Experiencing Varanasi

March 15, 2012 India 7 Comments 14,325 Views

Experiencing Varanasi In Just A Few Days.

When you arrive in Varanasi by train, you will be overwhelmed by the masses of people that frequent this train station at any given time of any given day. It is always (!) packed with people and pilgrims, which is understandable since it’s one of the holiest cities in the world.

A Good Start To Explore Varanasi.

A good start for an unforgettable stay is if you book a room in a hotel along the holy river Ganges. This is where all the action happens 24/7. It’s best of course if you get a room that overlooks the river (Alka Hotel / Room 105 is a great bet).

There are many must-visit places in Varanasi, and a good start is a walk along the Ghats, which will be a very rewarding experience. Every minute you’ll get to see something interesting. People bathing, shampooing, shaving their hair, resting, placing flowers on to the water or the occasional corpse drifting downriver. Not everybody is cremated, that’s why this is nothing out of the ordinary: pregnant women, children, people who died from a snakebite and holy people. They are “set free” into the Ganges River and well, their bodies occasionally show up at the surface again. You will also get to see (if you’re “lucky”) dogs gnawing on bones which were not cremated properly … yes you will get to see things that you only see in India.

The cremation process itself work like this: the bodies arrive strapped to the car roofs at a certain place outside the old city and is then carried through the little alleys down to the cremation Ghats, where hectic activities are going on all day long. Some Indian guy told us that about 100 people are cremated every day. This needs a lot of firewood and a lot of people to build the fireplaces. Certain wood is used for the cremation process, to keep the smoke and the smell as little as possible.

Walking through the small alleys of Varanasi is like walking through a maze … you need a while to manage this but after a while you’ve got the knack of it. If you stroll away from the main attractions you get to see curiosities like a local gym for example. Imagine, 45 degrees outside and people working out …

There are also some rooftop restaurants, which don’t get to see many foreigners but never the less; they have great food and very attentive service. You simply have to be eager to check out things, this is most important in every city if you ask me.

After a long day walk, crossing the double-Decker bridge across the Ganges river to the East is interesting as well because on top is the local traffic and underneath pass the trains. The bridge is huge and fluctuates especially when a train crosses (somehow a bit scary). The bridge is very high above the river and about one kilometre long. After arriving on the other side, we started walking back to Varanasi along the river shore and got hold of a local fisherman who was very happy to row us upwards the river back to our hotel. He was chewing some leaves all the time and we were wondering what it was. He explained that the leaves give him some sort of “boost” to keep him rowing. I guess they worked because he was one hell of a fast rower. It was clear that he know what he was doing and even the strong current didn’t bother him.

The days in Varanasi went by really fast, too fast actually, therefore we will be exploring this very exciting city in summer again!

