Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Namashkar India (Part 4 - Magical Varanasi)

Okay, now sambung balik cerita Varanasi.

Haih...Varanasi ni kalau nak ikutkan, 2 post pun tak cukup. Tapi I cuba lah nak cukupkan. I suka sangat Varanasi ni. Bila I ada dekat Varanasi ni, and I tengok the people buat their rituals, mandi, sembahyang and all, dia buat I rasa tenang. Rasa macam calm and content. Tak tahu nak explain macam mana without you guys thinking yang my aqidah tengah goyah. Gituh statement nak kontroversi je kan.

But serius, Varanasi memang best.

So, petang tu jalan-jalan tengok orang lepak kat tangga tepi sungai and you boleh tengok lah actually orang yang tinggal kat Varanasi ni jenis yang relax je. Jenis yang lepak lepak. Takde lah kalut macam kat Kolkata tu kan.

Also, kat sini banyak pengantin! Mungkin sebab time tu hari Ahad kot (tiboh kaitan) so ramai gila orang kahwin. Petang tu je, within duration of almost 2 hours kitorang melepak kat sungai tu, kitorang jumpa empat pasang pengantin! I am a fan of Indian culture so memang excited gila sebab dapat tengok pengantin dekat dekat, rasa macam dalam filem Hindustan pulak.

Tengok muka pengantin tu, happy je kan. Seronok lettew dapat kahwin.

By the way, when I talked to Vicky, our boatman, dia cerita yang kos kahwin dekat sini mahal. Boleh mencecah sehingga 10,000 USD. Which is around RM 50K. Well, bila dia cakap macam tu baru sedar, bab kahwin ni, kahwin kat mana mana pun mahal. Orang Melayu ke, India ke, Chinese ke, memang kena kumpul duit kalau nak kahwin.

So, petang tu after jalan jalan, kitorang pun balik ke Monu untuk rest sebelum we go on our night boatride with Vicky. We booked the boat at 6pm if I’m not mistaken. Lupa dah pukul berapa kitorang naik boat tu. From Monu’s, Vicky took us back to the Ganges river.

Vicky ni cool okay. Baru 24 tahun, he studied Finance/Accounting and just graduated from local university. He speaks English fluently, sampai aku yang gagap bila sembang dengan dia. Lepas tu dia ni jugak dah pernah naik ke Annapurna Base Camp! Like whaaat cool gila. Dia pun traveled a lot and he shared his story going to Darjeeling and other places in India. Terus rasa macam dengki boleh. Nak jugak travel. Haha takpe, motivation. Kalau korang datang Varanasi ni, and duduk dengan Monu, please lah request for Vicky (if he’s still around kat Varanasi lah) because he’s so good, banyak cerita dia share and he’ll take you around Varanasi and show you good stuffs there.

Lagi satu, sepanjang kitorang kat India ni, our hosts memang treat us very well, because as told by Vicky,

“You are our guest, and in India, guests are like God. We must treat you very nicely”

So, no wonder lah semua orang kat sana layan kitorang baik gila. They hold on to the motto firmly.
Malam tu, during our boatride, Vicky took us to Manikarnika Ghat. This Ghat is actually the biggest burning Ghat in Varanasi. And for your info, ghats means stairs that leads to the holy river, in this case, the Ganges River.

When we were in Manikarnika, Vicky asked us to count the fire. There were eleven of them. After that, Vicky told us that means there were actually eleven bodies burning in the ghat at the moment. Waktu dia bagitahu tu, rasa macam goosebumps boleh? Because I can’t believe that I am actually witnessing the burning of human bodies. BODIES! Bukan satu je, but ELEVEN of them!

Vicky then took us to go nearer to the ghat, and while we were there, we were informed that tourists can witness the burning, but we can’t record or take picture. Kalau jauh from ghat, baru boleh. Well, to give respect to the dead kan.

Vicky then further explained about the burning of the bodies. People actually wants to die in Varanasi, or at least, they want their ashes to be toss in the Ganges river. So, those people who lived far away from Varanasi, some of them are willing to actually spend more money to send the body here to be burned. They believe that if the die here, in Varanasi, their soul will be send straight to Nirvana, or Heaven, and they will forever be liberated from rebirth.

