This is the continuation of a photo essay documenting my travels through India! Grab a cup of chai and join me on my journey… don’t forget to visit the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple, Wagah, and Pushkar while you’re here!
We have now arrived in Varanasi; one of, if not the, most sacred place in all of India.
We arrived in Varanasi via an overnight train from New Delhi, an experience which results in one of my funniest stories to date. My traveling partner and I had just settled into our bunk beds, sharing a four person compartment with two men in Muslim pajamas who grunted and stared before rolling over and going to bed. Before dozing off however, one of the men decided to ask if we were Christian. “Uh oh” I thought. Now, I have no particular religious affiliation but my traveling partner nodded in agreement. The answer didn’t seem to faze our neighbour one way or the next but just to be sure, I bought a cup of chai (one of my most cherished memories is the chai boy on the train yelling “chai chai! chai chai!” and decided to sleep with one eye open.
Unfortunately, as the night crept on I fell asleep only to be awakened by the noise of someone wiping something off the seat directly across from me. I paid no attention and turned around, hugging the wall in an effort to ease my growing discomfort and make time go by faster. As I discovered upon waking the next morning, the intrusive character from the night before – Sir grunts and stares a lot – had eaten a small bag of cookies that I’d placed on a hook next to my bed! Note, this were the only cookies I bought during my entire trip to India. The big oaf had eaten every single cookie in the middle of the night and that was responsible for the wiping sound, as crumbs and remnants of my cookies fell to the floor. As pestered as I was that the intimidating man had eaten my cookies, I can’t help but think back fondly at my overnight train experience in India – I mean, come on, it could have been worse and it makes a pretty good story.
Back to Varanasi and the mystical river Ganges. A pilgrimage for Hindus, particulars those making final preparations for their last days on earth, the Ganges river is said to hold the powers to wash away the sin of all mortals.
While I had arrived a day early in Varanasi, the most important part of my visit began around 5:30am as I boarded a small fishing boat in order to see the waking of the Ganges by sunrise. Every day, the water welcomes hundreds of Hindus who bath and perform devotions near one of the many ghats that lead down to the river.
Varanasi, a place some say is the oldest city on earth, has always been held in high esteem. For centuries, noblemen from all over India built palaces (secondary palaces) near the riverside. This way, they could retreat to the holy city, bathe in the gifts of the Ganges, and cleanse themselves, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Cremation ceremonies also take place in designated facilities around the river, the ashes of which are then floated down the river. Bodies too sometimes find their way down the water as the Ganges alongside diyas (clay dishes filled with petals and candles) that pay homage to ancestors and Gods alike.