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Varanasi and the Holy Ganges

INDIA | Friday, 14 March 2014 | Views [1914]

Morning ablutions, Varanasi

Morning ablutions, Varanasi

VARANASI AND THE HOLY GANGES are on every visitor’s short list.  At its best, Varanasi is a photographer’s dream; there is something (or someone) colorful and interesting around every corner.  At its worst, the city is loud, dirty and smelly, the touts and rickshaw wallahs are relentless and the Ganges, the holy river of Hinduism, is a sewer.  Hotel Buddha, our digs, is an oasis from the noise but only a bicycle rickshaw ride the attractions, a great choice.

ricksh

   Bicycle rickshaw ride

The action takes place along the ghats, long stretches of concrete stairs leading from the maze of alleys to the river itself.  Stairways, as it were, down to heaven.  Beginning in the early morning, hoards of devoted Hindus descend the stairs to perform their daily ablutions, cleansing both the body and soul – though I question how clean the filthy water could make the body. 

dgha

      Dasawamedh Ghat

Evening seems to be more about tourists, Indian and foreigners alike, who clamber onboard rickety rowboats for an evening cruise and river views of the ghats.  Nighttime is good for seeing the “burning ghats” where cremations take place.  It is considered especially symbolic to have your cremated remains deposited into the Ganges, symbolic if not sanitary.  Firewood for the pyre is calculated on the size of the deceased; you don’t want to pay for extra wood but you need enough to do the job. 

pyre

   Harishchandra "burning" Ghat by night

Everyone drifts down to Dasawamedh Ghat where the boats raft together to watch the ganga aarti river worship ceremony. Then the scrawny underfed oarsmen strain against the current to return to their dock.

upstream

   Fighting the current

I don’t subscribe to religion in general, ones with hundreds of gods in particular, but I did dip my toe into the water just 'cause.  And we floated a couple of candles on the Ganges in memory of our good friend who recently died after a long illness.  Be at peace, Cathy.

 

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