The Holy Ganges

Trip Start May 31, 2008
Trip End Jun 01, 2009

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Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Monday, December 22, 2008

Varanasi is surreal.  I don't know how else to describe it.  The images you keep from this town are quintessentially Indian.

We arrived in Varanasi at 9:00am - about four hours late.  We had arranged a hotel pick up, and the poor driver ended up waiting for us!  But we had heard there are a lot of scams and touts here, so it's best to arrange transport from the train station if you can.

We were exhausted from the night train, and took a long nap before venturing out into the town.  We had had pretty good experiences with the night trains in India, but this one was filled with very very loud snorers.  I actually cried out in exasperation for them to shut up at one point (Calvin found this amusing).  And the four hour delay didn't help my mood either.

But after a nice nap and some TV (House!), we walked along the ghats that Varanasi is famous for.  It was a quite cool and foggy, so the areas by the water weren't very busy.  The evening Ganga Aarti prayer takes place every night on the banks of the Ganges river, and we arrived in time to see it.  The priests performing the pujas in unison, the bells ringing, and the singing was lovely.  The walk in the old part of town takes you back hundreds of years, it seems.  The alleyways are so narrow, crowded with people selling things, shops overflowing, and people everywhere, not to mention the cows!

The weather was much warmer our second day, and we saw much more activity by the river.  Clothes being washed by hitting them against rocks, people bathing (to wash away their sins), cricket games, random cows walking up the stairs, saris drying, and funeral services taking place on the cremation ghats.  Being cremated here, and having ones ashes sprinkled into the river is very auspicious for Hindus.  They believe they will be free from the cycle of reincarnation if they are cremated here.

The next morning we took a boat ride down the Ganges at sunrise.  With the early morning fog, the boats on the river look like they are floating.  The early morning light also makes the temples and palaces along the banks of the river look like they are from a storybook.  There were lots of people performing early morning pujas (prayers) as well.  We lit a candle and floated it down the river for good karma.

The saddest aspect of coming to Varanasi for me was seeing just how polluted the Ganges has become.  It is very ironic that the river is so polluted that bathing in it considered unsafe.  There is no dissolved oxygen in it's waters.  There are efforts and NGOs trying to clean it up, and we can only hope that they succeed sooner rather than later.

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