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.
At Manikarnika Ghat, visitors can watch Hindus burn their dead by the Ganges - an interesting and memorable experience.
However, today I nearly fell victim to a potential scammer. Since non-relatives are, understandably, not allowed near the burning pyres, they can view the process from a building nearby, which I was led to by some locals. When I entered a man said he was running a hospice and that the old people within had come there to die. He then told me quite a lot about the cremation ceremonies being carried out below.
As I left he asked for a donation for the “hospice”, gesturing to the old women sitting on the floor. When I didn’t give money, he got angry and told me I was a bad person and that I shouldn’t come back. However, after checking with two other locals I learnt that this man was not in fact running a hospice, and that he intended to pocket most of the money. Be warned!
Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
Send your feedback or queries to firstname.lastname@example.org