Varanasi or popularly known as Banaras, Benares and Kashi among locals is one of the oldest cities in the world and a historical city in northern India. It is located on the banks of the mighty river of Ganges in the eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Being one of the holiest places in India, Varanasi houses some of the most sacred temples for Hindus like Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, Tulis Manas Temple, Durga Temple and Bharat Mata Temple.
After visiting Bodhgaya, one of the sacred places for Buddhist, we took a train from Gaya to Varanasi to experience one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. When we arrived in Varanasi, I noticed that even though it is an old city it offers some of the things that you can enjoy in a big city. In fact, I was able to withdraw money from an international bank account that I set up.
As we planned to visit Varanasi, I never expected that this leg of our India trip would be so interesting. I must admit that among the places I visited in India for five months, Varanasi is one the places that stunned me with all its old world charm, color and divine atmosphere. I admit that I was overwhelmed by the scenes which usually happen here. Every sunrise, you can see pilgrims scattered along the Ghats doing their rituals and devotions in the Ganges River against the backdrop of the centuries old temples and buildings. It's probably one of the most impressive scenes I've witnessed in my life.
While we are walking along the narrow lanes of the Ghats, I saw Sadhus and several dying and aging people who were busy in chanting mantra. One of the local told us that Hindu followers believe that one who dies in Varanasi will surely attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of reincarnation, which made this city known as 'Gateway to Salvation'.
Another charming aspect of this old city is the long line up of Ghats alongside the river. These Ghats looks amazing during sunrise and sunset especially when first ray of the rising sun touches the stairs of these Ghats. The boatman that we met here told us that among these Ghats, Manikarnika and Dashashwamedha have special importance. The latter is famous because this is where they do the evening 'artii' ceremony while the first is the Ghat the main cremation ghat of Varanassi which also symbolizes the creation and destruction.
One evening, we sat on the burning Ghat just to watch human body being cremated. Around 4 to 5 bodies was simultaneously being cremated and another set of bodies are being prepared next. I can vividly remember that scene, the thick columns of smoke rose up into the dark sky while the bells rung loudly and the full moon reflected in the Ganges river. I witnessed a woman carried down the stairs lying on wooden stretcher covered in a white fabric, dipped in the holy river, then finally burned on a stack of wood. Holy Man, babies and pregnant women are not cremated and thus dumped directly into the river. I guess this is the only city in India that has funerals 24 hours a day.
Death was all around and it feels so strange yet so peaceful' I consider that 3 hours of my life as one the most unforgettable moments of my travel.