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VARANASI

8.4. - 10.4. 2014, travel book part IV.

 

Why to go to Varanasi

Spiritual Varanasi is a holy place for Hinduists, Buddhists and Jains [1,4 mil, Uttarpradesh]. It is one of the longest occupied cities in the world, according to a legend it was built by Indian god Shiva almost 5000 years ago. The city spreads on the right bank of river Ganga with 80 ghats.

 

How to go to Varanasi

I took a night train to Varanasi, once again, I had reservation for AC2 ticket [1250 INR, 20:37 – 10:30, 649 km]. I said my goodbyes to young Mukul in front of the station and went in the crowds of waiting Indians. I quickly found out that the train has two hours delay so I used the time to walk around the platforms. I saw a couple of girls that I've seen in front of Taj Mahal admiring the beautiful building. Now they were sitting on the ground with everyone else. Few meters away I stopped to chat with a girl from Ukraine that was travelling alone and I asked her about the situation in Maidan. She had a ticket to the sleeper car, which has bars on the window and there is 9 people in a coupe, I have to say I didn't envy her. There was a sleeping man in the middle of the waiting room and people were just stepping over him. I observed local Indians that were jumping on the ongoing trains without letting the people from inside get out first. Whenever there was no train on the tracks I could see rats and the poorest half naked Indians running on them, picking up plastic. My train was getting delayed more and more and they kept changing the number of platform it was supposed to arrive to, so we were running around like headless chicken. After three hours it finally arrived, so I found my coupe and my bed. This time I was in the top bunk and my travelling companion, dressed all in orange offered me to sit on his bed for a while. I didn't want to bother him, but he repeated his offer. After a while another man told me in English that maharaja is very surprised that I don't want to sit beside him. Ha, I'm travelling with maharaja, I explained myself and apologized, sat beside him, had a chat and then went to bed. We didn't catch up with the delay and arrived in Varanasi around midday. I got chosen on the platform by annoying rikshaw driver who was stuck to me like glue and I couldn't get rid of him. At least he dropped his price by a third after I talked to him and he took me to old town [70 INR]. He dropped me off at old town because motor vehicles can't go in and I walked to my hotel.

 

Accommodation tip in Varanasi

I wanted to stay in one of the Ghats and have view on Ganga and as a winner I chose Kadereswar B&B on Chowki Ghat [1800INR] on Booking.com.

 

My experience in Varanasi

I got settled in, arranged a tour on the river and went for a walk on the ghats. When it's not monsoon season and there are no floods, it is possible to walk all the way through from Assi ghat to Manikarnika ghat. The neighboring Harishchnadra ghat is one of the burial ones in Varanasi. And right when I was walking through, they were burying an old grandma. Her family, dressed all in white, was walking around the funeral pyre as they were saying their prayers. They kept bringing fire close to her mouth and then put it out, over and over again. In the end they piled up more wood over her body and her oldest son set the whole pyre on fire. Grandma started to burn, I was watching her head catch on fire and so did her body. After twenty minutes the whole thing was on fire apart of her legs, because they were sticking out of the wood. After two or three hours the whole body burns to ashes, which is then thrown in the river. Tourists are allowed to watch the funeral ceremony on this particular ghat, but they can't take any pictures. On the main funeral ghat Manikarnika are different rules however. It is not recommended to get closer to the act of funeral. Burying rituals in Varanasi are not a cheap matter, these funerals cost around 20 – 25 thousand rupees, depending on the wood that is used. The most expensive is sandal wood, that's why it's usually used in a form of swarf. There are 200 to 400 bodies burned every day on the main Manikarnika ghat and the funeral pyre keeps burning through day and night on different spots, either higher or lower depending on the person's caste. Hindus believe that if a person has a burial in this place, it will free him from the karmic cycle.

India Varanasi

Varanasi

I was walking through the narrow streets of the old town. Many times, I had to give a way to cows that were walking around freely, together with everyone else. Especially one street was their favorite, as there were so many excrements that I had no other choice than to walk on dry of them.

