We arrived at Varanasi in the afternoon known as Benares renowned as the spiritual home for Hinduism’s most important traditions, they involve death & mourning.
After checking into our hotel, we went to the evening aarti at Ghat. A ceremony that is on every night along the banks of the Ganges, we set off on a wooden motorboat gently making our way towards the ceremony while our guide gave us a lesson in the culture of Hinduism and pointed out places along the banks. As I was snapping away trying to get the best photos we slowed down as we arrived at Manikarnika Ghat, this is where the Antyesti – the funeral rituals- take place along the banks of the Ganges before cremation. I counted 17 then two more bodies arrived, they are normally covered in white cloth or sometimes with what they are wearing at time of death. We saw them dip the body in the Ganges, as they believe it is holy water, they then placed the body on wood, we didn’t get a view of it being lit but the pyres burn for three hours then relatives collect the ashes before depositing them in the Ganges. Other parts of the ceremony were too far away but whilst watching another boat cannoned into the side of us. Hardly surprising as boats were everywhere, as were floating aluminium cups with a candle and flowers inside burning brightly with the reflection from the candles glistening on the Ganges.
The following morning, we had an early rise as once again we made our way to the Ganges. On arrival we were greeted by beggars and people selling all sorts of things like fridge magnets & postcards etc we arrived before sunrise; I once again took as many photos as I could. On one side of the bank there was a hive of activity with people bathing as they believe it washes away their sins. I would be in there for weeks!
The other side of the bank is used as their beach, once again only in India, there were horses, camels and of course dogs. The sun slowly rose adding to the spectacular sights on the bank with a glowing orange ball of fire reflecting in the Ganges it was just amazing. an experience in Varanasi that I will never forget. Beneath our wooden boat lay the ashes of millions in the holy waters flowing aside of one of the oldest cites in the world dated 5000 years ago.
In the afternoon we went to Sarnath, one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage centres in India. It was here that Buddha came after reaching enlightenment at Bodh Gaya and where he first began his teachings approximately 5th century BC. Dhamekh Stupa now stands at the exact spot where the Buddha preached his first discourse to his first 5 disciples in the 5th-6th century AD.
The following day we flew to Ahmedabad for our eagerly awaited clash with the old enemy. Prior to the game I read an article by Joe Root saying man for man we are better than Australia. I remember Tony Greig saying something similar about the West Indies, and we know what happened next. Sure enough history repeating itself, once again we witnessed another dismal display by the batsman only Malan & Stokes came through with merit while the rest played like a shadow of 4 years ago. On returning to our hotel, I had a message saying I’ve seen you on TV more than the English batters! This seems to be a continuing trend trying to write something different about the performance and looking for positives. In truth there really aren’t any, something obviously isn’t right and a change of coach and captain is definitely required!
The following morning we made our way to the airport, my 11th flight so far on this tour. After checking into the hotel I checked the cricket score as I was channel hopping, the news was on, showing the smog in Delhi cars had very little visibility and the slogan said “right to breathe” the adds followed soon after. They keep showing a particular smoking add “Stop smoking, smoking kills! “You can’t help but think why the government don’t do anything about the pollution. Surely there isn’t much difference between smoking and the pollution! I could hardly believe the pictures in Delhi, I was only there 3 weeks ago and my first thought was that there was very little smog and that Delhi had improved but obviously not! Three of us then went for a walk around Pune the smog was evident here as it is in Delhi, the roads were a wash with bikes, Tuk Tuk and cars.
The following morning we left for the MCA International stadium, as we left our hotel the Netherlands left just before us, so we tagged onto them and more or less had an escort to the stadium, once again there were many searches & ticket checks on entering the ground, our seats this time were in the sun, but luckily it was overcast with a slight breeze so we stayed put. England won the toss for the sixth in succession and batted first for a change having been 132/1 we found ourselves 192/6 tamely giving our wickets away once again. Joe Root was nutmegged while trying an audacious scoop shot. He has been bowled playing that shot before, I cannot understand why he doesn’t just play his normal game? Thankfully Milan, Woakes & Stokes played extremely well together, and England got to a respectable score of 339/9, Stokes century was unbelievably his first in a World Cup evoking memories of the 2019 final. England regularly took wickets to win by 160, so hopefully we won’t finish bottom and could still qualify for the champions trophy, so Pakistan is not a dead rubber on that basis.