The cost for burning a body in Manikarnika would be only around Rs. 10,000 or RM 700. Which is a lot. The bodies would be sent to ghat and will be burn straight away, because they don’t have storage for the bodies here. That’s what Vicky told us.

Also, not all bodies are allowed to be burn here. There are seven types of body that are not allowed to be burn in any of the burning ghats, they are:
  1.  Body of a child, below 16 years old. Because their soul is believed to be very pure, like a flower
  2.  Body of a pregnant women, because they are carrying the flower inside of them
  3.  Body of holy men
  4.  Body of those who died due to cobra bite, because cobra is the necklace of Shiva. It’s a holy animal. Also, they believe if they burn the body of people who died due to the venomous bite, the venom could spread when they were being burn
  5.  Body of those who died due to small pox, same reason as no 4, the disease could spread through air
  6.  Body of leprosy patient, same reason as no 5
  7.  If I’m not mistaken, the body of those who died due to suicide, because their sin can’t be purified by the fire

So what did they do with these bodies? They will tie the body with stones, and after performing rites, the body will then be sink into the middle of the river. The fish will eat the flesh, and is believed to send the soul to their final resting place in Nirvana.

Waktu Vicky tengah cerita tu, we saw a new body just arrived. On top of the body, there were a lot of kain (macam kain saree) berwarna-warni. So when we asked, Vicky said that the clothes were final gifts from the family members. The new body then been taken down to the river for their final bath, and then will be placed on top of the stairs to let it dry before they are burn.

Despite having all those colorful clothes on top of them (the bodies), when the time comes for them to be burn, the clothes are all removed and what’s left is only a white piece of cloth. They will be burned with that white piece of cloth on top of them. Prior to burning, the body will be covered with ghee to ease the burning, and sandalwood powder to remove the smell.

When we witnessed the bodies burning, there were no horrible smell at all, because of the sandalwood powder.

Usually, the burning of a body would take around 3 hours, and for your info, two parts of our body; chest (for men) and hips (for women) are really hard to burn. Most of the time, it would remain as it was. These parts, will then be tossed into the river by the Untouchables (those who run the burning ghats). We were lucky that we managed to see one of the Untouchable toss one of the part into the river.

The ashes of the burned bodies will be collected in the morning, and then be tossed into the river by the Untouchables. These usually will be done as early as 4 am in the morning.

Another info, these bodies were not burn using new fire. Meaning, the fire are not lighted by matches of using gasoline, the fire is taken from inside the shrine in Manikarnika which is believed has been burning since some three thousand years ago! The fire is kept alive by the Untouchables and we could see the fire from where our boat was parked at the moment.

There is another burning ghat, a small ones, at the end of the river. In the ghat, the body could be cremated using electric. It was for the poor who could not afford a burning pyre for the rites and also for those who died, and have no family with them. People in Varanasi will collect money and donation for those unclaimed bodies to be cremated using the electric pyre. The electric pyre would only cost around Rs 500, or RM 35, which is very cheap for those who could not afford the traditional ones. The fire used for this one is taken from Manikarnika Ghat so they would be burn using the same holy fire.

The burning rites are performed by the men from the family. Women are not allowed as women tend to get emotional and that would cause the spirit of the death to be sad. Sama macam kita yang muslim lah. tak boleh menangis beria kan, nanti si mati jadi sedih.

So after we have watched the burning of the bodies, Vicky then took us to watch a ritual from the boat at the square in of the ghat in Ganges. The ritual involved seven men (all Brahmins) and they were performing some sort of choreograph using the fire and chanting of a mantra. That’s pretty much it.

We also bought some magnolia and float it onto the river! Hindus believed that these magnolias, when lighted and float on the river, it would help make their wishes come true and so we did it too, just for fun. We bought five magnolias for fifty rupees, but when we asked Vicky, he said usually they would buy it 11, 21, 51, 101 of the magnolias for making wishes. 

After watching all the rituals and whatnots, we were feeling very hungry and craving for some meat…chicken meat! So we asked Vicky where to find any halal food around here. Vicky said he knew a place, and would be glad to ‘tapau’ for us because it was already quite late, 8.30 pm and Monu has a curfew which we must go back before 11 pm. Also, it's really not advisable for girls to stay out late here.

But somehow, Monu said it's okay for us to follow Vicky to the restaurant and just eat there. So we went. Vicky took us to the Muslim community near a mosque there. After almost 10 minutes of walking we finally arrived to THE BEST RESTAURANT we ever been to in India.

