Varanasi, India - The Ganges River
Varanasi Travel Blog› entry 236 of 247 › view all entries
Ok, now we were on a mission . . . make it to Varanasi by sun-down!!! Unfortunately, that didn’t quite happen. :( So close, but not quite! Instead, we ended up right on the outskirts of this infamous city.
What to do now? Try to continue hitching a ride into Varanasi itself, or play it safe? You guessed it right, we chose option #2, of course.
So now our goal was to find a decent hotel and also fill our bellies!!
Speaking of which, let’s talk food!! Since entering this amazing country, our eyes and our taste buds have been spoiled in many ways.
Well, let me take that back a bit . . . Arnaud, being the more adventurous one of the two of us, has been quite eager to try just about anything being fried up by the local street vendors.
I, on the other hand, have played it kind of safe, by settling for a good old-fashioned omelet sandwich, with its touch of Indian spices, of course!
Although I enjoy spicy food, now and then, I have been a bit hesitant about trying real Indian food, as all I’ve heard or better yet been warned about is the level of spiciness of Indian dishes!
Still it’s a good thing that we had been in Nepal just before, because its food definitely helped with the transition. And so there wasn’t too much shock (for me) as far as the types of food prepared by the locals.
In any case, got no choice if we don’t want to wither away, gotta eat and adapt to our new surroundings and all, so . . .
But so far so good, friendly folks, good & cheap food, tasty Chai (Indian tea), and lots happening on the streets! And I mean lots!
Many folks would be intimidated with so much going on, but us, not just yet! ;) It’s incredible seeing all the chaos on the streets, especially all the cows just chillin’ here and there.
I’m sure the eye candy will continue to be out there, just waiting to be devoured by us!
So after grabbing a bite to eat, we finally did find a place for the night. No thanks to the rather persistent gentlemen, just eager to help us find a reasonably priced hotel!
Our determination paid off for us once again though! We distanced ourselves from the shady part of town in which we initially found ourselves, and even managed to ditch the many nuisances who wanted to help us find accommodation!
We’d be spending the night in a pretty chic hotel, with AC, hot water, and HBO!!! Quel luxe! First time we’d treated ourselves to this sort of place, since starting off our adventure! Great!
The following day, we were ready for a new day amongst our Indian friends! A good night’s sleep definitely did us some good!
Ok no more slacking, we gotta make it to Varanasi TODAY!!!
Great news, our day started out beautifully because again hitchhiking worked out wonderfully for us!! Love how catching a ride seems so easy here; however loving a little less how crazy the driving is here!!
Won’t spit it out just yet, but I think Indians may just be THE worst drivers ever!! But let me give them some credit .
I’m certain there will be plenty more to say about this topic as our journey continues!!
YEAH!! Finally made it to Varanasi-même!!
Upon arrival, as expected, we had our Welcome crew, just anxiously waiting to help us with anything we may need!
The walking-dollars had arrived!!! There’s really no reason for not being surprised, as this city IS known to be a major tourist destination for foreign travelers in India, so . . . Our time here would be an interesting one, no doubt!
Especially for Arnaud, who up until now has been taken for a “walking-dollar” continuously throughout our entire trip, and in practically every country we’ve visited.
But let’s talk about this place that just leaves many speechless!!
The holy city of Varanasi, aka Benares, is truly a fascinating place, in so many ways. I didn’t know much about this place, just that it was NOT to be missed!!
It’s considered to be one of the seven holiest cities of Hinduism, and is the most popular pilgrimage point for Hindus.
Varanasi is situated on the banks of the sacred River Ganges, which, in Hinduism, has long been considered holy by Hindus and worshiped as the goddess Ganga.
Supposedly, the Ganges, symbolizes Shiva's hair and has a purifying function; thus, the belief that by simply bathing in these holy waters, one's sins are washed away.
On top of cleansing all sins, there is also the belief that if cremated in Varanasi, the cycle of reincarnation is broken and your spirit is set free . . . Hmm, freed from reincarnation?! Ok, now isn’t that something! Pretty powerful stuff!
Personally speaking, I still have a hard time convincing myself to even dip the tip of my finger in the polluted waters of the Ganges River!
