Here in Haridwar, at the source of the Ganges river, people go to the ghats here to purify themselves in the waters. But every night thousands come here to honor their dead. So, just before sunset, we set out to the river Ghats, for the sunset ceremony.
When we got there, people were sitting on the steps and platforms for probably a solid half-kilometer of the river, most of them purchasing or already holding small floats consisting of leaves, flower petals, and a small candle. We snuggled in on the steps among the mourners. Across the Ghat from us, a family poured ashes into the river from a plastic shopping bag, then bathed themselves in the water, openly weeping.
Occasionally someone in a uniform would shout orders at the crowds, in a tone that seemed more explanatory than harsh. I’m pretty sure he was telling all of us how the ceremony would go, what to do, and when. Occasionally he would reach his hand into the water and splash everybody, making him seem like some sort of jovial univormed tour guide. Natacha freaked out at having the water splashed on her, and I wasn’t too happy about it either. As it turns out, since it’s the source of the ganges, it’s fairly clean and extremely cold.
The sun set and the ceremony began. A number of people had jumped the gun earlier, but once the sky darkened, thousands of little floats, each lit by a single candle, made their way down the Ganges, each one a remembrance of a dead loved one.
Later in the ceremony, a main stage area had some bona fide fire rituals, using torches and loud chanting. That was something to see.
I took dozens of pictures of this very beautiful (if frenetic) ceremony.
Natacha bought these crazy handbags made from unused sheets of product wrapping—M & Ms, Friskies, etc.
Walking along the ghats after the ceremony was just as nuts, if not more so because everyone was on the move. It felt like walking on the bordwalk of a beachside holiday town…or rather, four holiday towns on top of one another. So much to see!
There were people swimming in the cold, strong-current Ganges, changing in and out of swimsuits in tents along the ghats. At night! People walking from temple to souvenir stall to restaurant to temple again. Food stalls. Red-powder stalls. It was nuts, and a little overwhelming.
That night we ate dinner at the same place we had lunch—it was a ways away from the ghats and as such nice and quiet.
But for some reason, a horn & drum band—not the one we saw earlier, I don’t think—decided to start playing across the street from the restaurant. With a PA and their own lighting, no less!
Nuts. But fascinating.