Wash away your sins in Varanasi’s Ganges River.
No Need for Coffee!
Robot chimes of my phone coax me from my slumber. Although it’s only 4:47 a.m., in mere seconds I’m at the sink splashing water on my face and prepping the toothbrush, buzzing for yet another sunrise on “The Ganges” (pronounced GAN-jeez) with my two friends, Scott and Dan. Why all the excitement? The Ganges River attracts thousands of Hindus on a religious pilgrimage daily, to purify themselves by bathing in the sacred waters. Today I want in on the action.
We hurry down to the “ghats” – steep slabs of stone and concrete lining the river’s edge – but are careful as we descend the nearly vertical steps. Any hint of daylight is an hour away and already dozens of dedicated souls are splashing away. It’ll be my turn after our boat tour. A little sun for my morning dip wouldn’t hurt either. Floating along the Ganges, there’s a lot to take in, but the smoking pyres of the “Burning Ghats” are most astonishing. Salvation is granted for Hindus who are cremated in Varanasi and the bank is lined with several beds of fiery embers smoldering away.
One stunning sunrise later, our boat docks at the Munshi Ghat. Five yards down the concrete embankment, a group of middle-aged men laugh as they partake in their morning stretches, warming up for their Ganges plunge. I stay a respectful distance away, plopping myself on the cold stone and dangling my feet in the murky water. Sensing my curiosity, one of the men holds up his bar of soap and waves me over. I’m in. I slide along the edge, Scott and Dan follow, and our two groups join.
Our new friend thrashes around in the river and wades back out to the steps. He circles the soap around his body and head, coating nearly every inch of himself up with white bubbles. Mr. Soapy grabs onto my forearm and slaps the foamy bar into my palm. “Yes?” he eeks out in English.
Sharing is caring. “Yes!” I reply, time for me to take a dip and lather up.
My toes squish on the slick river bottom, trying to get any sort of traction. The locals chuckle at my tightwire act only a few feet into the sacred waters. The bottom drops out from Mr. Soapy as he plunks back in, fully submerging himself once again. His gleaming body leaps out like a playful Orca, whipping his hair side to side like he’s auditioning for a shampoo commercial. Mr. (Formerly) Soapy shrugs and points to me, “Yes?” he asks and splashes some motivation my way.
Here goes! I blow out my cheeks, plug my nose and lower myself in. Submerged in the Ganges, I bob around with my eyes shut tight and enjoy several seconds of buoyant silence. When I resurface, Mr. Soapy’s fingers wiggle around, “Yes?” He’s dying to know!
Two thumbs up and a gasping “Yes” are my reply.
“Yes!” Mr. Soapy exclaims. He’s so proud. It’s uplifting to be included into something so special. Now, you’re up Dan!
Get Out There!
This is why I love India – absorbing the religious and cultural awe of the Ganges. It’s always a huge bonus to meet new friends abroad and get “fully submerged” in their customs. Varanasi is simply amazing!
Thanks for reading. Get out there and have fun!