat. A good way to see the stairs and heterogeneous facades, between « good condition » and « almost crumbling ». We will go upstream of the sooty-black Manikarnika Ghat before reaching Scindia Ghat and its temple of Shiva partially submerged, then take the way back.
We are spared by the sun disappearing under a thick layer of clouds. Not ideal for photos, but a bit of respite for everyone: small heat pimples, with the help of talc, begin to become rarer.
Then, mission in recovery of our laundry and…birthday cake! It’s a special day for Maëlia, and no way that we are again going to be deprived of a real cake while we are in the city. So, it is with a good tandoori chicken and a very good, beautiful and big chocolate cake that she will blow her 6th candle!
We only have to wait until 9pm to leave the city. Task a little more complicated than on arrival: between the passages under the tracks to the nearest centimeter and the bad indications of policemen looking like they are at the end of their lives, Loïc (alone at the front) will have some cold sweats!
Last visit with a religious connotation, but Buddhist this time: Sarnath. Loïc will visit alone in the early morning this site of pilgrimage where Buddha delivered his first sermon.
Then direction Sonauli where we will find one of the many border posts with Nepal. A little check of the state of the roads and the « monsoon warnings » reassures us a little: the big showers and floods of mid-July give place to a lull one hopes will last!
After 100kms on roads from good to medium, and especially full of orange clothed pilgrims returning from Varanasi with their little pots filled with sacred water, it is in a small gas station in the countryside near Azamghar that we will stop for two nights, to reorganize the truck: motorcycle in the cargo hold and we innovate by storing the spare wheel in there too, just to lighten the cabin a little. Obviously, word of our our presence will go around the village, and we will be invited for tea in the house of a family taking care of the fields, then in the owners of the fields’ (hum hum).
That’s it, after the pleasant surprise of the last kilometers on an excellent two-way road, Sonauli border in sight! Curtains drawn on « India part 1 »: we remember the people, the noise, the colors, the selfies madness, the driving rarely relaxing, the uninterrupted horns, the damage on the truck, the massala and the chilli in all the sauces, the near absence of rain, whereas we were expecting to juggle more with the monsoon, and plenty of nice encounters. In the end, rather a pleasant surprise for us, probably because we expected worse!