varanassi is the one of the most holy places in all of india for hindus. people from all over the country come here on pilgrimages, mainly to bathe in the holy ganges river. because of this, the town has quite an interesting atmosphere.. very somber and religious on one hand but at the same time, there this huge sense of excitement in the air as people have fulfilled what for many is a lifelong dream. around town there is a steady stream of pilgrims walking around wearing towels and carrying little metal buckets full of water from the ganges.
we decided to go on a sunrise boatride on the ganges, since it’s supposedly one of the best ways of seeing Varanassi. when we walked down to the water, the sky was just barely starting to light up and it felt a little eerie to be down by the ganges in the semi-dark. as our boat slowly drifted from shore, we could see people slowly starting to come down towards the ganges. some little kids sold us some offerings candles, tiny candles surrounded by flowers in a little leaf cup that you light and set into the river. other people did this too, and it was really beautiful to see all these tiny twinkling fires floating down the ganges.
as we continued down the ganges, we saw more and more people coming down to the water to bathe. it was a really cool sight to see people engaging in this ritual. we even saw some foreigners take a dip. although it’s cool that they did it, i would *never* swim in the ganges. from what we read in thew guidebook, it’s one of the filthiest rivers ever. all the waste from all the toilets etc in town empty directly into the river. apparently it has a fecal conent more than 50 time over what is safe for bathing. but it doesnt stop there. not only is the ganges a holy place to bathe, but it’s also a very holy place to be creamated. every day, all day long, human bodies are set ablaze on funeral pires at the river. so the river is filled not only with poo, but with corpse ash. not exactly something that i’d like to swim in. our guide even told us that there are a lot of dead pigeons in the water, cause they drink the water, and just die on the spot. as we kept going down the river, our guide pointed out some of the burning ghats (where bodies are burned) where tons of firewood was stacked in huge piles. near there we saw a blazing fire, with a small group of people standing around it in mourning. fittingly enough, we watched as lots of jet black crows, slowly swooped around the waters.
later that evening we came down to the waterfrnt again to see a puja ceremony that they have nightly. the ceremony involved lots of incense burning, ringing of bells, and small fires.
in the end, we only got to spend around 2 days in this very holy city. it was a shame not to stay any longer, but we had to go!
here are the rest of my photos from varanassi