I left Agra for Varanasi via an overnight train which was quite the adventure! thank goodness I slept for most of the 12 hour trip and never once did I have to use the toilet. I arrived in Varanasi early in the morning feeling well rested and ready to hit the ground running. Varanasi or Benaras, is one of the oldest living cities in the world. It's located in northern India and on the banks of the Ganges river which is considered sacred and holly by Hindus.
Hindus also believe that if one dies in Varanasi then they will attain salvation and freedom from the circle of life and rebirth. This gives you an idea of how important this city is to Hindus, it is the ultimate pilgrimage city for them and many wish to die here, Heck! I would too, if I shared the same beliefs. I mentioned that I was ready to hit the ground running upon my arrival, so that's exactly what I did. I met with my tour guide and driver and off we went to check out the first point of interest, starting with Sarnath.
Sarnath - this is an archeological site situated north of Varanasi. This place is very important to buddhists because this is where Buddha delivered his first sermon. Buddhists from all over the world make pilgrimages to this site. I got to learn about the history of Buddha and Buddhism as my guide and I walked around the site then checked out a nearby museum that had recovered relics from the site, it was very interesting.
Wat Thai Temple - this is one of the most popular Buddhist temples in Sarnath and the main highlight of this temple is the 80 feet statue of Buddha in standing position. The project to complete this statue took 14 years, construction started in 1997 and the statue was unveiled in 2011.
Ganga Aarti - this is a prayerful ceremony held every evening at Dashashwamedh ghat (steps leading to the river Ganges). It get's really crowded as you can see from the photos below. It was a fascinating ceremony to watch and something highly recommended to check out while in Varanasi, just be prepared for the crowds.
The different Hindu gods displayed on a building as were heading toward the ghat.
People heading to the evening ceremony
Unfortunately it started raining heavily so we had to leave the ceremony early but at least I had observed a big portion of it. The next morning which was my last day in the city, we headed back to Dashashwamedh ghat at around 6 am and the place was buzzing with activity already. I got to see people bathing in the Ganges, went on a boat ride along the river as my guide told me more about Hindu rituals and beliefs then checked out some temples. I am summarizing everything because it's a lot of information that I am just too tired to get into it, but I hope you enjoy the photos.
Interesting story about Kumiko house below. Years ago, I believe in the 70s, a Japanese lady visited Varanasi and fell in love with one of the boat men at the Ganges. They got married and she moved to India to be with him, she built this guest house which I was told is pretty popular with Japanese tourists that visit Varanasi.
On the Ganges you will see many floating flower arrangements, I was told that these are offerings and what you do is light a small candle in the middle of the flower arrangement, say one wish that you would like to come true then put the offering in the river. I made my wish then put the flower offering in the river
PS: reason why I was wearing sunglasses when clearly it was an overcast day is because I got a horrible ear infection and the left side of my face was swollen including my eye, thank goodness for my braids which managed to hide how swollen my face really was.
Checked out a couple of temples
In front of the statue of Patanjali, according to sources he systemized and codified the existing yoga practices, he was a sage who authored the Yoga Sutras, a classic yoga text dating back 200 BC - 200 CE.
That's it folks! I saw what I needed to see in Varanasi and it was time to head back to Delhi. I was supposed to take another overnight train but decided to take a local flight which would only last slightly over an hour. I wasn't about to spend hours on the train again.
Random Thoughts of the Day:
I love Indian food but for some reason my appetite just hasn't been present during this trip, maybe it's because I am moving around a lot plus I am also cautious about what I eat because I don't want to end up with running stomach.
As much as I love seeing vibrant cities with people walking along the streets, the crowded streets of the parts of India that I have visited, are on another level. The crowds, the noise, the shoving, it's a lot! never have I missed a quiet park where you can just sit and decompress while still enjoying the outdoors.
I have been getting stares everywhere I go and I don't think anyone can beat Indians with a stare back. I tried to out stare several people but it hasn't worked so far, it's like some of these folks are in a trance or something. Someone will literally stand in front of me and just stare, it's so bizarre and I have never seen anything quite like it.
I came across a woman holding a child while begging on the street in Varanasi, my guide told me that a lot of these women are professional beggars. They have kids every 3 or so years then use the kids to garner sympathy while begging on streets. This is literally like a job for them, he said this happens all over India and they drug the kids a little bit so that they don't cry while the mother is walking around begging. Poor kids!
Considering all the pollution that does into the Ganges river, I was wondering about the safety of people bathing in it. My guide insisted that the minerals in the water do not allow for infections and some people even drink that water. Yikes!