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December 25th 2011
Published: January 17th 2012
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After our adventure in Patna, our train finally reached Varanasi at about 4am. It was very dark and we had not made prior arrangements for a place to stay. We ended up taking an auto-rickshaw down to the ghats to try and find a room to rent. Through the maze of the small alleys you have to walk through to find the ghats, we finally found two of the guest houses that were in our Lonely Planet guide. Since it was so early in the morning, everything was locked down and gated shut and we had no way to get a hold of anybody to enquire about a room. We ended up just sitting on one of the ghats in the cold dark morning until the sun started to rise. It was quite a difference to be there in the morning compared to the afternoon when it is crowded with tourists and locals. We were tired, cold and just wanted a bed to sleep in. We ended up getting too cold waiting for the places to open so we went and found another auto rickshaw driver and basically just told him to take us to a nice hotel. After some driving and picking up another local along the way, they showed us the Hotel Gupta Inn. The place was a little ways from all the activity of the city but it was a very nice resting place. When we arrived we must have looked tired because they took us straight up to a room and told us to get some rest and check in when we woke up. And that is exactly what we did.

We enjoyed several days walking around Varanasi and spending time on the ghats. Of all the places we had been previously during this trip, Varanasi had the strongest vibe yet of intense spirituality mixed with just raw life and death. Both of us realized moments that moved us mentally in this town, and at the same time we were witnesses to events we expected to move us more than they did. Some moments just left us eyes wide and in a position to dwell upon our thoughts at later time.

IE. The burning ghats - where we could sit and watch a funeral pyre be built from scratch. A family placed their loved one atop it, and then over the next several hours watched the body be cremated until all that would remain may be the pelvis of a female body or the sternum of a male. The ashes would then be tossed into the Ganges. This cycle of cremation takes place on an unprecedented scale here in Varanasi - 24 hours a day 7 days a week for the previous thousands of years. The innocents (children) are not cremated at the ghat, but wrapped up and tied to a heavy brick/rock and boated out into the middle of the ganges river according to one of the locals. Deceased pregnant women are also not cremated because of the innocent inside.

The Hindu's cremating their loved ones believe that an individual who is cremated and subsequently has their ashes tossed into the Ganges, will break the cycle of Rebirth that all Hindu's believe is their destiny. A well respected Guru mentioned to us that this may not be the entire truth and that a half truth may be as misleading as a direct lie. As when the Guru inferred to us that the cycle of rebirth is not broken from cremation in the Ganges, but through reaching enlightenment. This is similar to Buddhisms approach to death/rebirth/enlightenment/and the after life.

There is also a nightly aarti celebration on one one of the ghats that was very interesting to watch. The pictures are uploaded in this blog and there will be a video to follow.

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