Varanasi; easily my favourite place in India, and for most of my friends too. If you’re travelling India in the first places you are most likely interested in the cultures and lifestyles of other countries around the world and how ‘the other half live.’ India is a country that has always been on my bucket list because of its culture, its British Heritage and because of the fascinating fact that a country so small in comparison to other countries such as the United States, manages to be the second most populated country in the world with 1.21 billion people living there.There were so many places that I visited in India that I loved, but for me, none of these compared with Varanasi. Varanasi is fascinating and has so much to offer travellers seeking to learn as much as they can about the local culture, like me.
One of the first things you will hear about Varanasi, is the 24 hour burning of the bodies.
A ritual carried out daily where bodies are cremated by the River Ganges after been dunked in the holy river, to clear them of their sins. The Hindu religion promotes forgiveness of everyone. They believe that by bathing the dead in the holy river makes them pure and holy again. This ritual takes place in many places around India, but Varanasi is considered by most to be the ‘most holy’ city and therefore 400 plus bodies are brought here on a daily basis.
I watched this ceremony twice. Once from above amongst the piles of wood used to burn the bodies and the second time on a sunset boat trip along the Ganges. However neither of these times was I able to get up close, due to the fact that women aren’t allowed near the burning bodies because we’re ‘too emotional.’ I was told a story about a woman who jumped into the fire once years ago where her husband lay burning. Not sure how true this is to be honest. Unfortunately, India is quite a sexist, old fashioned country, and there is most likely no good reason why women aren’t allowed.
Despite this, the ritual was an emotional and memorable experience, one which enabled me to learn a lot about the Hindu religion. The sunset boat tour, which was provided to us through STOPS Hostel is something well worth going on. Not only do you get to experience this amazing ritual, but you get to see amazing views of Varanasi city from the river, visit the creepy but interesting beach, filled with skulls and bones, and finally the big ceremony that happens every night at the Main Ghat where hundreds of boats gather and light candles which they then let float off in the water. It was a fun and lively ceremony which the locals really get into, singing and dancing around in their boats. Definitely one of the biggest highlights of my whole trip.
But Varanasi also has loads to offer in the centre of the city too, with loads of different Temples, everywhere you go, Markets are absolutely everywhere and just walking around the streets there is something to see or do that will catch your eye. But one thing I really enjoyed during my time in Varanasi, was sitting by the river with a cold drink watching the locals play in the water, or do their washing. There was nowhere else in India where I felt as peaceful as I did here, doing this.
Is there any wonder this city has so much culture and history, when is more than 5000 years old?
Varanasi is the oldest, dirtiest craziest and funniest city I have ever visited and I would go back in a heartbeat.
- Brown Bread Bakery – amazing local and western food, for all breakfast lunch and dinner;
- Karala Cafe – Very cheap Indian food, and very popular (close to STOPS Hostel);
- Blue Lassi – people will likely recommend you come here anyway, but best Lassi’s in Varanasi!