The filth and stench that engulfs the river, makes it hard to understand how hundreds of people can bring themselves to bathe or even dip their heads in it! Just the thought brings chills down my back!!
Funny thing is that many believers will ensure that, only the surface is dirty, below the Ganges is pure! Now, how about that?!!
All the garbage and sewage waste that are dumped there, just stay on the surface!! Haha, what nonsense!
Still yet, how can it be believed that there are such powers?! I guess, that’s what faith can do! Amazing!
As for the city itself, apparently it’s one of the oldest cities in the world, and I’d definitely have to agree that there is a very special and unique atmosphere that reigns all around.
Yeah, lots going on here, and definitely lots to see and do here too!!! Never a dull moment in this spiritual place!! How could it be possible with the hundreds of ghats along the Ganges?!
Ghats? What are those?
The ghats are the steps that plunge into the Ganges, where it all happens!!! And so true, everything in Varanasi centers around the ghats.
The locals come to pray, cremate the dead, wash and be purified, shave (female pilgrims donate their hair to the river), give alms to saddhus, practice yoga, and even bathe cattle!
A unique experience to be lived all about here in Varanasi; and boy did we get our fair share of eye-candy during our visit!!
We chose not to take a ride down the river at sunrise or sunset aboard a rickety boat, because for one, it was overly touristy and probably over-hyped; and two, we got so irritated by being constantly hounded by the fellas offering this essential Ganges experience!!
Whoever came up with the T-shirt which reads, “No, I don’t need a hotel, No, I don’t want to take a boat-ride, No, I’m not hungry, No, I’m not thirsty .
Anyway, instead of giving in to the constant bother, we just let ourselves get lost in the winding streets of Varanasi and strolled along the ghats as we pleased.
By doing so, we got the chance to witness the very things that Varanasi’s ghats are all-so famous for, both spiritually-related and even random everyday common activities, such as folks doing their laundry, buffaloes bathing on the waterfront, and even cow dung being hung out to dry!!
As far as the funeral ghats are concerned, one thing to keep in mind and respect . . . Do not whip out the camera and start snapping away, because it’s incredibly offensive.
I unfortunately did not know, and did exactly this during our visit!!
In my defense, though, our guide did not warn me, as we looked upon.
Apparently, before offering the remains to mother Ganges, relatives could look on while the pyres would burn the bodies of recently deceased Hindus.
Problem though . . . the women were uncontrollably emotional and would throw themselves onto the flames and the deceased!! Hence, no more female relatives allowed!!
At first, I wondered how come there were only men at the funeral ghats . . . now I understand!!
And no wonder the men were giving me a strange look . . . well, probably because I’m a woman and also because I was taking pictures! Oops, so sorry for my HUGE cultural faux-pas!!
Apart from my little mistake, it was nice to have been able to witness this first-hand.
Something else that our guide let us in on while at Manikarnika Ghat, was less pleasant to hear and rather disturbing, if you ask me . . . And actually left me feeling disgusted and truly sad.
I had heard a lot about India’s infamous caste system and all, but I never thought that even for a sacred ceremony such as a cremation, it would blatantly be observed and flaunted as well!!
Apparently the type of burning wood used and the level at which the cremation takes place, show the deceased individual’s social status within Indian society.
For instance, not only is an expensive type of wood used for the cremation, but people from the highest caste are burned on a level further up from the water to denote their special place within the caste system, and so forth.
How crazy is that?!! So the poor or someone being from the bottom of the caste system will do everything to die here.
If carried out, not only will the individual’s spirit be purified, he/she will be able to achieve a higher level in his/her next incarnation!!!
If not, then it is the responsibility of the eldest son to bring the body here for cremation at the river's edge and to have the ashes put in the river accordingly; no matter what the cost. ¡¡Una locura!!
So yeah, there’s a lot at stake for the living and the dead here at the Ganges!!
Fortunately there are some exceptions . . . Pregnant women, holy men and children are not cremated because their bodies are already considered pure; thus their bodies are simply weighed down with stones and put into the Ganges.
Supposedly, tourists taking the infamous Essential Boat Ride Experience along the Ganges River did experience seeing actual cadavers floating along side, as if it were a very common and ordinary thing to see!!
