Varanasi at the Ganges: where life and death meet

Yesterday we left the monastery at 5 am and drove to Varanasi. A city more than 2700 years old. It is considered to be one of the oldest cities in the world that still exists. The Hindu’s consider it the holy city as it was here that Shiva bathed in the Ganges. They believe that bathing in the Ganges, especially at sunrise, washes away all your sins. So we left early, with a guide, to see the sun rise on a boat.

It was magical. We let float some candles with flowers as an offering to the Ganga and Shiva. Then we saw a beautiful sunrise.

On the walk towards the steps going into the Ganges, we saw many people sleeping in the streets. The guide told us that people came here to die. They believe that if they die near the Ganges they will be relieved from rebirth in samsara. There are hostels for them, but many have not enough money to pay for both a hostel and the wood for the cremation. So they just lie here in the streets waiting for their immanent death. To be cremated afterwards.

But usually families bring their loved ones to be cremated here, if they have enough money to buy the wood necessary for a traditional cremation. Else they use the electric crematorium which is much cheaper. So we see corpses lying in wait to be cremated.

After the boat trip we went for a beautiful breakfast in one of the castles originally buitl by a Maha Radja. These Maha Radjas built their palaces right at the border of the river and constructed staircases to the river called Gaht. Each Gaht wears the name of the rich guy that had it constructed.

In the pictures you can see how high the water gets during the monsoon. We had a beautiful view there. And after that we crossed through many small streets packed with people. We saw the Golden Temple right beside the large mosque, which has given lots of trouble in the recent past. It is unbelievable to see the hundreds of people packed in small allies to wait for their turn to visit the Golden Temple. They are now tearing down the surrounding houses to create more space for all these pilgrims. But we have learned enough of India to realise that it will take many years before this reconstruction is finished. In the mean time people wait patently. We also met some warrior sadhus smoking their chilum, memories of long past bubled up.

After this we went to the largest university of India and visited the temple there.

We see here the statue of Shiva one of the three main gods of the hindu pantheon (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) and patron of the university. He is depicted typically with his Trident and a mace and he is known for his destructive power. Everywhare in Varanasi we see him.

After the university the guide brought us to the place this city has been known for 3 thousand years, namely the silk weavers. As Varanasi was an important stop on the silk route.

Here they weave the fine silk cloths. It is mixed with very fine gold threat and silver, then you get brocade. I completely fell in love with these fabrics and spent way too much money on them. And then we were brought to a spa where we received a 90 minute ayurvedic massage with hot oil pouring on  my forehead. It was delicious. After a good Indian meal we were taken to the riverside again to watch the daily ceremony refeering Shiva. A large crowd had gathered there and after some chanting a group of seven Brahmin came forth and performed a stunning ceremony using food, incense and fire as an offering.

Five minutes before the end our driver told us to start moving back in order not to get caught by the crowd. It was a weird experience walking through the street with cars, bycicles, motor cycles, hand drawn carts coming from every direction at you. We had no choice but to walk straight throug without looking what we were doing. Somehow we came out unscatched. That is India for you.