The Varanasi weavers

The weavers were so quick in their movements that it was difficult to see what they were doing. There is a long tradition of silk weaving in Varanasi, and the silk from here is renowned for its quality and design.

These men were devoted to their job and proud of their skills. Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation of these fine textiles so the visit made my luggage slightly heavier.

Floating on the Ganges

The sun was just rising and I was absolutely sure that it was a corpse I saw next to our little boat. It was with some relief that I noticed that the man moved, he was just praying in a floating position.

Traffic on the river was quite intense, as I suppose it is every morning. People weren’t on their way to something, they were out on the holy water to witness the sun rise over the horizon and to pray.

The light, or rather the whole atmosphere out there on the river, was a unique experience.

Many years ago I used to take singing lessons. One of the first songs I learned was Già il sole dal Gange by Scarlatti. I didn’t particularly like the song at the time, but for some reason I have never forgotten it. Now it rang in my head all morning. Listen to it! (No, it isn’t me singing. And in case your Italian is a bit rusty, the singing is accompanied by an English translation).

Già il sole dal Gange

As dusk fell I was again out in a small boat. The main purpose was to see the suggestive Aarti light ceremony that takes place every evening in Varanasi. At the end people put offerings in the river, a candle on a little tray with marigolds all around. I wanted to do the same, but clumsily failed at my first attempt – the tray immediately took in water and sank. The problem was that I had dropped it in instead of gently putting it down, my guide explained. You had to lean quite far out to reach the water, and I was sillily a little afraid of falling in myself. (How can you be afraid of falling into a holy river, a river people travel thousands of miles to get into?) The second time I was more successful and could see my candle float down the Ganges. It may seem like nothing, but it was a great moment.

Witnesses of glorious days

In the early morning in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, the majestic abandoned palace towering above the city was empty except for some bats that inhabited the lower floors. I quite enjoyed having the gorgeous palace almost to myself (I didn’t mind the bats). It has been restored, but perhaps not fully to its former glory: the guide pointed out that there were some embarrassing mistakes in the number of legs of some creatures on the outer walls.

There is an archeological museum in Gwalior, but I wonder if it ever gets any visitors (except me). It seemed much more abandoned than the abandoned palace, in spite of being full of the most amazing artefacts (not pictured here).

In Datia there is yet another ghost palace, not yet restored, so the resident bats have a great place to roam about. Already on the way up to the palace I was taken in by the lovely town. There was a spontaneous guide waiting, desperate for some people to show around. I was a little short of time, very unfortunately: this was a palace with a soul that spoke to my imagination, with its rundown, unlit stairwells, superb arches and the promising bright light at the end of the corridors …

Orchha also boasts an abandoned palace, where bats most certainly live. I didn’t see any though. However, I had some close encounters with the stern-looking vultures who have made this their dwelling.

To further enhance the spooky atmosphere, there was a morning mist and, as I was now getting used to, no other visitors. There were spider webs, bird droppings, empty niches, holes in the floor and blackened walls, but in the middle of it all some amazing outbursts of colour, allowing for a glimpse into a bygone era.