The city of Varanasi has grown along the arc of the Ganges, with the river as a focal point in one direction and growth of the city taking place in a semi-circular direction.
The city of Varanasi has grown along the arc of the Ganges, with the river as a focal point in one direction and growth of the city taking place in a semi-circular direction.
Alka Hotel offers one of the most spectacular views of Varanasi's skyline.
Alka Hotel offers one of the most spectacular views of Varanasi’s skyline.
A simple stroll along the Ghats in Varanasi will give you hundreds of wonderful photo opportunities.
A simple stroll along the Ghats in Varanasi will give you hundreds of wonderful photo opportunities.
Dogs roam the streets of Varanasi.
Dogs roam the streets of Varanasi.
You'll never get enough from walking through the side streets of Varanasi. It's a real colour explosion.
You’ll never get enough from walking through the side streets of Varanasi. It’s a real colour explosion.
The city of Varanasi has grown along the arc of the Ganges, with the river as a focal point in one direction and growth of the city taking place in a semi-circular direction.
The best way to explore the city is to get lost in the alleyways – the sounds, sight and smells are unbelievable. Walk along the ghats and up to the sights, this will give you the best impression of the city.
Varanasi is sacred to Hindus and also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In many ways Varanasi epitomises the very best and worst aspects of India, and it can be a little overwhelming.
Varanasi is sacred to Hindus and also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In many ways Varanasi epitomises the very best and worst aspects of India, and it can be a little overwhelming.
There are several markets in Varanasi that are well worth a trip.
There are several markets in Varanasi that are well worth a trip.
Mark Twain, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Varanasi, once wrote: "Benaras (as Varanasi was once called) is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together".
Mark Twain, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Varanasi, once wrote: “Benaras (as Varanasi was once called) is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”.
Walk Get lost in the alleyways - the sounds, sight and smells are just unbelievable! Walk along the ghats and up to the sights. The best way to explore Varanasi is by foot.
The best way to explore the city is to get lost in the alleyways – the sounds, sight and smells are unbelievable. Walk along the ghats and up to the sights, this will give you the best impression of the city.
People use the Ganges river for bathing, laundry, washing, eating, cleaning utensils, and brushing teeth.
People use the Ganges river for bathing, laundry, washing, eating, cleaning utensils, and brushing teeth.
We randomly ended up in this local gym in Varanasi.
We randomly ended up in this local gym in Varanasi.
Malviya Bridge is a double decker bridge over the Ganges river in Varanasi. It carries rail track on lower deck and road on the upper deck. It is one of the major bridges on the Ganges.
Malviya Bridge is a double decker bridge over the Ganges river in Varanasi. It carries rail track on lower deck and road on the upper deck. It is one of the major bridges on the Ganges.
There is some resentment for tourists trespassing through the cremation ghats in Varanasi. You can take photographs from a distance, but you shouldn't come too close out of respect.
There is some resentment for tourists trespassing through the cremation ghats in Varanasi. You can take photographs from a distance, but you shouldn’t come too close out of respect.
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7 Comments

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“Experiencing Varanasi In Just A Few Days.”

  1. This sounds like an amazing place to visit. Such a different way of life. I’m not sure if I could handle seeing bodies floating down the river but all these gorgeous and interesting photos are making me so excited to visit India!

  2. Nisa

    Yeah, I totally get what you mean Monica. Before we decided to visit Varanasi, we did a lot of research and found out, that it was going to be (very) likely to see a dead body floating by in the Ganges river. Of course, this is unnatural for us but in India it’s not even that special – it’s actually a “normal” process. Being “buried” in the Ganges in Varanasi is one of the holiest ways. People from all over India come here to die in peace. Knowing this made it easier but (for me) that thought passed as soon as we saw the first one floating by …
    When are you planning on visiting India? This summer right?

  3. God I love you guys! Great photos as usual and an interesting story. I’ve just finished reading Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure, have you heard of it? Anyway, now I’m obsessed with India so thanks for sharing your travels there!

  4. Hi,it`s a pleasure following your trip to India.If everything went right I could look down on you in Alka Hotel from the Ganpati Guesthouse.Sadly I could not go and had to change plans. Would have been funny to meet you there because I discovered your comments to some of my Flickr-Pics short time ago.Explore the holy city on the banks of Mother Ganga.For me it`s one of the most impressive sites in the world.

    Christian
    …warum habe ich das eigentlich nicht auf Deutsch bgeschrieben…?

  5. Nisa

    @Vicky: Thanks so much for your lovely words about the photos :) No, we haven’t read it but the title is appealing so we’ll look into it ;) Have a great start into the week!

    @Christian: Thanks for your comment. India is an amazing country and we hope to explore much more of it! Who knows … maybe one day we’ll meet during our travels ;) Guten Start in die Woche :)

  6. Yup, I’ve missed the chance to visit Varanasi because I’ve screwed up my plans by not purchasing train tickets in advance (lesson learnt). But anyway, this place surely is one hell of a place. And yes, those floating bodies. Not sure if I can handle that.

  7. Nisa

    Oh that’s too bad Amer. If you get the chance to visit Varanasi, definitely do so.
    Of course one needs to have the guts to do so … or maybe guts is the wrong word, but it’s nothing for the faint-hearted to see dead people floating in the river. We always think that this is the way of live in India and this makes things a bit easier…
    Best, Nisa

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