We didn’t plan to go to Varanasi at all. Didn’t want to go there as we were a little bit afraid of that place. All we knew about this city it was filthy (worse than other parts of India and that was scary because the country is like big dump yard anyway) with a holy river full of unburned corpses. Luckily, we were so wrong. Varanasi was amazing. It is the place of final destination, the place where Hindu soul travels to the other side…
Varanasi turned out to be a very friendly place and Ganga was looking phenomenal! We could walk in the Old Town for hours and never get bored! In Varanasi we felt like people were influenced by the most sacred river – they were helpful, delectable with smiling faces. We were regretting to be there ony a few days, but we had to go to Kolkata to catch our plane to Bangkok. It was a long journey ahead and still over 400 miles to be done.
We arrived in Varanasi late afternoon and it was too late for sightseeing. We stayed in „Elvis Guest House” – as you can imagine landlord was the biggest fan of that musican. We went for a late dinner to one of the rooftop restaurants near our hotel and what we saw from there was: Ganga was a huge river. Our first thought was to use the next day as much as we could for sightseeing.
It was very early so we could see the sun starting brand new day and Varanasi beginning its circle of life. Fishermen were setting up their boats, people were doing laundry in the river, others were performing their rituals and kids were playing in the water before going to a school.
We did see holy statues almost everywhere, on the streets, in the shops or stuck somewhere in between adverts.
We did see many of sadhu (in Hinduism is a religious ascetic or holy person; a vast majority of sadhus are yogis, not all yogis are sadhus) walking by the river or meditating.
The whole place was covered with murals:
Inside the Old Town we could feel a bit like in Moroccan medina…
Same like in Morrocan medinas there were plenty of one of the kind doors:
We couldn’t resist buying some souvenirs. It was one of our last days in India so we had to get rid of rupees. (that’s Anna’s excuse ;), just look at her going through all these clothes… )
Here Chev’s buying another wristband… Picture was taken only to show you the weird thing. Most men have a very long nail ( the guy on the picture had more than one). It wasn’t the first time we saw that, but the first time we captured it (doesn’t look tasty, does it? ).
Kids were asking if we could take the picture of them and were posing for it. Then after seeing themselves on the screen of the camera were like the happiest kids in the world.
Dogs and holy cows – most common animals of the streets.
At the evening time, we took a rowing boat so we could see ghats (ghat refers to a series of steps leading down to a body of water, particularly a holy river) from Ganga view.
Funeral ceremonies take place at Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats. About 80 cremations are being carried out every day. Controversial is that more than often unburned corpses are being thrown into the river. Some other dead bodies are not allowed to be burned, like pregnant women, children, people with visible skin problems or bitten by a snake. Most of the poor people are not being burned as they can’t afford to buy wood for the funeral pyre, so over 200 not cremated corpses end up in the river every day. Luckily we didn’t see any of it in the water. Well… we saw something looking like human knees sticking above water, but couldn’t tell it was a part of the body or just Chev’s imagination. Rotting corpses turned Ganga water to be 3000 times over the pollution limit set by WHO, but it doesn’t bother Indian people to take ritual dips, have fun in the water, do laundry or just wash the dishes. Our hotel was not far from Ganga and we were kind of hoping that water wasn’t from the river. We were taking shower very quick, just in case… (like it was doing any difference 😀 )
We witnessed funeral ceremony at Harishchandra. Deceased was brought by family members on hand barrow. He had white yellow and gold cloth wrapped around his body and covered with flowers. The family placed the body in shallow water of the Ganga and then every family member was pouring water on his body. After that, deceased wast was taken to a pyre and lit by the eldest son or a male mourner. We didn’t stay that long to see corpses burning, but we know that ashes are thrown into the river. Full of respect to deceased and his family we didn’t take any pictures.
More travel stories about our 2 months long trip in India here: Stories about India.