||VAWN HIMMELSBACH, Chic Savvy Travels
No visit to India is complete without a stop at one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the country, and one of the more adventurous — and daunting — destinations for foreign travelers. It’s chaotic, colourful and overwhelming, but it’s quintessential India. Just come prepared with patience and a sense of humour.
The ghats of Varanasi, India. Photo by Vawn Himmelsbach
According to legend, Varanasi — also known as Banaras or Kashi (City of Light) — was founded by the Hindu deity Lord Shiva about 5,000 years ago.
Now it’s one of seven sacred Hindu cities, about 3,000 years old, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Hindu pilgrims travel here to wash away their sins in the holy River Ganges or cremate their loved ones on the banks of the river (which is believed to offer liberation from the karmic cycle of life and death).
Varanasi’s Old City — a labyrinth of narrow, winding alleyways, called galis – is clustered around the banks of the River Ganges, where you’ll find Hindu temples, pilgrims offering puja (offerings or prayers) and cows hanging out in busy traffic, seemingly oblivious to the chaos around them.
A priest on the banks of the River Ganges, Varanasi. Photo by Vawn Himmelsbach
Walk — if you dare — or hire a rickshaw to head to the ghats (a landing or steps beside a river), where you can hire a boat to watch life unfold on the banks of the River Ganges. Boats typically cost about 50 rupees per person per hour (which is around $1.25), but you’ll have to be skilled at bargaining to get that price.
Most ghats are intended for bathing, but burning ghats serve as sites for public cremations (you can watch, but it’s prohibited to take photos of cremations).
During the evening around 7 p.m., a group of priests gather in front of Dashashwamedh ghat, where a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga, Surya (the sun), Agni (fire) and the universe — an impressive sight.
River Ganges, Varanasi. Photo by Vawn Himmelsbach
It’s also worth getting up early (around 5:30 a.m.) to head back down to the ghats as the sun rises over the River Ganges, where you’ll find people saying prayers, washing clothes and doing yoga.
You may be tempted to wash away your sins by dipping a toe in these holy waters, but keep in mind the water is heavily polluted. There are 116 cities that line the banks of the River Ganges, which regularly dump their sewage into the river — not to mention body parts left over from cremations. You may decide, in the end, you’d rather live with your sins.
Click here to read about how to photograph the ghats in India’s holiest city.
Copyright @ 2012 Chic Savvy Travels
Date Added: April 1, 2012 | Comments (0)
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