by Carlos Melia
Varanasi, is a city located on the banks of River Ganges, known to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India. A destination were tradition, legend, mysticism, and deep religious believes by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Muslims all coexist right before your eyes. Varanasi is also known as Benares or Kashi.
We flew from New Delhi to Varanasi, in the north of India, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi is the city were Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river’s religious importance. Referred as the city of temples, the oldest living city in the world or the holy city of India, all correct and representing part of my experience while there.
As soon as you walk along the Ganges, you will see the Ghats, series of steps leading down to the water. This will be your first interaction with the Ganges, the holy cows coming right from the water and the locals, which believe me, here in Varanasi come in every type, color and form. “¨”¨
Mother River Ganges
Ganges or Ganga, as known by locals, believed to have descended from heaven to earth, is the mother river and consider to be the most sacred river to Hindus and is also a lifeline to millions of Indians who live along its course and depend on it for their daily needs. The story tells that the waters of the Ganges came to the earth to create life. But since the torrent of water coming from the skies to the earth would have destroyed all life form on the planet, Shiva major Hindu deity, used the locks of hair in his head to let the waters runs smoothly and form the Ganges.”¨
Hindus pay homage to their ancestors and gods by cupping her water in their hands, lifting it and letting it fall back into her. Flowers and rose petals and float clay dishes topped with oil and lit with wicks are offered. When a loved one dies, they return to the Ganges to consign the ashes to her custody
(video) View from the Ghats of the mother River Ganges in Varanasi
(video) Views over River Ganges in Varanasi
(flickr album) Mother Ganges River
Hindus consider the waters of the Ganges to be both pure and purifying. Early mornings are the best time to experience the Ganges. Locals flock to take their daily holly bath, said to have mystical properties, and the power to wash away your sins not only for the present, but of a lifetime. Ganges might be the most sacred river in the world, but also know as the world’s top five most polluted waters. So as you take your holy bath, at the same time you will find those doing their laundry, the cows swimming and roaming around, boats sailing, same as the sewage from many cities and industrial waste.”¨”¨
So the question that everyone asks themselves is, should I get in and dip deep into the holy waters of the Ganges or not ? I woke up at 5.30AM and came to the stream of the river. I was determined to take my holy dip, but the advice of some locals, friends and some research I did, made me change my mind. It might be holiest, but it is also the most polluted. Anyhow images speak for themselves on how special and sacred this river is, the choice is yours.
No place along the banks of the Ganges is more longed for at the moment of death by Hindus than Varanasi, the Great Cremation Ground or Mahashmshana. If you are lucky enough to die in Varanasi, and cremated on the banks of her, Hindus believe you granted instant salvation. If death has occurred elsewhere, salvation can only be achieved by dipping the in the waters of Ganges. Unfortunately, while visiting one of the burning Ghats, I was not allowed to do photos or videos of this ceremony, which as for today, I still remember with mixed feelings between darkness and light, evil and good.”¨”¨
Street Markets of Varanasi
Experience the busy street markets of Varanasi, walk through the alleys, and indulge your senses with local aromas and flavors of curry, cardamom and coriander. Try the local street food, if you dare, like I did. A festival to the eye and the spirit.
Ganga Aarti Ceremony
A must do and see experience, when visiting Varanasi. India always has that particular way of challenging and shocking senses, with its harsh reality and traditions. Ganga Aarti ceremony, a Hindu religious ritual of worship, which takes place over the stream of the holly river Ganges thus Ganga Aarti, is without a doubt, one of them. One of the most interesting things I have seen and experienced during 2011. “¨”¨
Varanasi is a very special, spiritual destination. I have never felt so much peace and mysticism in one place, but at the same time I connected with a very dark side of the Hinduism, which far from scaring me, created a very particular bond with their believes. I think that images and videos will speak for themselves.
Just want to share with you, a brief intro and explanation to the meaning of Aarti, and the special meaning of seeing it in Varanasi right at the shores of the mother river Ganges.
We took our boat from our hotel Shivala Ghat, and sailed along the river, approaching the ceremony epicenter. Hundreds of boats sail from all areas of the Ganges to have their place, at this traditional ceremony. It is amazing to see how this happened. Boats kept approaching and gathering around the circle were Aarti took place. “¨”¨
Aarti is said to have descended from the Vedic – religion previous and more ancient than Hinduism – concept of fire rituals. The traditional Aarti ceremony, represents one’s entire existence and all facets of material creation symbolically offered to the Lord. Solidity, represented by the flower symbolizing the earth. Liquidity, by the water and accompanying handkerchief. Heat, by the lamp or candle, representing the fire component. Movement, by the peacock fan conveying the precious quality of air. Space, by the yak-tail fan, representing the form of ether. Incense represents a purified state of mind, where one’s intelligence is offered through the adherence to rules of timing and order of offerings.
(video) Ganga Aarti Ceremony in Varanasi India “¨
(video) Ganga Aarti Ceremony in Varanasi India
(video) Indian rhythms at the Ganges River
(video) Indian rhythms at the Ganges River
(video) Kids offering Masala Tea during Ganga Aarti
(flickr Album) Ganga Aarti in Varanasi
Other must do and see are
Vishwanath Temple or Golden Temple. Kaal Bhairav Temple with the image of Lord Shiva symbolizing death. Sarnath, site where Buddha gave his first sermon to his disciples after defeating the evil forces of Mara and getting enlightenment. Ram Nagar Fort. Gauri Matha Temple, the obligated visit for those departing Varanasi and willing to yield results of visiting the holy shrines and bathing in the Ganges. “¨”¨
We stayed at the Suryauday Haveli on Shivala Ghat right on the stream of the Ganges River, and although the hotel was very basic, the WiFi was slow to non existent and the service was average, I must say that I would have not wanted to stay anywhere else. The fact of being able to walk from my room right to the Ganges River in less than five minutes, made my experience of Varanasi. This time I was not looking for material luxury, my search was on luxury experiences. Built by the Royal Family of Nepal as a retreat for the aged. Its now been painstakingly put together again to provide the best ghat experience in Varanasi. Suryodaya Haveli comprises of one river facing master suite, eight river facing rooms and five en-suites each fitted out attached bath, air-conditioning, direct dial telephones and cable television. Literally like out of the movies, my own “The Best Marigold Hotel” experience.
Special thanks to Out Journeys Gay Holidays and Tours to India, for putting together such an amazing itinerary for us, that took us on only seven days from New Delhi to Varanasi, Jaipur, Agra and Bharatpur. Soon I will be sharing more on my experiences in India.”¨”¨
Till next adventure in full luxury. Carlos Melia
Carlos Melia is a Travel Expert, Blogger, Niche Marketing Consultant, Jetsetter, and Bon Vivant, who travels around the world discovering what’s new and cool in Luxury Travel and Hospitality. His reviews on hotels, restaurants, destinations, and attractions, based on his own experiences as an OUT Gay Traveler can be found at www.carlosmeliablog.com
(*) Source of information for this article by Wikipedia