Varanasi was top of our must-do list in India. With H-J’s background in religious studies geekery and Dan’s lust for, well, everything, it was one of the most highly anticipated aspects of our time in India. Everyone seems to have different feelings about Varanasi – some find it too touristy and showy, others feel it encapsulates the very essence of what it is to be Indian with many other folk lying anywhere in between. Others still encounter wild spiritual journeys that leave them there for dozens of years, hairier and somewhere closer to enlightenment. Regardless of the motivations for being there, we would hazard a guess to say that everyone takes something away. Its hard to convey the reality of Varanasi with words so we’ll do our best to give you a guided tour via (mostly) pictures. The ghats are an amazing part of the fabric of Varanasi, so what better place to start?
The word ghat refers to a series of steps leading down to a body of water, in most cases a holy river such as the Ganges, which courses through the city. Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats and it is that daily life of the residents is showcased at it most intense, most visible and most accessible. Of course, like most of the rest of the north of India, cows are everywhere. “Beef, beef everywhere and not a bite to eat.”
They live, bathe and die alongside their human counterparts. Boats are the other noticeable feature here, constantly shuttling devotees and tourists along the fairly calm river.
The Ganges is a sacred river to Hindus along every fragment of its length. All along its course, Hindus bathe in its waters, paying homage to their ancestors and to their gods by cupping the water in their hands, lifting it and letting it fall back into the river; they offer flowers and rose petals and float shallow clay dishes filled with oil and lit with wicks. When someone dies, ashes of the deceased can be brought to the river, or the body itself can be burnt on one of the cremation ghats. The river is considered the embodiment of all sacred waters in Hindu mythology making it a pretty special and highly regarded place, drawing lay people and holy people alike.Religion, chores, play, commerce, art…everything exists alongside the water. Now, before you all start to think that India has got to our brains and we’ve gone all reflective and serious and stuff, we’ll insert a bit of light relief, in the form of Dan getting sucked into a traditional touristy trade on the shores of India – snake plying! For a fee, Dan could even play with little snakey. Seems he has overcome his fear of snakes! As with all good blogs, this must come to an end, and what more auspicious place to leave it than at the final ending for devotees – the burning ghat. Photography is not allowed of the burning area but en route we caught some cool views of the piles of wood (used to create the pyres) and the surrounding areas. A pretty amazing place to end up, don’t you think?