We were never so relieved to arrive in our hotel in Varanasi after our 14 hour overnight train experience. For the afternoon we just napped and tried to catch up on the missed sleep. At 5 pm we hopped on some tuk-tuk’s into the city. Varanasi is very different to the other Indian cities that we had been to. The streets are the cleanest that we have seen, very little rubbish on the sides of the street and more commercial shops that we would be used to, however, it was so so so dusty!! Our eyes and noses were burning just on the 20 minute journey into the city. We took a short walk through the narrow streets and then down some steps to the edge of the River Ganges. A boat was there to meet us, so we hopped on and enjoyed the views.
Varanasi is regarded as the spiritual capital of India and the water of the River Ganges is thought to be sacred. There was people bathing and swimming in the river at the foot of every stairwell. As we travelled down the river on our little row boat, we spotted large fires being burned on the river edge. Our guide informed us that these are crematoriums. Hindu’s believe that if you are cremated here in Varanasi on the banks of the River Ganges, all your life sins will be forgiven. The ashes are then scattered in the river. We made a mental note to be extra careful not fall into the river.
Everyday at sunrise and sunset the Hindu priests from the temples preform a special prayer to the Ganges on the river bank. There are up to 2000 temples in Varanasi, so this is quite spectacular. Part of this ceremony is when we give up our own prayers to the Ganges. This involves us lighting a little candle that is on a plate with flowers ad releasing it into the river. (All of this is biodegradable btw, we checked before releasing it!)
We then pulled our boat in in front of one of the biggest temples, and within minutes we were surrounded with hundreds of other boats filled with tourists and Hindu’s there to worship. The streets behind the Hindu priests were absolutely packed with people. The ceremony goes on for an hour and a half and consists of the priests singing Hindu hymns and dancing with fire. We stayed for about 45 minutes, then all the boats started to move. There was so many that you just get taken in the crowd, whether you want to or not!
The following day was a rest day, so we had a well needed lie in, followed by a trip into the city to see what Varanasi has to offer during daylight. Again the dust was making our eyes stream. We kind of thought maybe all the dust was because of the numerous open air crematoriums on the river banks; a thought that we didn’t want to dwell over for obvious reasons.. Anyway, we wandered up and down the Ganges, and meandered through the narrow streets for the afternoon. The markets in Varanasi are so much nicer than the other cities that we had been to. The shop keepers weren’t shouting at us to come into their shops, so we were able to actually look around without being harassed, it was bliss!
This was our last night in India and it felt very bitter sweet to be leaving. After a rough start, India really won us over by the end of our time there. For our last night we went to a gorgeous outdoor Indian restaurant and the food was the best we had had the past 2 weeks. We had an Indian ‘Thali’, which is pretty much a mixture of different classic Indian dishes all in one, perfect for the night that was in it.
Róisin & Bernard