India. “The Ganges River flows through Varanasi. It is considered sacred because it holds the karma of ancestors from the ashes of cremated corpses thrown into the river’s waters. I took an early morning taxi to the Ganges River for a sunrise boat ride. The taxi driver, who assured me he could make change, somehow could not do so once we reached the river and drove off with double the fare. (Did I have a sucker sign on my forehead?)
A boatman said he would take me for a one-hour ride for 60 to 70 rupees, but somehow we shook hands on 100 rupees, and in the pre-dawn, I followed him through the narrow alleys to the ghat. A ghat is a wide expanse of steps leading to a riverbank. The river was already full of bathers, clothes washers, and hawkers. The hawkers surrounded the boat shortly after I stepped into it. One put a candle in my boat and insisted I pay for it; he followed the boat for a bit in the shallow water still badgering me for payment. It became so tiresome the boatman joined in after a bit saying I should pay for it; and I told him if he wanted it, he should pay for it. The hawker finally removed the candle.
It was a beautiful ride. I bought a small live fish to throw back into the river for good luck. I watched a man on another boat empty the ashes from an urn into the river. When my hour on the boat was almost complete, the boatman announced he wanted 200 rupees to let me off the boat. After a long harangue back and forth, I agreed. The Ganges was not a river in which I wanted to swim.
They were burning bodies at the Manikarnika Ghat when I got off the boat. I didn’t stop to watch because the boatman followed me off the boat insisting that I also give him a tip! He also wanted more money because he had given me more than a onehour boat ride (which only transpired because he wouldn’t row the boat to shore until I agreed to double the fare). Finally I gave him another 10 rupees just as another man appeared trying to daub my forehead with red dye. To my horror, I realized he had hoped to charge me for his service. Fortunately, I ducked in time and avoided the dye. Between these screamers,…”
from Chapter 4, Tattoo—Journeys On My Mind
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