Varanasi & Ganges River, India

Indian Bathers Men Women Ganges River Varanasi India
Hindu Bathers in Ganges River 
- Varanasi, India
Varanasi & Ganges River, India (2/19-21/2013) – Varanasi is the holiest city of the huge religion of Hinduism and is the spiritual capital of India – truly a special place!

Be forewarned that your visit to Varanasi will be one of the most unique, colorful, chaotic, and likely unforgettable places you will ever experience. You will witness, hear, and smell the most intimate rituals of life and death. Visiting Varanasi has been one of the most memorable travel experiences we have ever had!

Colorful Streets Old City Varanasi India
Colorful Streets of the Old City 
- Varanasi, India
Dasaswamedh Ghat Varanasi India
Bottom of Dasaswamedh Ghat 
- Varanasi, India
Varanasi's Old City was a highlight of our visit. This atmospheric area adjacent the banks of the Ganges River, has narrow crowded lanes lined with colorful shops and many Hindu temples. Varanasi has at least 84 ghats. Ghats are embankments of long stretches of stone steps leading down to the river where the cremations are performed and pilgrims bathe. The Dasaswamedh Ghat is the most colorful and liveliest ghat.

Varanasi is located on the banks of the sacred Hindu Ganges River. It is a major Hindu pilgrimage site because Hindus believe bathing in the Ganges remits sins and has healing properties. Many Hindus also arrive here to die because they believe that after death cremation and throwing your ashes into the Ganges at Varanasi brings salvation, releasing a person's soul.

Bathers Ganges River Varanasi India
Hundreds of Bathers 
in Ganges River - Varanasi, India
Sunrise Over Ganges River Varanasi India
Sunrise Over the Ganges River 
- Varanasi, India
Do not miss taking a boat trip on the Ganges departing from the Dasaswamedh Ghat. Both the early morning and evening experiences are fascinating. Arriving early morning, you can witness the cremations and the sun rise over the Ganges where you can witness the colorful ritualistic routine (puja) of hundreds of bathers coming offering prayers and for what they believe are the healing properties (see photos).

Cremations Manikarnika Ghat Varanasi India
Cremations at Manikarnika Ghat 
- Varanasi, India
In the evening as dusk descends at the Dasaswamedh Ghat, you can take a boat ride first to the main burning ghat (Manikarnika) to witness the cremations returning to watch the very spiritual Ganga Aarti ceremony praising Mother Ganga (Ganges River) that they believe purifies and blesses them (see photos). The cremation fires are more memorable at night (see photos). Flowers with candles are floated on the river making for a special experience. Both the morning and evening experiences are viewed well from a boat trip. Never take photos near the cremations – it is very disrespectful.

Naked Nude Hindu Holy Sadhu Man Varanasi India
Naked Hindu Holy Sadhu Man 
- Varanasi, India
At Varanasi’s Old City we saw many Hindu holy Sadhu men (see photo). Sadhus are wandering monks often wearing saffron-colored clothing or no clothing at all giving up all worldly possessions. They are widely respected for their holiness and solely dedicated to achieving liberation through meditation and contemplation. There are about 4 million sadhus in India.

Holy Man Ganges River Varanasi India
Holy Man at the Ganges River 
- Varanasi, India
About the cremations... Hindus believe that after death cremation and throwing your ashes into the Ganges at Varanasi brings salvation, releasing a person's soul. So, it is something very sacred to Hindus. Wrapped bodies are cleaned in the river and cremated in public by the Ganges River (see photo). About 700 pounds of wood is used for each cremation and it last for hours as the family mourns. Even today, some bodies are not cremated but are floated free to decompose in the waters such as holy men; pregnant women; people with leprosy/chicken pox, been bitten by snakes, who had committed suicide; the poor; and children under 5.

Boat Ride Ganges River Dasaswamedh Ghat Varanasi india
Boat Ride on Ganges River 
at Dasaswamedh Ghat
About the Ganges (Ganga) River... The Ganges is longest river of India and is the second greatest river in the world by water discharge. The Ganges basin is the most heavily populated river basin in the world, with over 400 million people. The Ganges was ranked among the five most polluted rivers of the world.

Ganga Aarti Ceremony Praising Mother Ganga Ganges River Varanasi India
Ganga Aarti Ceremony  
Praising Mother Ganga (Ganges River)
Flower Candle Offering Ganges River Varanasi India
Flower with Candle Offerings - Ganges River
Some history... Varanasi is one the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. For several thousand years, it has been a cultural center of north India. Buddha spoke here. Due to destruction from ruling factions, few of the buildings in the Varanasi’s old city are more than a couple of hundred years old. Tourism is Varanasi's second most important industry with over 3 million domestic and about 200,000 foreign tourists visiting annually. The peak tourist season falls between October and March.

Travel tips... India has three main seasons - hot and humid Summer (March to May), Monsoon (June to September), and Winter (milder summer). The best time to visit is during the winter between November and February. We visited in February with wonderful weather. Locals in India speak in broken English and those working in corporates and belonging to middle, upper middle and high class can speak fluent English.

Colorful Shops Varanasi India
Colorful Shops - Varanasi, India
Washing Laundry Ganges River Varanasi India
Washing Laundry 
in Ganges River - Varanasi, India
Staying healthy in India... Most visitors choose bottled water that can be purchased reasonable cheaply. When buying water from street vendors, make sure the lid is sealed and not refilled with tap water. Make sure you rinse your toothbrush with bottled water and keep your mouth closed when showering. It is also wise to be careful what you eat. Outside of major tourist hotels and restaurants, particularly risky things to stay away from are raw leafy vegetables and egg-based dressings like mayonnaise, and minced meat. To be safe, you should stick to boiled, baked, fried, or peeled goods.

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  1. Good post. Hindus have craving to water, cow, their scriptures and complexion. The Ganges means a lot to a devoted Hindu.

  2. It was interesting reading about Varanasi. I've been to India quite often but I still haven't been to Varanasi. At times it seems too raw, too confronting for me and I don't think I'd enjoy it but at other times I'd love to go. We'll see which side wins!

  3. This was very interesting to read and I enjoyed your pictures. I have to confess that personally I would not want to go there because of the crowds, pollution of the water and the Indian culture of rape but it's nice to read about your experience!

  4. So sorry I missed this city on my trip to India last year. Hope to visit someday.

  5. India is such a fascinating and exotic country. I've never been, but Varanasi is on my list when I do. I especially liked your travel tips about the weather.

  6. I am in the amidst of planning another trip to India and trying to decide about Varanasi. Overtime I read about it, I put it back on the list-magical!

  7. Great posting, Wayne. The area around the Ganges river is indeed full of history and so colorful! We also enjoyed the Mughal Town area in Varanasi.

  8. I admit that although I've traveled all over the world, including southeast Asia, South America and South Africa, I'm not sure I could handle India. Whenever I read an article about India, there are sure to be mentions of the chaos, noise, dirt and poverty. Now, I can add the 5th most polluted river in the world to that list. I know this is a terrible attitude and I hope I can overcome it some day.

  9. I also having plan to go Varanasi Ganges river of Indian tourist attractions places which really historical spots of there.

  10. What a great article and you captured awesome pictures. Thank you so much for sharing this post! If you want to visit Taj Mahal then book a tour package with Sunrise Taj Mahal Tour is the best option to travel at very affordable price.


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