I got lost again when I wandered off Agra’s well worn tourist trail and found myself down by the river at an open air crematorium.
The ghats at Varanasi are India’s most famous crematoria. Their enduring popularity partly due to the belief that exiting via the Ganges breaks your cycle of reincarnation. But hopping off there is expensive.
Here by the water’s edge, proceedings had an immediacy that we’re not used to, especially downwind. Here was not the discrete whirr of curtains closing behind a retreating coffin.
The cortege made its way without ceremony to the final resting place: a raised rectangle of charred bricks. Then the mourners built the pyre, before the priest lit and blessed a torch from which flames were taken to set it ablaze. I’m familiar with blokes and fires, but not in this context. There were no women present and that seemed mighty strange.
(update – my yoga teacher, who is Swiss but has spent a long time here with her Indian partner, thought just men at a funeral unusual. That’s reassuring.)
For me, the most poignant and pathetic sight was a pile of brightly coloured shrouds, untidily discarded on the ground and sullied by ash. To this day I keep my great grandmother’s candlewick bedspread, but maybe that’s confusing sentimentality, respect, remembrance and the disposal of a corpse.
Tomorrow an altogether different take upon mortality, the Taj Mohul.