Varanasi: The Ganges, Prayers and Sunrise, and Buddha's First Sermon

Friday, 9 September 2016

This is one of the post I have been most excited for editing pictures, well in India at least (I have a favourite for each country I was in). Varanasi was a mad place, so busy and so vibrant but also incredibly beautiful, and it left a huge impression on me for many many reasons.
The light was just beautiful in Varanasi and there were so many different types to photograph beautiful things in so I just had so much fun taking pictures here, hence why there are so many. It's vibrant, colourful, loud, busy, beautiful, and most other things you expect an Indian city to be,

So first off we arrive by sleeper train, and it hadn't been the best nights sleep of my life, so everyone was feeling just a little disorientated as we made our way out of the packed station and into out tuk tuks. It was also pretty hot and all I wanted was some proper breakfast and a lie down; mainly because someone had stolen my hobnobs on the train which I was very disappointed about. But that's why you don't leave things on the table on a sleeper train.
 So as I sad Varanasi is crazy busy, it's one of the only places in India I saw traffic at a real standstill. Though a lot of Varanasi is taken up by tiny backstreets all interwoven, which are  just as busy most of the time. You'll have people on motorbikes trying to pass a cow and fifteen other people in one little bit and then turn the corner and you're in an empty street. You'd also frequently see people walking past carrying dead bodies wrapped in their orange cloth, through the streets to the cremation grounds.
If you do travel to Varanasi you will come across an area that's heavily guarded by police, this is an area that you can't take photos in and in the centre of it is a temple that non Hindus are not allowed in. This is because of the bombings in Varanasi in 2006 and 2010. But it is still worth a walk past just for the experience, it's the first time I've seen a temple with a detector on the outside and there are always so many people cramming in with armfuls of flowers and other offerings, and there's a security screen so you can briefly see the inside of the temple with people constantly going in.
You'll also find (I did when I got lost a few times) that wander round for long enough in the smaller streets and you'll end up on a ghat, and there you are steps away from the River Ganges. Suddenly you go from crowded backstreets to open water; well not that open there are hundreds of boats and people along the Ganges but it's quite quiet at certain times of the day.
So later on in the day we wen't along the river and went to view the cremation grounds which I guess isn't for everyone but I'm so glad that I went. Not in a morbid way that I like seeing dead bodies burning but you can clearly see a different attitude to death that Hinduism has. Of course there were people bringing the bodies to the cremation ground mourning but in the river just next to the cremation grounds there were kids having swimming lessons and people enjoying their lives and it was refreshing. People didn't seem to be disgusted by the dead bodies passing them every so often or bothered by dead bodies burning near them.
One thing I don't like about the Hindu view of death is the fact that they don't cremate people with cholera, they put them straight in the Ganges. Now I understand the reason is not wanting to send bad air up towards the gods but putting people who have had cholera into water is not safe at all. Putting dead bodies into water people swim in full stop isn't safe. And apparently on the other side of the river there is a place where all the dead bodies wash up; beautiful. Now this isn't me bashing Hinduism but surely there's a safer way to dispose of bodies you don't want to cremate?
And with all this the Ganges is septic, I wasn't going in there. It didn't actually look as bad as I thought it would though, there was a film of ick in the top but I didn't see as much rubbish in the river as I thought I would.
 And later that day after eating and taking a well deserved nap we were back to the Ganges and this time on a boat to go and see the Prayer to the Ganges. This happens every single night and it is crazy how many people come and watch it. I am very glad I was on a boat rather than the Ghats because not only did I have a million and one things to photography I also wasn't crammed in with a million and one other people.
I have a lot of pictures from the Prayer to the Ganges first of all because it was pretty cool and secondly because it was low light and that is my favourite kind of light. There were people wandering from boat to boat with candles, there was the bright light of the ceremony on the Ghats, and people everywhere. I was spoilt for choice while trying to take all my photos and enjoy the experience too.
And then once we'd watched enough of the ceremony to see what was going on and try to take it all in we were off into a quieter and darker part to light our own candles and set them in the River. Even as a non-Hindu it was a nice time to reflect and think about what I wanted for the rest of my travels. Then I had to get my tour guide to put my candle in the river because my arms were too short to place the candle in without risk of falling in.
Then it was off back to the hotel for a well deserved, but short, rest ready for a 4:30am wake-up the next morning.
So we almost missed our 4:30am meeting time, I had an alarm set and I could've sworn I did get out of bed but next thing I know there's a really loud noise (which I thought was the fire alarm) and I check my phone and it's 4:45. Turns out our tour guide is ringing us from reception because we fell asleep after three alarms. I've never gotten dressed so quickly before but we made it and got to the boat before the best part of sunrise and it was oh so worth it.
 Sitting in a boat trying oh so hard to keep your eyes open while the world beccomes beautiful hues of pinks and purples was something that gave me that warm fuzzy feeling. I've seen quite a few sunrises but this was one of the best. The slow ripple of the water as the boat moved was almost too calm as I almost fell asleep a few times.
Then the world became it's bluer self and my stomach was telling me it was breakfast time, we made our way up to a cafe and I had the best hash browns of my life. Hash browns, with mushrooms and tomatoes is something I need to have for breakfast more often. All in all it was a pretty amazing morning.
And if the day couldn't get any better than that we took a trip up to Sarnath which is about a thiry minute tuk tuk ride from varanasi and is where Buddha said his first sermon. I don't have many pictures because I was trying to take it all in and enjoy being there and the experience rather than trying to get a good photo.
It was such a peaceful place and there was a monk who was offering introduction to Buddhism talks but unfortunately I couldn't find him and although I could've stayed there all day the people I was with didn't want to. My body was also telling me wandering round in the sun all day probably wasn't the best idea. But I definitely made sure to enjoy the time I was there.
After this nice little midday stroll we were taken to a Buddhist museum just around the corner which holds Buddhist statues and relics excavated from Isipantana, which was mostly destroyed by Turks.
Then it was back into Varanasi and off to try and do some shopping. We got taken through the markets for twenty minutes by a shopkeeper who didn't have the item we wanted (and said he had), then we got lost trying to find the lassi shop from the day before and I got hassled and hassled and hassled by shop owners. All in all I got way to hot and irritated and lost my chill from Sarnath before. But by the time we were in the Rickshaw back to the hotel I was back to my chilled out self and didn't really mind that the rickshaw driver took us to two wrong hotels which then took us 45 minutes to get back. I more felt bad for him cycling us all that way for the price we'd agreed, but we did give him extra. It was a very nice way to have a last little tour or Varanasi though.
A rooftop dinner ended out last night in India and I have to say I loved India a lot more than I thought I would. I didn't think that all the busyness, heat, mess, and noise was for me but it was something I dealt with well. And it was worth dealing with to experience a little bit of India. It's not the first place I'd chose to go back to but I would love to do more of India some day because I know it's an incredibly big and versatile place which I've only touched a little bit of.
If you want to see more of the things I didn't touch on in this post then my little video diary is below.


This was all part of my India and Nepal tour with G adventures so if you want to see more of that and book it for yourself then you see it here.
Hope you liked this post and that you have a wonderful weekend.
Thanks for reading!

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