Varanasi and Kolkata

Varanasi and Kolkata

We are now in India for quite some time, but our trip to Varanasi and Kolkata was till now the deepest we immersed into the Indian culture. Varanasi is the holiest places in the world in Hinduism and Kolkata is said to be the cultural capital of India.

Our trip started in Delhi with a one and a half hour flight to Varanasi. As we got off the plane and drove to our hotel with a taxi, we felt kind of relieved because it seemed to be less noisy than Delhi and less crowded. In the inner parts of the city you barely find cars, most of the things and people are transported by motorbikes, bike-rikshaws, auto-rikshaws and three-wheel-transporters.

The holiness and the culture of the city is closely associated with the River Ganges and its religious importance in Hinduism. It is worshipped as the goddess ‘Ganga’. A bath in the Ganges causes a remission of sins and liberation from the cycle of life and death. When you wander along the Ghats at the Ganges (Ghats are the places where people go bathing, you can walk into the Ganges on stairs) you will always find pilgrims, locals and priests taking a bath in the Ganges, no matter what time. It is easy to imagine that people have been doing this for thousands of years – and you can really sense ‘history’ there.

For the next part I just want to state something:
I apologize for not knowing the exact details and the names of these rituals – I am just describing it from my view as a westerner and I have absolutely no intention to offend anybody!

Nevertheless I don’t want to skip my most impressive experience. Not all of the Ghats are bathing Ghats, some of them are also used for cremations. The male family members bring the dead body of the deceased to the ganges. Some hours prior the body was washed and prepared for cremation with oils and butter and some rituals I don’t know exactly. The body is now bathed in the ganges and a ceremony with fire is held.

After this the body is placed on a stack of wood and the fire is lit up. The family members have to stay and watch the fire until the body is completely cremated.

When I think about a german funeral, I don’t think any people outside the family and close friends are allowed to watch a ceremony like that. Indian life is somehow less exclusive and less private to strangers.

From Varanasi we took an overnight train to Kolkata. And this trip had a real “Indian quality” to it. This was the first time we ever used a train in India – first time in a rail station. Surprisingly the overall organisation is pretty good there. There are offices with very helpful people who explain everything and answer all your questions. So the first glance of the whole thing is kind of misleading. But here comes the “Indian quality”… our train was delayed for two hours. And we had no idea where our cabin will be, because these trains are very long and, as mentioned, it was our first time in a train. Again surprisingly, we had absolutely no problem finding our cabin and our seats.

Riding a train for longer distances without changing the train is somehow romantic to me. I always get the real feeling of travelling. It is way more convenient than a car, because you always have to adjust to the traffic and you have to buckle up….a train just rolls.

In a train it is kind of a static motion. Smoothly accelerating and decelerating. One can really see what landscape he is travelling through and your thoughts just go on a different journey.

We reached Kolkata at noon, with another two hours delay and jumped into the lively pulse of downtown Kolkata. We put our stuff in the hotel room and started to explore our last destination of our one week trip. We found nice people, lovely restaurants and cafés with really good coffee and snacks….

I’m still thinking about the whole experience in Kolkata and it seems to me that this city – or more the ‘feel’ of the city – is comparable to London or New York. The bustle and the vitality seemed kind of familiar to experiences I had in other big cities in the world.

To sum the whole feelings trip up is quite hard. As I mentioned in the beginning, we kind of started to feel a deeper connection to the whole life in India, as we got more insight in how life is organized and structured. From public transportation to cremations, from street shops and markets to baths in the ganges, from museums to unwilling taxi drivers, from barbers on the street to domestic flights…