Where We Be
This fifteen-year-old rowed us for two hours of morning sightseeing on the Ganges
Varanasi, India
We began with an evening rowboat tour of the
Ganges. Our boatman took us to “burning ghat,”
the main place where people are cremated on the
river. This was a dramatic site as night was falling.
We were told no pictures, so we took none, but we
could already see five fires burning, and watched
as one draped corpse was ceremonially dipped in
the River Ganges one last time before being lifted
onto a bier. Hindus come from all over India to die
near the Ganges because they believe they can be
freed from the cycle of reincarnation and go
straight to heaven if they do so. It is an honor (and
expense) to be cremated on the main funeral ghat.

The day starts early in Varanasi. We were back on a
rowboat by 5:45 am. Dawn was still fifteen minutes
away, but there was already a bit of light seeping
over the horizon. It was a beautiful time to be on
the Ganges. Many other boats were pushing off
from shore around the same time. Our boatman,
just 15 years of age, rowed us slowly towards Main
Ghat. (A "ghat" is a series of steps leading down to
the river.) We watched the sun rise and saw many
Hindus ritually bathing in the Ganges. At Brahmin
Ghat, children destined for the high priesthood
performed complex yoga exercises. The regular
rhythm of the oars and the lapping of the water
made for a peaceful two-hour river experience.

On our last morning (the best time for touring
because it's coolest), we went for a stroll to Main
Ghat and dipped our feet in the Ganges. It's hard
for foreigners to walk in peace along the ghats
because they are constantly bombarded with
offers for boat rides, floating candles, massages,
henna, postcards, shaves, and simple charity. One
young man wanted to shake my hand, which then
turned into a hand and finger massage, arm
massage, and probably a full body massage if I
hadn't begged off. After that, I avoided shaking
anyone’s hand and just did the “namaste prayer”
hello. We did find a few moments of peace down
near the water, where no one bothered us and we
could have a spiritual moment alone with the river.

A great way to enjoy Varanasi is to eat at a rooftop
restaurant as evening falls. You drink a sweet lassi
(a delicious yogurt drink), eat tasty Indian food, and
watch rowboats crisscross the water as hundreds
of floating candles are set upon the holy waters of
the Ganges, each one representing a prayer.
Sunrise on the Ganges, a beautiful time to be on the river
At first light the ghats are already abuzz with activity as Hindus prepare for ritual bathing
The sun tinges the waters pink as it rises higher
Bathing in the Ganges is said to wash away a lifetime of sins
HIndus pray on the steps of one of the quieter ghats
This colorful scene is a daily event on the Ganges, and a morning rowboat tour is the perfect way to witness it
Rowboats are moored below painted steps where boys practice yoga
A colorfully dressed man makes his way to the sacred waters
At Brahmin Ghat the high priests count time as boys practice yoga
One of the more complicated yoga moves
Scenic stretch of the Ganges with red maharaja's palace in the distance
Looking back along the Ganges at the far point of our rowboat tour
The quieter ghat near our Alka Hotel (the white building)
Goat eating flower garlands (offerings to the gods)
Our constant companion at meal times
Each small dot of light is a candle floating down the river, as seen from the rooftop restaurant at Ganpati Hotel at sunset
Robin poses with our boatman after our morning rowboat ride
View looking down on the Ganges and its slew of boats
These girls sell floating candles to tourists for five to ten rupees each -- they are very good at selling!
Rooftop view of the Ganges looking towards burning ghat (where all the boats are)
We bought puri or "Indian breakfast" for 5 rupees from this street vendor