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Varanasi

I’m writing today from the holy city of Varanasi, the last stop on my sight seeing tour. I’ve tried my best to take photos, but they just don’t seem to do it justice! I’ve tried to add links where I can :)

Varanasi is a very important city for Hindu’s, as they believe that a dip in the Ganges river here will erase their sins, and that if they die here, they escape reincarnation. It’s one of four holy cities on the Ganges. After a long travel day to Varanasi from Agra via a flight from Delhi, my first stop was to see the Ganga Aarti, which is the offering of prayers to the River Ganges. I like to think I’m a fairly seasoned traveller, but the walk to the Aarti yesterday was intense. I know I’ve emphasised a lot the craziness and business of Indian streets – but Varanasi is on steroids, and I was super tired before we started! There were moments where motorbikes and mopeds were brushing against my right side as people jostled for space on my left, while simultaneously trying to dodge cow poop, rickshaws and the oncoming shouts of vendors. I was terrified I’d lose my guide in the crush and confusion – but the secret to travel in India is to just surrender to the mayhem, and try not to get too distracted by the amazing sari shops! We eventually got to the Aarti, and my guide had managed to get seats overlooking the ghat (set of steps to the river), so it was much less crowded.

According to mum, I had massively undersold the scale of the Aarti compared to my instagram story, so I will do my best to convey the scale here! I’d seen some Aarti’s in Rishikesh, but this one in Varanasi is definitely bigger. Prayers, devotion, incense, smoke, fire and flowers are offered to the Ganga by seven Hindu priests, who stand on raised flower covered platforms and face the river. There’s singing, drumming, bells, conch shells being blown along with the singing and clapping and ‘Jai’s!’ Of at least two thousand pilgrims. It was overwhelming – but magical. The whole Aarti lasted around 30 minutes, after which it was back to the hotel ready for a 6am pickup.

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A section of some of the crowd- didn’t think to take a panoramic picture!

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A super grainy, zoomed in photo of the types of fire offerings used

I found a very long video on YouTube that you can flick through if you want to see what it looks like!

The best way to see the character of Varanasi is by early morning boat ride, where entire families, pilgrims and locals all come to the ghat steps to bathe in the Ganges, wash their clothes, meditate, or just have a chai and gossip. By 6:45, the steps are a hive of activity before sunrise. It was really funny to compare the whoops and yells of teenagers and young kids dunking in the river to the very sober immersions of adults. The Varanasi ghats also have another purpose – crematoriums. Bodies are burned on the ghats, and then the ashes swept into the river. I had a lot of emotions and thoughts about watching these very public funerals. It was a really sobering start to the day, especially when my guide said that around 200 bodies are cremated each day here.

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Making an offering on the river- unfortunately it tipped the second I put it on the water!!

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A snapshot of Varanasi from the water

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Early morning boats lined up in the fog

After a short walking tour of the winding streets of Varanasi, it was back to the hotel for a quick breakfast before leaving again to head to Saranath. Sarnath is where Buddha gave his first sermon after enlightenment, meaning that this entire area is holy to Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. I had a really lovely couple of hours wandering around the ruins of old temples and walking around the enormous stupa that commemorates the spot. It was also really fun to see Buddhists of all nationalities wandering around, chanting or using prayer beads, especially some of the younger monks who were anything but peaceful!

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The biggest stupa, with some monks chanting underneath it… the light was definitely not on my side today!

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Old remnants of stupas built by pilgrims over hundreds of years

After a quick visit to a silk weaving workshop, my last day in Varanasi is complete. Tomorrow I head to Goa for a week long Ayurvedic retreat, where my only goals are to read, eat fruit, and do yoga (maybe). The past few days on tour have completely flown by, and it’s been so incredible to literally not have to worry about anything- whether it’s the days itinerary, or how I’m moving from one place to the next. HUGE thank yous to Natasha for organising this itinerary, 10/10 recommend! Her instagram is @natashatravelcounsellor.

Onwards to Goa!

Posted by tegzevans 11:10

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