Vivid Varanasi - Holy Ganges.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Varanasi's main attraction for visitors are the gnats on the mighty and sacred Ganges. The gnats are ancient steps down into the water and provide an amazing spectacle of colour and humanity as Indians gather on the steps to bathe, pray and cremate their dead. To die in Varanasi and be cremated there is the ultimate for Hindus who believe that having the Ganges as their final resting place breaks the cycle of reincarnation.

After a rather tiring trip on the night train in a 3 tiered sleeper (this is a misnomer as 9 people were in the small space!) we booked into a little more upmarket accommodation, the Hotel Surya, which was a little away from all the hustle and bustle but still only $24A a night per room. We travelled by auto rickshaw to see the sights using the same driver each time who had quite a good command of English and a little book of testimonials to his skills as a driver/guide. Our hotel also had Indian Ayurvedic massages, 1 hour for $15A which we thoroughly enjoyed.

We took a boat ride on the Ganges at sunset and found a festival for women called Ghat Puja in full swing. There was lots of singing and baskets of flowers being launched onto the river and amazingly colourful saris. Our boatman rowed us past the cremation gnats where bodies could be clearly seen sandwiched between the wood as they burnt. When the cremation is complete (or even incomplete if there was not the right amount of wood!) the ashes and any remains are put in the Ganges. Not everyone is cremated. Children under 4, holy men, pregnant women and anyone killed by snake bite are some of those exempt. The bodies of these are just weighed down and sunk (if the weight holds otherwise they just float) in the river.

Despite the massive amount of pollution (dead cows and worse float by next to someone bathing!)there is a type of freshwater dolphin which lives in the Ganges and we were very privileged to catch several glimpse's of this rare endangered species as they jumped out of the water close to our boat. The Ganges dolphin is blind and it defies belief that it can survive in the filth that is the Ganges. We also went back to the Ganges at sunrise to get a different perspective.

From Varanasi we also visited Sarnath, a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. This is where Buddha supposedly preached his first sermon to a handful of followers. By the third century BC many monasteries and Stupas had been erected and much of their ruins can be seen today. Buddhism went into decline in India in the 700's when Muslim invaders desecrated most Buddhist buildings however quite a few at Sarnath have survived. Now Buddhist nations from around the world have erected their own temples at this site - a sort of united nations of Buddhism!

Footnote: Varanasi features in the book Unforgettable Places to See before you die.
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