The Sha Chicken Hut.

Malas la nak rotate, but this the menu. LOL

The restaurant was full with people and most of them were looking at us weirdly. Maybe sebab our dressing kot, or the fact that we are both ladies yang berani keluar malam? Probably.

Anyways, Vicky told us that in Varanasi, the tension between Hindu and Muslim are still very tense. And during Friday prayer, there will be soldier and police guarding the mosque. In fact, waktu kitorang jalan jalan kat Varanasi tu pun ada banyak je police and askar berjaga kat situ. Also while we were waiting for our table sebab restaurant tu memang penuh gila, we saw Vicky were hiding his necklace (Hindu). I don't know why, and tak terfikir nak tanya pun sebab kitorang lapar sangat otak fikir nak makan je.

So, we order roti, Chicken Chenghazi, and Chicken Tandoori. It was VERY DELICIOUS! Faham tak sedap sangat sampai masing masing rasa tak nak berak sebab nak simpan the food dalam perut. Dah lah sedap, murah pulak tu. We ordered 1kg ayam, and including air and roti, total only RM18 je! The cheapest food we ate so far. And sangat berbaloi.

The next day, we ate lunch at the same place. This time we tried the fish. Okay, I'm not a fan of fish, tapi ikan dia sedap gila okay. Sangat fresh! Btw, ikan yang kitorang makan tu ikan air masin, kalau korang nak try ikan yang dorang tangkap from Ganges pun boleh jugak, boleh beli from the kids yang fishing kat situ. Itu pun kalau korang nak lah.

Pagi tu kitorang took a boatride to watch sunrise. During this time you guys boleh nampak lah the people performing yoga, some take bath in the river, people praying and yang paling best, sunrise dekat sini cantik sangat. Kalau pergi time winter like we do, you guys boleh nampak banyak migrated birds from Siberia kat sini.

Lepas tu dekat sini ada banyak istana lama yang cantik. Istana ni actually dulu tempat untuk raja raja yang datang ke Varanasi to die. So, they built these palaces and tinggal dalam ni while waiting for death to take them. Now, some of the palaces are transformed to be luxury hotels. Boleh lah kalau you guys nak duduk situ. There are palaces from kings from Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kolkata, and a lot more.

If you guys love bangles like I do, or any jewelry at all, beli lah kat Varanasi. It's cheap and it's so pretty. Same goes to saree! Of all saree yang I bought and saw in India, Varanasi's saree are the best. Kain dia okay, and the design sangat cantik, and MURAH! For 6 meter kain, you boleh dapat for only RM 40 - 50 after conversion. So yeah, memang berbaloi.

Oh lagi satu, peniaga saree dekat Varanasi ni, especially kat kedai in the alley near Ganges, dorang tak aggressive. Tak macam kat Kolkata. In Kolkata, kalau you taknak beli, you jangan letak harga. You blah je terus dari kedai tu. Or else, dorang akan paksa you beli. Hati kena kental lah kiranya. Jangan takut sangat (macam I). Selamba je say no okay kalau you tak nak beli. And lari cepat cepat bila diorang tanya.

Macam kitorang time kat Kolkata rasa macam kena attack sebab peniaga tu paksa kitorang beli lahenga dia padahal kitorang taknak sebab tak cantik. So Farah stepped up and bagi speech sikit then baru diorang okay. Ada lah diorang bising sikit but buat selamba and blah laju laju je okay.

So, that's about it lah for Varanasi. Lepas ni, we'll travel to Agra pulak. Tengok tugu cinta paling famous dalam dunia, Taj Mahal.

See you!

Namashkar India (Part 1: Preparation)
Namashkar India (Part 2: Kolkata Here We Come!)
Namashkar India (Part 3: Mystical Varanasi)
Namashkar India (Part 4: Magical Varanasi)
Namashkar India (Part 5: Agra, The City of Love)
Namashkar India (Part 6: A Night Under The Sky, Jaisalmer)
Namashkar India (Part 7: A Night Under The Stars, Jaisalmer)
Namashkar India (Part 8: Starry Starry Night)
Namashkar India (Part 9: Majestic Fort)
Namashkar India (Part 10: Delhi, You Crazy!)

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