Hindu Place of Pilgrimage
The fireball of midday sun is high above in the azure sky. No clouds
offer the refuge of shade and most of the trees have withered under
the scorching, intense glare of the sun.
In front of me, hundreds of people, all ages, shapes and sizes rush to
the riverside. I stand at the bank of the most significant and
cherished river of my faith, the Holy River Ganges.
Different smells mingle together - spices, body odours, and rotting
corpse. To an out-sider it seems like total chaos, but for me, it is
like coming home.
Masses of people tumble past to get to the river, slipping and sliding
on the concrete Ghats (platforms or steps where pilgrimers bathe or
people cremate bodies) and end up colliding with naked bodies bathing
in the Ganges.
On the roads, tradesmen and stall people try their hardest to sell
passers-by something, whether it be insect ridden fruit or tiny
miniscule statues of various Gods or Goddesses. The homeless line the
streets like insulation from the outside world and urchins play in the
dust. However they are all oblivious to their filthy surroundings,
just content to be near the Ganges.
On the far side of the riverbank I can see a funeral taking place. A
burning corpse crowded by loved ones. A couple of metres down, a frail
young woman stands alone on a rock, a copper urn in her hands. Her
white sari blowing poignantly in the gentle breeze, she turns it over
and the ashes fly free, scattering about like confetti. The woman
slumps down onto the rock and grieves for her lost one. From the size
of her urn, I'm guessing it was her child.
Ganges. Holy River to the entire religion of Hinduism. When I left
"home" (London, UK) I had no idea of what lay ahead of me. Sure, id
heard all the tales and stories from my elder peers, but it never
measured up to what I was seeing in front of me now.
Why did I come to Ganges? I'd just discovered I had cancer. It was
life threatening and there was no chance of it going into remission. I
came to Ganges to pray for a miracle or at best, to die beside the
river and go straight to heaven. My life hadn't been perfect. I wasn't
a textbook perfect Hindu. But I've always believed everyone deserves a
second chance. My only hope was that it wasn't too late to save
myself. The doctors said I had 3 months till the end, 5 at the most. I
came to wait for death.
Ganges is no ordinary river. It runs deep from the ice-cold springs of
the majestic Himalayas, through India's most sacred city- Benares,
where Lord Shiva himself lived and runs its course to the Bay of
Bengal where it is released into the seas. Another waterway, Jumna
also merges with The Ganges in Allahbad.
Of course there are other shrines and places of worship, lots of them
-to visit one of four of the greatest shrines (Jagannath...