We rise before the sun, as the Muslim call to prayer sounds out over a waking city. Dogs bark, monkeys chirp, the chai sellers start making their first batch of the day. I’m already sweating as we dress and wander down to the water in the early dawn light. As soon as we get to the waterfront an elderly man asks if we want a boat, we nod, too tired to barter a cheaper price. A boy pulls the boat up and we climb on board, waiting for the man to step on behind us, but as the boat moves onto the clear waters of the Ganges, the boy leaps on and picks up the oars instead and a wave of guilt rises and crashes, I’m utilising child labour. I ask him what his name is, it’s hard to hear pronunciation but I think it was Assam, I ask how old he is, he’s 13, I ask how long he's been working on the boats and he says 4 years. He’s shy and he apologises for his English, i’m too tired to get past the communication gap and delve into life on the Ghats of Varanasi. He’s strong and he rows us along the Ganges as the tropical sun rises as a red orb through the smokey haze of burning bodies. Birds fly in packs over the water and boat loads of tourists sail by, the river is full of boatmen. We pass the early morning bathers, the babas lighting up their first chillum full of Ganga for the day, a man stands knee deep in the Ganges, raising a handful water to the sun in prayer. The fires are already burning as the boat passes by, they’re always burning, 300 bodies a day according to the workers there. We sail past the city bathed in orange dawn light and I bring my camera up to my eye and snap picture after picture, trying to immortalise this moment for myself. Using the camera as a filter to the overwhelming rituals of this place, to the burning bodies, to the raging tourism and the poverty, a filter until I can process it all. Something I’ll probably be doing for life.
I was blessed by The Oracle a few days ago.We heard a faint knock on our door from the matriarch of the house, inviting us. With sleep in our eyes and hungry stomachs we wandered out in our pyjamas to the temple in the next room, with candles burning day and night and incense creating a mystical connection to another world. The family huddled around us as we watched a youthful woman putting on the ceremonial garb of The Oracle. The tall pointed hat that's been worn for centuries, the golden circle the size of a dinner plate tied around her middle and the complex robes securing the large pendant in place. The chanting began and rose in pitch and fervour as her body started convulsing, her eyes rolled to the back of her head, as she held a trident and a knife in her hands and rocked to and fro, as the family members around us began crying, and I was pulled in by the energy, despite not understanding the words. As her chanting reached it’s height, with eyes flickering she turned to each person in turn and spoke a truth which bought more tears, and with white ribbon around their necks, she blessed each person. Eventually we were ushered in and I felt her hand hit my back and release a great sense of calm, and her hand touched my head and the feeling deepened, and her breath blew on my neck and my world felt lighter than it had in awhile. Later one of the men who lived there have a sense of what she’d said. Money is not the thing that makes you happy, having more things does not make you happy, instead it is the community and the people around you. A misunderstanding of what's important in life has created this never ending greed, and this greed has created all the problems we are currently facing, the dying environment and the changing climate and the extreme poverty. And it is only by coming together as a community that we can help heal these issues we are all facing. He said they hadn't felt the effects of climate change so much, but they knew it was already making itself painfully known in the rest of India, and then as if his words angered Mother Earth,the storm clouds rolled in, and it has rained and hailed every day since even though it’s summer.