Varanasi - A City of Lights


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Asia » India » Uttar Pradesh » Varanasi
November 5th 2007
Published: January 13th 2008
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The name, Varanasi, possible arrived because the city lies where the Varuna River and the Assi River in its north and south, respectively, flow into the river Ganga. 'The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the river Ganges and the river's religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious center in northern India for several thousand years.

People often refer to Varanasi as "the city of temples", "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", "the city of lights".

The latter name I can definately understand when I consider the number of candles we set afloat during the sunset boat ride on the Ganges on our first night in India.

Having had a few hours to recover from our long and arduous journey into India we headed off down to the banks of Ganges for our first view on India's most holy river and view of one of it most holiest cities. When we got there a boat was already waiting to take us down the river to experience Varanasi.

Its front deck covered with small paper bowls filled with orange marigolds and a small butter lamp, we were slowly rowed down the river by two boatmen. Slowly we passed ghat after ghat on the river side, some with still burning cremations taking place. (No photography allowed of the Burning Ghats only the none active ones).

As darkness fell the flower and light offerings were lit patiently by our boatmen and handed out to each of us to make an offering to the holy Ganga. Each little glowing light and flower offering was sent floating into the inky darkness of the night carrying with it our hopes and wishes for family and friends. With so many offerings we started to run out of wishes and only hope that using the same wish twice does not negate it but adds strength to make it true.

After making our offerings it was time to join the boated audience to listen and watch the Evening Aarti taking place at Varanasi's main Ghat. For nearly half an hour we sat watching the seven or so priests dance their light offerings on the banks as the chants sang out across the water . All too soon it was time for our boatmen to make the slow pull back up river to drop us back for the night.

Life around Varanasi revolves around the banks of the river and starts early with sunrise. Worshippers head down to the waters edge as the cold light of dawn breaks over the far bank and male and females alike plunge and fully submerge in the holy waters, watched by crowds of tourists with camera clicking.

The Ganges may be holy but it is far from clean the morning rituals take place amongst the debris and floating rubbish which in itself is bad enough but often unburnt body parts can also be found drifting by. Yeuk - I felt that if I took the plunge then I would leave the water dirtier than I entered and likely to be a hospital case but that did not stop the many Hindus.

Life in Varanasi continues long into the night with stalls and shops remaining open well into the night. We saw much of this night life as a whirling stream of lights when we took an auto rickshaw to a restaurant on the edge of town. It hit the Top 10 of my most scariest road trips yet as he weaved his way between cars and other auto rickshaws but somehow we managed to make it in one piece. The journey though may go someway to explaining my loss of appetite and feeling some what ill when we did eventually arrive at the restaurant in question. If it hadn't been so far I would have rather walked back than set foot back in the vehicle again! - the driver who patiently waited outside for us to complete our meals dispite our insistance that it was not necessary.

As part of our tour we are on a schedule and so though i might of liked to explore Varanassi a bit more it was time to move on after a couple of days in the holy city and head to our next destination the small town of Orcha.


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