Set off from your hotel before dawn and join the seething throng surging down to the bank of the sacred River Ganges at Varanasi. You can take a small boat along the river past the ghats where people are bathing, praying and performing a variety of daily tasks in front of vividly coloured temples and pavilions. At the end white clad mourners are saying goodbye to their loved ones and the sweet smelling sandalwood smoke from the pyres drifts across the water.
As the sun rises over the opposite bank, whatever your faith, or even if you have none, you can cast a tiny banana leaf boat with a lighted candle on to the sacred stream representing your prayers or your meditation. In this way you can share a cultural and spiritual experience with millions of fellow-humans.
Varanasi, River Ganges
Varanasi, Benares or Kashi, the holy Hindu city on the banks of the sacred Ganges. The last stop before release from the endless cycle of birth and death. We arrived at sunrise from the overnight train, making sense of the sounds and sights that swarm the mind. The river is full of wooden rowing boats and candles floating in lotus leaves for the dawn puja. We stayed in an old building overlooking the ghats. As we walked by the river we were reminded of the sacredness of life and death, as it was played out around us, we could not remain separate. The next morning before dawn we too took a boat down the Ganges and once ashore again played the violin to the rising sun and Mother Ganga!
Uttar Pradesh, Northern India. Main station Varanasi Junction. Also airport 15 miles to the west.
Every evening around 7 o'clock there is an incredible Hindu ceremony to the gods through the five elements, which is performed by sadhus. The ceremony takes place on the main ghats along the River Ganges in the centre of Varanasi.
The walk to the main ghats through the markets is a great experience too. The main ghats are around the Dasaswamedh ghat, which is one of the oldest and holiest ghats. Here you can take a rowing boat on to the Ganges to catch the ceremony from the river. It's incredible to watch the ceremony and it was a really memorable experience of India.
It's a great way of getting in touch with the spiritual side of India in the oldest and one of the holiest cities in this amazing country.
Take a cycle rickshaw to the top of the open-air street market and walk down towards the river to find the Dasaswamedh ghat.
Varanasi is surreal place. The second you step onto the street you will be swarmed by beggars and people looking to sell you anything. It gets annoying but just ignore it or politely refuse. Boat rides at sunset are a must, don't settle for any time but just before sunrise in the morning. The sun rising on the Ganges is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Remember to respect their culture and not photograph the burning bodies along the ghats.
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