The Famous Ghats Of Varanasi India



Luckily, on our second full day in Varanasi it stopped raining so we were able to wander outside to the famous Ghats. All the must see’s and must do’s are always great but for me, it’s observing the local people in their everyday ways that really wins my heart over. No matter how rich or poor, skinny or fat, pretty or ugly, nice or mean one might be, seeing them in their zone is what helps me understand a culture on a whole new level.

As we were walking around, I did just that (obviously in a way that didn’t get me hit by a car, trip over a goat, step in cow poop, etc.). I tried to capture a few images that might help you envision what we are seeing:

A shoe repair man…

Just two buddies watching people people watch…

A true balancing act…

Prayer circle…

A man focused on everything and nothing…

The infamous Cobra music player…

And my favorite of all, just chillaxin…

Once we approached the main Ghat, Dashashwamedh, we stood at the top of the stairs and just watched as this is the main artery to the heavily beating heart. Some people were getting their heads shaved on a random step, some were getting their beards trimmed, some were begging for money, some were performing morning Hindu rituals, some were asking “want boat ride, very very cheap”, some were minding their own business (always love these kind of people).

We took about an hour or so walk along the Ghats and as mentioned before, there are hundreds of them, all having steps that lead down the Ganges River. The Ghat that touched us the most was the cremation ghat, as you can imagine. This was an extremely powerful, out of body, surreal, eerie experience. There are only two in total, Harishchandra and Manikamika, and both operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, rain or shine, cold or hot. It is a true moment of where you’re willingly face to face with death. Piles of firewood line the shore and the fires continually burn one body at a time. The process that we witnessed is as follows:

They bring the body down on what looked like a handmade wood stretcher. The deceased is dressed in new clothes and covered with flowers and garlands, which I’m sure have all been blessed. While the family members start to build the pile of wood, the body lies partially in the Ganges River, waiting for their final step in reaching Moksha. Once the pile of wood is perfectly formed, they put the body on top then add more wood, eventually covering everything except for the feet and head. The chief mourner, who is usually the oldest son (not sure what they do if there are no sons), walks five times around the body to represent the five elements of life – fire, earth, water, air and ether. He sprinkles Ganga water across the body, puts some sandalwood on it and then lights the fire. To burn a body, about 360 kg of wood is needed and the cremation lasts for three hours, give or take a few. This isn’t for everyone to see as it definitely gives you the chills but we thought, when in Varanasi…

Something we noticed was that only men were down by the body during the cremation ceremony. We later asked Mayur why this was and learned that women are too sensitive (say whatttt? that can’t be true) and when one cries, the soul of the deceased will cling on to them and it could interrupt their reincarnation process. Wow. Families don’t view dying as a sad thing here. Instead they view it as a positive and hope their relatives make it to Nirvana. I’m still trying to comprehend it all. I have a few photos, which I later learned was not allowed, but to be respectful to the family and the deceased, I will not post.

Wherever you go in Varanasi, whether it’s the main street or random back alleys or the Ghats, there are animals everywhere. Eating, sleeping, chilling, trying to survive. Since this is such a holy city, killing the animals for food isn’t an option so they multiple by the minute and there’s really no where for them to go.

Goats all over the place…

Cows all over the place…

And even some pigs…

At night, we walked to a restaurant called Shree Cafe, which was back towards the main Ghat and had yummy food for only 350 rupees (a little over $5). Can’t go wrong. Well, I take that back. You can go wrong since this is India and food sickness is quite common. But I think we are good for now.

After dinner, we went to the International Music Centre Ashram and listened to live music. This was a recommendation from Mayur, the Granny’s Inn host, and it was a great one indeed. It was a small room, probably no more than 20 people, some sitting on a few benches and some sitting on the white blanketed floor (had to remove your shoes to sit there). There were two men on stage, one playing the Sitar and one playing the bongos. They performed for about an hour and a half, with a 5 minute intermission where they served the audience black lemon tea. Nice little touches to say “Namaste, we care about you”. It sure was a peaceful break from all the noise outside to just sit down, listen to fabulous music and think about whatever you wanted, even if it was nothing at all. This was Vinny’s jam (no pun intended, well maybe intended). Going here really brought a smile to his face, which in turn, brought a smile to my face :).

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