Varanasi and Mother Ganga
Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
59Trip End Jun 19, 2006
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Well, I promised more magic, and Varanasi delivered. This is one of the holiest and oldest cities on Earth, having been in existence for more than 3000 years on the banks of the holy Ganges, or Mother Ganga, of the great rivers of the world.
My first morning here I saw three bodies being burnt on massive banyan and sandalwood bonfires, their souls ascending to heaven with the smoke from the fire, and their earthly remains becoming so many ashes to return to the Mother, to the river. From this, rebirth, or if the person was lucky enough to have died in Varanasi, instant nirvana and release from the cycle of reincarnation.
All this before lunch on my first day (and no, lunch was NOT barbeque! For the record though, a burning human body doesn't smell too bad) - I knew that place was going to be something special.
Life in Varanasi (or Benares, as the locals know it) centres around the ghats, the various steps and platforms that line the riverside, from Assi Ghat furtherest up river to Raj Ghat, each with their own temples and purposes and denizens (holy sadhus, beggar children, barbers, boatmen, and many many cows! Cows definitely rule here - on every back alley, every ghat, even strolling through traffic, you will find a cow [and of course cowpats - a common peril for the careless walker!]). Back from the ghats, towards first the old city of Godaulia, then onwards to the Cantonment and wider Varanasi, it is chaos - just utterly crazy, as only India can be. You cannot walk a foot without either being offered a rickshaw or invited to a silk shop. That is, of course, if the postcard-wallahs don't get to you first!
The ghats though are the place to be, and to watch the world walk by. The Ganges is a surprisingly placid river, though during the monsoon it rises by 20 feet! or more, covering all the ghats and lapping onto the streets above. At the moment, however, it is low and gentle, running slowly ever on towards the mighty Sunderbands delta and on into the Andaman Sea, carrying with it all the sins and desires, and often the bodies, of the faithful who bathe in its sacred waters every day.
There is a peace about this place, an indefinable magic in the air, but as I sit on the balcony outside my room, book in lap and Trinity Roots in my ears, looking out through to haze across the wide river and up its length towards the busy ghats, all troubles seem remote, and a warm calm settles on my mind. I think the spirituality of Varanasi affects everything ghatside, and you breathe it in, and it seeps into your skin, so that you can't help be feel soothed and replenished. I haven't slept as well in weeks as I have here, and even after only 5 days I'm starting to enjoy the timelessness of this place.
Still, it is not time to put down anchors yet, and there is a wedding to get to. Tomorrow (Sunday) I'm off to Mumbai for ceremonies, celebrations, and a bloody good Christmas feast!
From death and rebirth, to love and life and happiness.
To all of you, Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, best wishes, great weather, and lots of love.
I miss you all, and will think of you on Christmas Day.