The reason I fell in love with India was the sacred city of Varanasi. Before I start with this post in which I will try to capture everything I felt, I want you to leave your mind blank, open your heart and try to understand what is happening in this magical and mystical place. Out negativity and prejudice. Don’t judge how they live their life cycle. Just let yourself go and feel!
I still remember as if yesterday was that hard journey on that night train from Agra. I was very cold. The blanket I had was not sheltering anything and neither did the thousands of clothes I took from my backpack. I also couldn’t sleep much because the mat was quite uncomfortable and at the same time I was waiting for nothing to be stolen. I had heard so much about night trains that I only needed to tie my backpack with a padlock to my leg.
Every time I wanted to go to the bathroom or just stretch my legs, I had to be careful with the almost 12 people I had under my bed. Yes, as I tell you. I recommend that if you are going to Varanasi from Agra on this night train, take the berths from the middle or above, because if you take the one below, you and 10 people will sit in your bed. People do not pay to go to bed. Pay a tiny amount for standing up, but they sit where they want and if they can’t feel the same, I guarantee it.
When I arrived at the station and set foot on the floor of the sacred city of Varanasi, I felt that this place would make my other person. I have to say that I am quite adaptable to situations; the same thing makes me sleep on the floor if I can’t find accommodation, than sleep in a bad hotel. I am little scrupulous and very curious about the different cultures of the world, qualities that one must train at home and bring to India. You have to come with the thought of… whatever happens and I will see how I solve it, because here you can have a multitude of unforeseen events. Everyone knows the saying that … to India or you hate her or love her.
The sacred city of Varanasi or also known as Benares is one of the oldest in the world and one of the seven sacred cities for Hinduism, since according to cosmology it is considered the center of the earth. It is located at the foot of the famous Ganges River, the most polluted in the world. Thousands of pilgrims flock to the hats to free themselves from their sins in the sacred waters, others arrive to die, and many others are brought to the crematoriums to be thrown into the Ganges. Expiring in this river means moksha attaining enlightenment or nirvana.
I took a walk through the Ghats under the scorching heat of the month of May (45° C). The boys I had come with were very comfortable under the cool air conditioner of the knife, but I couldn’t wait to meet Varanasi. Here, and unlike the other sites, they were very correct with me. Even street vendors were not so insistent, something hard to believe here in India.
Although I shouldn’t have been surprised because I was in India, it was all very dirty. How could such a sacred city be so full of garbage? Unfortunately I thought I was going to find it much cleaner than the rest of India, but it wasn’t. A pity, since dirt attract diseases, rats, etc … It seems that the government has become aware of this issue and measures are being taken to make this sacred city cleaner. Will they get it? Hopefully when he returns he can walk without seeing kilos of garbage in his streets.
The G hats Manikarnika is one of the most important crematory Ghats of Varanasi. Going through the alleys and not knowing how to get there, I saw huge piles of firewood. That told me that I was near the Ghat and that I was in the upper part (the lower part is on the banks of the river). These logs are used to incinerate the bodies and the suns calculate the exact amount of logs they will need. This crematorium works 24 hours a day and can burn an average of 30-40 bodies a day. In this Ghat they don’t let you take pictures. I made them from afar, with the camera zoom.
Respectfully I approached and sat watching the cremation process. Only the family and the sun can be in the cremation zone. Very rarely they admit that the tourist arrives to that area and they can even get very aggressive if you try. From a distance I could see how the bodies that is in charge of outcasts or sun; they are transported through the alleys of the city with bamboo stretchers covered by a yellow and gold cloth until they reach the sacred Ganges.
Before incineration, the stretchers are submerged in the river and then put on the piles of firewood that have previously been calculated so that the body burns completely. The cremation of a body usually lasts approximately three hours. Then, their ashes are thrown into the Ganges, although many remain in the crematorium area. The goal is none other than to send the deceased’s soul to Nirvana. Hindu mythology guarantees the arrival in Nirvana if cremation is carried out in the Ganges and as close as possible to Benares.
The pariahs or also called Dom are the cremators of corpses. The Hindu tradition considers them impure and they are usually marginalized in society. Being a sun is a consequence of their ancestors since they usually follow the family tradition. When I found out about this exclusion I was a bit choff. Apparently they have no right to anything, but … if there were no Sundays, how could they get to Nirvana?
It must be said that not everyone is cremated, only those who according to their religion have known the suffering of life. Babies, teenagers, santones or sadhus, are taken by boat to the center of the river and are thrown there. They may be thrown with some weight to ensure their arrival and maintenance in the background or, as it happened to me, during your boat trip you will find somebody. Apparently many people have found bodies in a state of decomposition by the banks of the Ghats, where children bathe and drink water from the river.
I kept walking along the shore of the colorful Ghats…
The kids had a blast. Didn’t they think that where they were bathing, the ashes of the dead and the whole bodies were thrown? They looked so happy enjoying things as basic as splashing…
Varanasi wakes up at 5:00 a.m. in the Ganges and starts a real show where life and death come together surrounded by color. The best way to know the rituals in the Ghats is to navigate its waters. We can see people bathing, women washing clothes and washing dishes, children learning to swim and even people drinking water from the river.
The Dashashwamedh Ghat is the Ghat most colorful of all. Its name comes from the fact that Brahma sacrificed (medh) here ten (das) horses (aswa) and at about 7:00 p.m. every day, the Ganga Aarti ceremony begins with incense, fire, dance and chants to Mother Ganga. The ceremony takes about an hour and it is convenient to go a little in advance because a lot of people are concentrated. We found a comfortable place to enjoy the ceremony.
What else can be done in the sacred city of Varanasi?
You can go eat the best Lassi of Varanasi in Blue Lassi. Here I have a somewhat strange situation. The place was empty, it was just me. When I was enjoying my lassi quietly, several doms passed through the streets with corpses to take them to the crematorium. This is when I understood the naturalness that they give to death in this place. So you know, if you’re going to take a lassi at Blue Lassi, maybe when you look out the window you see the golden fabrics of the dead. Namaste!
• Visit the market in the area.
• Visit the Golden Temple
After spending three days in Varanasi I said goodbye to her with a see you later. This mystical place made me fall in love with India and understand a little more the culture of a thousand gods.
My friends headed to Nepal and I to Varanasi airport to reach my next destination, Aurangabad. Here began my two weeks of traveling completely alone. Although as you have read in the post, it was not the first time I wandered alone in this country.
Author: Moorthy Machendran, an enthusiastic writer, and blogger.