We had to cut short of our exploits in the Labyrinth of Varanasi and sipping Lassi on the orders of Mukesh who lead us to the Dashashvamedha ghat for the sunset cruise.
The ghat in itself is a fascinating study of mini India. Devout men and women are busy with activities on the banks of the holy river. A group of them are singing bhajans, some being facilitated in holy rituals by the priests, few taking a dip in the holy river, others lazing around on the bank and waiting for Ganaga Aarti. Small boys move around selling holy lamps to devotees for offering in the Ganga. Endless spectacle, one can sit and watch them for hours. (Please click on pictures to see them in larger size)
Mukesh has already fixed a boat for our cruise and it is anchored closer to water after the first two rows. We ask Mukesh how on earth we could reach there? But Mukesh has answers to every question. He along with the boat man teach us how to reach the boat. We climb onto a boat near the ghat steps and hop from one boat to another and finally make it to ours. To some extent we are experienced now having done similar circus in Prayag in Allahabad on a sunny afternoon.
It is not exactly a sunset ride as you don’t see sun setting in Varanasi. Nevertheless, riding a boat in Ganga at dusk is a fascinating experience. We pick up floating diyas from a small boy who is selling them. These are row boats which move slowly. The single boatman rows leisurely and we start our journey along the bank of Ganga. No one is in a hurry here.
We move upstream and Mukesh points out to eternal flame at Manikarnika Ghat. These are the ghats where dead bodies of Hindus are brought for cremation. The eternal flame burns 24/7. Mukesh asks Sanju our boatman to stop for few minutes for us take a closer look at the happenings at the ghat. Poorna takes out his binoculars and we watch the proceedings at the ghat. Brinda uses the DSLR to capture the moments on camera.
Manikarnika Ghat is the busiest of cremation ghats in Varanasi. Next to it is Harishchandra Ghat, another ghat for cremation. Manikarnika and Harish Chandra are two ghats in Varanasi where cremation happens 24/7. Dead bodies keep coming from different parts of India. It is very well-organized. We see the pyres burning from our boat. The scene is surreal. The boat goes close to the ghat but Mukesh advises not to take pictures from close up as it will be like disrespecting the dead. A poignant moment for the relatives cannot be an entertainment for the tourists.
It is time for Ganga Aarti. We turn back and return to Dashashwamedha ghat. The boat gets anchored and we are now to watch the grand spectacle of Ganga Aarthi from the boat.
Normally the Ganga Aarti is performed on a stage which is erected on the steps of ghat. Since the ghat was flooded, this platform was used for aarti.
a) The sun set cruise is a welcome ride on Ganga after a walking and exploring the alleys of old city of Varanasi. It will also allow one to experience the activities at the ghats where cremation takes place without being intrusive.
b) Watching diyas floating on the river is a nice feeling.
c) It may not be advisable to combine sunset cruise with Ganga Aarti as you may not get seats at vantage points when you return from cruise. Since the ghat was flooded and we had to watch it from boat, we could combine both.
Bhajan – Holy singing
Diya – Holy lamp
Ghat – Bathing areas along a river
Aarti – Holy ritual
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