Posted in Travel in India

Varanasi: Spiritual and Serene

Varanasi was the next most important place to visit after Agra for me. It is well known to be a spiritual destination and pilgrims come from all over the world to pray here. Each evening an Aarti is held on the river bank and there are always thousands of people who come to witness the prayers and obtain blessings.

The atmosphere created by smoke wafting from the ghats, faintly ringing bells, chanting mantras, flowers floating on the river set against the backdrop of a soft misty sunrise or sunset is strangely serene and beautiful.

It feels esoteric and that you have been let into a secret world like nothing you have experienced before. Your first thought is that you would love to share this magic energy with everyone you hold near and dear… and those loved ones who have departed immediately pop into your mind.

Then you hear about the people waiting in the surrounding apartments to return to the river and you think yeah, I get it.

India’s holiest city is bound to have an impact on you.

Here religious feeling reigns supreme, and no sensual thought ever seems to assail these beauteous mingled forms. They come into unconscious contact with each other but only heed the river, the sun, and the splendor of the morning in a dream of ecstasy.

Pierre Loti

THINGS TO DO

A boat ride at either sunrise or sunset (or both) is a must. It can be a scramble to find your boat and boatman but to be well prepared and hassle free you should make a booking at your hotel or book this Sunrise Boat Ride with Ghats & Morning Rituals Tour. This morning boat ride tour will give you the real view of holy Varanasi, where you will see the morning rituals, special features of the various Ghats that you will pass along the way and burning ghat where the dead are cremated.

Don’t take photos at the Manikarnika ghat or cremation ghat.

Watch out for fake priests or sadhus who will offer flowers or want to take a photo with you then ask for money. Your guide will help you to choose a bona fide flower seller if you wish to purchase a small bowl with flowers and a candle to float in the river and pray in your own personal way.

There will be lots of splashing and hopping from one boat to another. I have not stepped into the river for a holy dip but I have splashed the holy water onto my head and over my body several times. Yes, I know some droplets went into my mouth but I tried not to get too freaked out. The water is polluted, more in some parts than in others, that is apparent by the rubbish and the amount of people that bathe here and ultimately die here.

I’m okay with getting water on me but I prefer to keep my mouth tightly closed when near or on the river.

Walking Tours: The streets of Varanasi are ancient and fascinating. Varanasi is considered to be the oldest living city in the world. But you are sure to get lost wandering the narrow alleys and streets so we suggest a walking tour or two. This is also highly recommended if you are keen on discussing philosophy with your guide in an effort to come to terms with this place of birth and death.

Groovy Tours

  • Northern Bazaars & Hidden Alleys
  • Death & Rebirth in Banaras

Varanasi Evening Street Food Tour

Trip to Sarnath, the world-famous Buddhist site, which is situated about 10 km (6 miles) northeast of Varanasi city. This was the place where the Buddha delivered his first sermon in the Deer Park in 528 B.C that is also known as Dhamma Chakra Pravartan, meaning “The Wheel of Law turns”

WHERE TO STAY

Buddhist Stupa, Sarnath

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To read about my full India trip experience including itinerary, attractions, tips etc please click here

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