I love being witness to unique occurrences, however, this here, I sure am glad we didn’t see this!
Still, there is a definite charm to Varanasi, with its multitude of narrow, winding streets and picturesque alleys, faithful pilgrims, wandering holy men (aka Sadhus), and Hindu priests (aka Brahmins).
Crossing paths with the local Sadhus, in their orange gowns, draped in prayer beads and coated in paint was moving, but not as much as I’d expected; probably because Arnaud and I had already seen quite a few many a times during our adventures in Nepal.
So, we weren’t as taken aback by their presence around town, or at the many temples that dot Varanasi’s streets.
Anyway, our sightseeing tour was still a breathtaking one indeed . . . literally, haha! ;)
As is the case for the Ganges, the streets aren’t spared of the delectable odors either.
Yes, you do have the smell of incense emanating from the temples, which can be quite nice. But then you also have some other not so nice odors mingling about town.
You’ve got a choice, either get ready to constantly be holding your breath while strolling along the streets, or get used to the smell that’ll definitely make you nauseous!!
Everywhere you turn, open-air garbage can be seen, just roasting in the sweltering heat. And on top of that, try adding the stench of the freely roaming Holy cows!! Ahhh, refreshing!! Just kidding! ;)
Despite our blasé attitude at the sight of the traveling holy men, one thing that still continued to surprise me, was crossing paths with India’s sacred creature .
And funny to see that every time a local crossed their path, they would pat it for good luck. Me, not quite yet at that point!! ;) Although, I am beginning to miss being able to order a nice juicy steak!!!
Let’s get that thought outta my mind!!! These animals are holy in this country, after all!!!
Ah, the food! To change up from the usual chapatti and lentils eaten so far, we were able to try a new Indian dish, the vegetarian dosa, a specialty from Southern India.
Quite tasty, although still missing me some meat!! Still adjusting to the vegetarian menu . . . a tough one for us meat-eaters!!
But enough about that, during our visit here, I also had the pleasure of witnessing the magic that takes place at dawn.
I just couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to observe the many pilgrims perform the rituals of devotion at the Ganga Ghats; so I decided to leave sleepy-head behind and strolled about the peaceful streets of Varanasi before sunrise.
What a privilege it was for me to witness the followers dip in and out of the Ganges, just purifying away their souls.
Oh and another unforgettable moment that deserves mentioning . . . The laughing yoga session I was able to see and even participate in!!! They had me cracking up just looking at them!! And yet still a great feeling of serenity reigned all about at this time of day.
Can’t forget to mention the huge difference between the ambiance given off before the sun rises and what’s felt throughout the day.
Gotta say that I much rather preferred the atmosphere at dawn. The calm and tranquility were so relaxing.
Yep, believe it or not . . . RELAXING!! Many would disagree that it’s possible here, and would beg to differ. But yes, I had a relaxing moment gazing at the worshippers!! Very peaceful!
At dawn, there’s this deep feeling of peacefulness, whereas during the day, it’s complete pandemonium, and at night there’s a whole other mood.
Great moments at various moments throughout the day . . . that’s awesome!
Thanks to Dippy, our couchsurfing friend, we were able to take part in a night-long worship ceremony performed through music. And wow, what an incredible cultural and musical experience!
Dhanyevaad, my frrrriiiieeeeend, for your kindness, for taking the time to show us around your city, and also for your pointers regarding yoga postures and how to go about it properly!!
Before leaving Varanasi, we also made sure to check out the fine-quality silk sarees made here .
Well, let’s say they weren’t in our budget. Negotiations were tough!! Perhaps, if I had left my Gringo outside, the prices would have been more reasonable. Oh well!!
Despite the few drawbacks here, there is no doubt that once you’ve looked past the inevitable filth all about, Varanasi is a nice representation of India!!
Benares is beautiful, with its touch of genuine franticness and spirituality just bursting at every corner! A true taste of India!
Depuis notre entrée dans le territoire indien, nous étions passés seulement par des petits villages. Notre arrivée à Varanasi fut un choc, d’autant plus que nous arrivâmes de nuit.
