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Varanasi, India

The Holiest City in India


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Varanasi arrival
At the Varanasi airport, we met a lovely family that offered to share their cab with us. Allon and Cheryl had the loveliest little 9 month old girl, Yardena. We enjoyed the time we spent with them over the next three days.

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Holy City
Varanasi, which lies at the location where the Varuna River and Assi River flow into the river Ganga, is the holiest city in India and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Pilgrims from all over the country flock to the bathing ghats that line the Ganga river (Ganges in english).

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This is the first day we wore the outfits we had made for us in Udaipur.
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Varanasi, city of a million alleys

Roaming the alleys of Varanasi was confusing and a bit overwhelming at times. The sights and smells of India were much bolder here than they were in the previous places we've visited, Goa and Udaipur. Besides watching out for the holy stuff that the cows had left behind, we also had to dodge bicycles, motorcyles, people, monkeys and the cows themselves. We also had to get used to the idea that the delicious butter we had at the local restaurants came from the same cows that roamed the streets eating garbage.

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Ganges boat trip

We did a Ganges boat trip with Allon, Cheryl and Yardena on our third day in Varanasi. We got up at 4:30 am to see the river life at its best.

Our boatman was actualy a 14 yr. old boy. He did a great job of pulling all 6 of us up the Ganges.

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Women bathe separately from the men
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Laborers washing clothes next to a sewer at the Ganges

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At the Ganges, there are bathing Ghats and Burning Ghats. The bathing ghats are self explanatory. The burning Ghats, on the other hand, are used to burn bodies. According to Hindu custom, Varanasi is the most auspicious place to die. After cremation, the ashes are spread into the Ganges. Approximately 300-400 bodies are burned at the burning Ghats every day.

We spent a couple of hours at the burning ghats the first night. (no pictures posted out of respect) It was a deeply solemn experience that we will never forget. Life begins and ends with the Ganges river. Families bathe in one section of the river while bodies burn nearby. This is the only place in the world where that is perfectly normal. This place definitely expands your cultural perspective.

Not all bodies are burned. Pregnant women, children, those that die from snake bites and lepers go straight into the Ganges without being burned. The fire serves to purify the bodies, but the group above is already considered pure, so burning would be redundant. The bodies are covered in a white cloth, tied together with rope and enclosed with rocks to make them sink. Often, the bodies float up to the top and you can see them drifting down river.

Floating body in the Holy Ganges
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Fruit market
After the river tour, our guide took us into town to show us some other points of interest. On the way to a silk shop, we passed by the fruit market. The fruit market in Varanasi was fascinating. We stealthily observed it from the second floor of the silk shop.

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Final Thoughts
Varanasi was India at its highest intensity. We enjoyed learning about the rituals of life and death on the banks of the Ganges. This experience broadened our perspective more than any other place we've visited.

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Posted by edcastano 07:59 Archived in India

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Comments

congratulations !! you seem to have made a perfect trip. your final thoughts gives the feeling that you sure had a spiritual experience one is supposed to have in varanasi. All the best!

by Kabir

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