As I was walking along the ghats, I've seen half naked beggars, people without fingers who were suffering from leprosy, holy men dressed in orange with their faces painted white and women in colorful saris. At one point I saw about twenty children sitting on the steps, all dressed in yellow and orange robes with their faces painted and one of them was holding trident.

India Varanasi

Varanasi

Around six o'clock in the evening I went to see the central Dasahshwamedh ghat, which is in the middle of the other ghats and is the most colorful one. It is a place of Hindu ritual that happens every evening, and thousands of people come to watch. It is truly magical, five people perform Hinduistic fire rituals for an hour, accompanied by the sound of Indian music and people sit all around the steps and clap, while other people on fifty boats watch the ceremony from the river.

India Varanasi Hindu ceremony

Hindu ceremony

After the ceremony I went back towards the burial Manikarnika ghat. When I approached, I saw a man coming out of the darkness, and as I expected he chose me as his victim. At the start he was polite and didn't bother me much, he was talking about their traditions, about the eternal fire that is kept on this ghat for thousands of years and about the burials. When I wanted to go back, he told me that he doesn't want rupees for himself as he is a volunteer who works for the ghat and that I can donate some money for the burial ghat, so they can use it to buy wood and that he can take me closer to have a look. The minute he said that I knew that I'm not in a good situation, because they would ask for donation in dollars, not rupees. It was hard to get rid of him, he became a bit aggressive and didn't want to let me go.

Before six o'clock the next morning, I was outside of the hotel and ready, and together with one American family we set out on a boat ride on Ganga [200 INR]. It was a start of a beautiful day; the sun was rising above the east bank. The view of all the beautiful palaces and surrounding ghats was fantastic. We observed people as they were stepping in the river, some of them stood in the river and prayed, others were washing themselves and some were swimming. Men were almost naked just with a cloth around their waist and women were in their saris, which made the whole river colorful. Not far away I could see locals washing their laundry in the river, which they then spread on the stairs to let it dry on the sun.

India Varanasi

Varanasi morning

I wanted to go see Vishwanath temple, so I had to find my way through the narrow streets. There was a lot of people around and in the midst of them armed soldiers. It took me a long time before I found the right entrance and as a tourist I had to show them my passport. But then, when I saw that they want to take all electronic equipment from me, I decided that I'm not a naive person and I gave up on that visit.

I was watching Varanasi sunset from the roof of my hotel and beneath me on a little tower I saw a family of monkeys getting nice and cozy, so we watched the sunset together.

In the evening I went back to a boat. I walked to a neighboring Kedar ghat and made a deal with a local helmsman [400 INR]. We set out on the river and the old man kept pointing on the river bank, where the palaces were and very casually, was saying: "maharaja Jaipur, maharaja Kalkata, maharaja Udajpur". We sailed close to the burial Manikarnika ghat. When we were close enough, the old man told me to take a picture as we were in a safe distance. I could see six bodies burn, it was like a scene from a movie. Together we sailed back to central Dasahswamedh ghat, parked on the river and watched the Hindu ceremony again, this time from the boat. There were thousands of people in the boats around us and again, it was magical. My tour guide got thirsty at one point, so he leaned from the boat and took a sip of the water from Ganga. I asked him if it's safe for him to drink it, and he said that he is used to it, but wouldn't recommend it to me...

India Manikarnika ghat

Manikarnika ghat

The last morning in Varanasi, I got up before six o'clock again and for the last time took a walk towards Dasahshwamedh ghat to watch the swimming crowds. Once again, I was captivated by the rituals, people shaving their heads and releasing their hair in the river, people brushing their teeth with a piece of stick, men in orange attire painting their faces white and women sending baskets of flowers on the river. Crowds and crowds of people. I would be able to observe them for days, but at half past seven it started to be warm and people where leaving to get along with their day.

India Varanasi

Varanasi ghats

 

VISITED COUNTRIES

zeme 100

37

KM ON THE ROADS

km 100

48 560

DAYS ON THE ROADS

dny 100

397