So much has been written about travel to India it seemed there would be nothing new to write about after taking the Heart of India trip with Overseas Adventure Travel in November 2014. But India is a land of experiences. A land where the most unexpected and simple movement by a local can trigger an unforgettable memory that will not necessarily make it into a camera lens. Its a land where a local custom, either known worldwide, or unknown to most outside of India, will bring a tear to of joy, gratitude, or disbelief. India will not only awaken the senses, it will bring a lump to the throat of any traveler. India is a land that will generate powerful emotions.
The unexpected happened on Thanksgiving evening 2014, in Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges River. Boats filled with tourists gather around six in the evening to watch the funeral pyres from cremation ceremonies along different ghats on the banks of the river. The ghats themselves are the steps that lead down to the Ganges. They are utilized 24×7 to perform the cremations, but the cremations are most stirring to witness at night. Newly deceased bodies from that day lie on the river banks draped in red shrouds. They are dipped in the holy water of the Ganges, then a procession of six men carries them one at a time for cremation.There can be as many as 30 cremations occurring simultaneously.
While this somber event occurs around the clock, just down the river is an uplifting celebration of life for several hours that is so colorful in sight, sound, and smell it is the essence of in a trip to India. Feelings change from that of quiet respect to jubilation, and are quickly followed by gratitude. In the case of this author, it was unexpectedly emotional. Every traveler was given a flower, and asked to say a prayer of thanks to the river as the boat floated it downstream. It was, even in the quietude of the moment, an emotional prayer of thanks to ancestors for giving life. Hindu locals and tourists from around the world sit in silent prayer every night after witnessing this incredible spectacle. What made this experience additionally emotional, was that it was Thanksgiving night.
Giving thanks for life and thinking of loved ones gone by can be emotional anytime and anywhere. But what made this experience all the more so was doing it in India on Thanksgiving, witnessing death followed by life, and constant reminders everywhere of how different life is in India. It was the ultimate reward in world travel. If considering travel to India, realize that a traveler can never be prepared for the unexpected sound, smell, or even prayer that will take hold. It will be a trip like no other.