Back in January we took a trip to beautiful India and the very stunning Sri Lanka. I began to share the journey and a selection of the millions of photos that I took in this post here but then with a big house move and the realities of other work and general life settling in, for one reason or another I didn't get around to posting anything further. Today I was looking back at all of the photos wondering if it was way too late five months on to be sharing the experience. But you know what, I think these forgotten volumes of adventure deserve to be shared. I certainly know that I love to see photos and hear tales of peoples travels if I'm looking to explore a certain place myself, so I hope anyone considering a journey to these parts may still find these photo diaries interesting.
I will pick up our journey in the unabashed wonder that is Varanasi. Now we took a short flight from Delhi to Varanasi which takes around about an hour and twenty. It's worth noting here that some of the internal flights in India have a much lower baggage allowance than international flights, so check before you go to make sure you and your backpack are going to be able to get on board without too much extra cost or hassle!
For anyone that has been to Delhi and found it an assault on the senses, well Varanasi is another level of hectic hustle and bustle all together. So brace yourself for the kind of chaos that never quits but that will enthral and amaze all the same.
The pace is indeed the definition of frantic but this is a vibrant and colourful stop not to be missed. Sacred and full of soul, sat on the River Ganga, or Ganges as we know it, it is here that all of life and indeed death collide with unbound pace, colour, sights and sounds. This can be incredibly overwhelming but looking back I still believe this was the most memorable place of the entire trip.
Because of the proximity of Varanasi to the holy River Ganges it is here that people flood from all over India to bathe in the holy waters and extricate their sins. Here too they come to cremate loved ones and engage in funeral rites upon the event of their death. It is considered an auspicious place to die because of the Hindu belief in Moksha and freedom from samsara - the cycle of death and rebirth. I'm not an expert in this area but this is my understanding and I really hope I've described this correctly. Much of life in Varanasi is conducted around these funeral rituals and you will likely witness many examples of this as you walk around the narrow streets, explore the beautiful flower markets and of course make your journey down to the colourful Ghats.
Ghats are the riverfront steps that lead down to the River Ganges and there are many of them, eighty-seven in fact, in Varanasi each with their own purpose. Many are used for bathing and for various ceremonies. Others are used solely as the sites for the daily cremations that take place by the waters edge. Visiting the Ghats is an integral part of a trip to this city and one of the best ways to begin to understand what life here along the river is all about.
As many visitors do, we took a boat along the Ganges both in the evening and also at sunrise, a great way to get a view and understanding of the vast expanse of the Ghats alongside the river, witnessing the daily rituals that take place on each. An evening boat ride is usually synonymous with watching the daily evening prayers that take place on the rivers edge, the prayers to Mother Ganga, known as the Ganga Aarti. This was by far one of the highlights of our trip.
Initially we took a boat along the waters edge as the sun set. Once out on the river and as darkness started to fall we took part in the ritual of lighting candles in small cups made from leaves and flowers, known as diya, and setting them on the river, sending each one off with a silent wish or a prayer. We then nestled our boat alongside the numerous others on the water by the edge of the ceremonial Ghat and settled in to watch the evening prayers performed amongst a heady mix of music, fire and the smell of burning sandalwood.
The experience of a few days in Varanasi will certainly stay with me for a long time. Whatever your own personal beliefs in life you cannot fail to be touched by the spiritual nature of this feverish holy city. It's certainly a must to add to your itinerary when visiting this part of the world. Be prepared for a profusely intense experience that will definitely challenge but ultimately be incredibly rewarding.