We were warned about this being the crazy city of all crazy cities, with the most annoying and tricksy rickshaw wallahs and touts, but we really feel that Varanasi has got an unfair reputation...but perhaps over two months in India has prepared us, and/or perhaps, it’s that same Gangas energy that we found in Rishikesh. People at the ghats in Benares (the local name for this holy city) are more concerned with the river than with anyone else (ie. us), and this was a nice change from many other cities we have visited.
Photos by Ben Journee
Most people are here to wash away their sins in the holy waters or cremate their dead relatives in order to send their souls to Nirvana. It’s a powerful city, that has a really good energy and visible history. No-one for instance knows how long the fire has been burning at Marnikarnika (cremation) ghat, perhaps 500 years, perhaps 1000, and the thick layer of soot on the surrounding temples and buildings suggests this.
We stumbled across the women's festival called Jeevitputrka, which had Assi ghat loaded with the most beautiful array of saris you will ever see. Women were gathered in groups, and performing special prayers and puja for the well-being of their sons. The ghats were covered with flowers, incense, tumeric paste and butter lamps. The sights and smells were amazing.
Being part of the Ganga Aarti in Varanasi was a completely different experience to that of Rishikesh. We were part of a group in its hundreds as opposed to in its dozens and the many tourist-filled boats watching from the water made it feel like more of a spectacle. Even though the music in Rishikesh was more accomplished, it was a really special puja to be part of. We were reminded that this ceremony is performed every single day when neither power cut, nor semi-stampeding bull could put a halt to the proceedings.
All in all, Varanasi was a fantastic place to end our 10 weeks in India. In many ways, it was a culmination of everything we have experienced here and a perfect place to reminisce and observe and consider how far we have come and how much we have grown.
Very nearly half way.... see you in Nepal.