In the second episode of three part documentary The Ganges we find Sue is half way down the mighty Ganges, in the ancient city of Varanasi. Many travellers to India will stop off here for a day or two, to take in the sights of this extraordinary place. But for India’s 950 million Hindus it has a unique significance.
She immerses herself into the complex life of Varanasi, where the power of the Ganges is at its greatest and where life and death exist side by side.
In this intricate human habitat, Sue explores the lives of its people. She fishes with resourceful young men, who have designed an ingenious new way of making a living out of the river, tries her hand at handloom weaving and heads to the countryside to meet an all-female vigilante group, who are demanding to be heard.
But, believe it or not, the main reason for many to come to Varanasi is death. If you are Hindu, then to die here, and to be cremated on the banks of the Ganges is to achieve Moksha and escape the eternal cycle of death and re-birth. To understand more, Sue visits Varanasi’s so called death hotels – a sort of departure lounge to the next world. She walks the lanes of the old city encountering dead bodies being rushed past on their way to the cremation grounds and meets an Aghori monk cleansing his soul in the Ganges river and rubbing the ashes of dead bodies all over himself.
Sue makes her final stop at the Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi’s most prestigious funeral pyre, where bodies are burned on open fires so their souls can be released into a different realm. It is like nothing Sue has ever seen before.
Pictured is Sue Perkins with Raffiuddin, a hand loom weaver in Varanasi
The Ganges with Sue Perkins Episode 2 (of 3) airs on Thursday 26 October 2017 from 9.00pm-10.00pm on BBC One.