Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Go to Varanasi because it's Varanasi."

This is loooong overdue. For those reading my blog for the first time, I have a series of posts about my birthday trip to India last year. This is my fourth stop of the fifth. Varanasi.

My favorite place among the five. This is probably where I realized how unfriendly India is to tourists (not that the people are bad and unhelpful, don't get me wrong), but you have to go nevertheless. It is the most challenging place (in a lot of sense) I've been to, the most extreme; and I probably share this sentiment with those travelers who have experienced Varanasi. It is dirty, cow poop everywhere, noisy, more crowded than Delhi, and the streets are very narrow. The first time I stepped out of my guesthouse, I was walking with my head down, my eyes on the floor, afraid to step on poop and garbage. But, as a tourist who want to learn and have an adventure, I got used to all of these. And I started to appreciate its beauty. It is what it is. It's like Varanasi was telling me, 'Sorry tourist, but this is our religion. This is what we believe in.' Yes, they will bathe every morning in the muddy Ganga river together with their cows and a dead body a few meters from the shore, because they believe it will purify their souls. They won't clean the poop of their cows because their cows are holy. It is what it is.

Go to Varanasi because...

...of the river
Varanasi is considered one of the heart of Hinduism, and it is precisely why the place is so interesting, the reason why Varanasi is Varanasi. Temples or ghats line up the banks of the river. People perform their everyday rituals, chanting, bathing in the river, praying for the God of Ganga, and giving gratitude. The river is probably their life.

Serenity. View of the River before sunrise, before everything becomes busy.

Take a boat ride at sunrise to see the best of the Hindu morning ritual .

Start the morning right. Every morning, people gather to pray and bathe at the river Ganga for the belief that
in doing so, their sins will be cleansed and purify their souls. Such big family event!

A proof that the belief will live on. I was able to capture different generations performing this ritual,
from the grandfather, to the father, to the children. 

In this ghat, incineration of the dead takes place. It is forbidden to take a photo of the actual burning.

I cannot say go to Varanasi to see a dead body, but this is probably the climax of my trip-seeing a dead body, floating in the river while we were boating. I have heard of this, but I've never imagined I would witness it, and actually smell it! Our boat was about 300 meters away from him. I think I was the first one on the boat to notice the body from afar, and at that time I wasn't sure if it was really a person. So I asked the boatman what it is, and he said "A dead body",  in a very casual why-don't-you-know-that tone. I made the photo smaller for those who can't stand it, but you can click if you wanna see more detail.

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...of the ritual presentations

 Every night, Hindus perform this grand ritual for the god of Ganga river. People flock on the stairs of the ghat facing the river to join in the celebration.

 ...of the streets

I like walking in the narrow streets of Varanasi. It is a feast of the senses! It's a market of bad and fine products, good food, with a mix of chanting from the smaller temples. It's very colorful and lively.

Selling flowers for offering to the gods

I love these cows! People will stop for them to let them pass first.

One of the many colorful streets 

A typical morning scene. A woman cleaning the front of her house (but not including the cow poops).
A lot of the architectural structures here are Mughal inspired.

Really crowded alley

The Baba. 

The street market/parking

The street market set up at around 5pm onwards. Anything you need I guess is here.

...of whatnots in the riverbanks

Minding one's own business. A woman sleeps  on the stairs going to the riverbank .

A man dressing up after taking a dip in the Ganga river. He looks like a statue in his rightful place.

Chocolate boys. It rained really hard one afternoon in Varanasi. And these boys were scouring the waters taken down
from the city for whatever useful like coins. After the rain, they somehow gathered. 

When I remember Varanasi, I think of three adjectives--challenging, real, and a feast of the senses.And I think it's why people from all over the world go here. I would definitely consider going back here. 

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