Manikarnika Ghat
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Backstage in Varanasi
The scene behind Manikarnika ghat, the main cremation ground in Varanasi, looks like a medieval workshop. In the dank shadowy lanes, it feels like you’re watching workers backstage laboring for the performance happening out front, as if they’re roadies of death. A crouched man hammered spikes into banyan logs to split into smaller pieces; a fifty-year-old man with deep, wrinkled etches in his face hovered over a pot of boiling chai, fueled by a coal flame; another man was selling the cotton shrouds that are wrapped around the soon-to-be-burned bodies. The honking cacophony of Varanasi felt hundreds of years away. And if you stop here to take it all in—as I was doing at this moment—you’ll find few reminders of what century you’re in, as if that plane you flew here on had inadvertently flown right into an open doorway in the sky, traveling through the space-time continuum, landing somewhere in the 11th century.
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