En sortant du pick-up, une dizaine d’hommes s’approchèrent et nous imposèrent presque de monter dans leur taxi pour nous amener dans un hôtel inconnu.
On était pas tombé de la dernière pluie. C’est à ce moment que l’on a pu constater la persévérance des indiens.
Ils nous ont suivi du début jusqu’à la fin de notre recherche de chambre d’hôtel, à peu près 2h, toutes les minutes, ils nous demandaient : montez dans le taxi ! C’est pas par là, c’est dangereux, ou bien c’est trop loin...
On n’était de toute façon plus déterminé qu’eux.
C’était un hôtel de luxe à 100 dollars la nuit. Mais bon, on le méritait après tout ce qu’on avait vécu.
Un hôtel à 100$ reste une chambre, une douche et une télé, rien de plus. On profita seulement du confort et de la chaîne HBO.
Le jour suivant, on se présentait devant les portes de la ville, Varanasi. Elle est dédiée au dieu Shiva.
C’est ici où à lieu les crémations. Ces corps qui sont brûlés sur un bûcher, puis qu’ils sont déversés sur le Gange.
Pendant notre séjour à Varanasi, c’était justement la cérémonie des crémations. Nous avons pu vivre cela en direct.
Il y avait plusieurs niveaux de crémations, dans plusieurs temples différents, la grandeur et la hauteur du temple était en rapport avec l’importance du défunt ou de la défunte.
Le bûcher aussi accorde une importance. On s’apercevra très rapidement qu’il est important en Inde de marquer sa statue sociale.
Durant ces cérémonies, les femmes sont interdites depuis quelques années, tout simplement car pendant la crémation elle sautait dans le feu.
Bien évidemment pour Juanita, elle fut mise vite au courant après avoir essayé de faire un reportage de plus près.
Pour l’architecture de la ville, les rues étaient vraiment très étroites, avec les vaches qui se baladaient. Cela rendait les rues très sales aussi.
On était vraiment en plein milieu de la culture indienne.
Le harcèlement des indiens était aussi inclus dans le package culturel, exemple, ils posaient les mêmes questions tous les jours : « D’où tu viens ? Qu’est-ce tu fais là ? Tu as faim ? Tu as soif ? Tu dors à quel hôtel ? » et cela continuellement, du matin jusqu’au soir !
Le premier jour, c’est rigolo, les jours suivants cela devient stressant, et le pire, c’est qu’ils n’écoutent pas quand vous leur répondez !
Personnellement, je n’ai pas bien vécu cette expérience tout le long de mon voyage en Inde.
Car ce questionnaire était gravé sur mon front. Il y avait même des tee-shirts que les touristes portes avec les réponses déjà toutes faites.
C’était plus malin, genre : non je n’ai pas soif, non je ne veux de taxi, non j’ai déjà mon hôtel, non j’ai déjà mangé...et non je ne veux un chappattis !
On avait un contact couchsurfing, ici à Varanasi, un indien, qui allait gentiment nous faire visiter les sites à ne pas manquer.
On participa a des cérémonies nocturnes. Malheureusement nous n’avions pas de guide.
Du coup, on ne comprenait pas la signification. On essayait parfois d’écouter ici et là, mais c’était vraiment délicat.
Pour ce qui était de manger, après 14 mois d’épices en tout genre ingurgité, nous n’avions aucun problème à goûter tout ce qui nous paraissait bon, des lentilles aux légumes etc.
Par contre, il fallait oublier la viande, les bêtes étant sacrées, vous pouvez faire une croix dessus, pas de steak, ni du cochon et encore moins du moutons.
Nous étions donc devenus sans le vouloir des végétariens.
Après avoir fait 10000 photos du Gange avec les gens qui se lavent dedans, des Hindous en tout genre, du vieux sorcier hindi au blanc maquillé de cendre, j’ai vraiment pu voir tout les genres d’étrangers, aussi bizarre les un que les autres, avec différents niveau de saleté !!!
Cette ville étant un concentré de tout, il y avait trop de choses à faire, mais les indiens m’ont vraiment déçu sur leur comportement. Continuellement sur mon dos en train de me poser toujours ces mêmes questions, c’est bien sûr mon avis personnel.