Today we will be visiting Varanasi, the oldest living city in India, if not the world, and the holiest city for the Hindu religion. Located on the Ganges River, it is a pilgrimage site for the Hindu faithful. Cleansing one’s self in the waters is to cleanse the spirit of sins and negativity. Being cremated and having your ashes scattered in the river ensures passage to Heaven.
I started the morning with a bit of a belly ache. Not full blown Delhi belly, but rather an upset tummy from last night’s Chinese food. Unfortunately, they still use a lot of MSG here and we think that was the culprit. The good news is, with dry toast and ginger ale, I recovered quick enough to be able to go on the tour. Unfortunately, we have five or six people on-board who are down with stomach issues and can’t go out today.
Our first stop is a short distance from Varanasi in the city of Sarnath. It is here that Gautana Buddha is said to have first taught about the dharma after attaining enlightenment. There is a Buddhist Stupa and temple located in the area where Buddha first preached and lived.. They are located in the same area as one that was previously destroyed by a Mughal ruler who believed that great treasure was hidden inside – there was no treasure.
Also located in Sarnath is an 80ft tall statue of a standing Buddha. It is the result of a joint Thai-Indo effort that it was created. It was built between 1997 and 2011 and is located in the middle of a beautiful garden setting. It is interesting to note that there are no actual pictures or paintings of Buddha. All the statues, carvings and T-Shirts only reflect the artist’s impression.
Continuing our drive to Varanasi, we made a stop at a temple to Mother India. Our guide was telling us that Hindus worship many gods, in fact there are over 30 million gods that they worship. Different groups will worship different gods for different reasons. The three main gods Vishnu, Shiva and Ram are the only ones that everybody worships.
We came across a snake charmer outside of the temple. Not exactly as I remember being mesmerized as a kid watching movies, but still interesting to see.
On the way back to Varanasi, we stopped at a silk weaving mill for today’s shopping adventure. We stayed on the bus with a few others who were also shopped out. Ended up watching a group of young workers carrying brick up at a construction site.
Lunch was next on the agenda and it was a good one. All of our lunches and dinners off the train have been good. Nice variety of food and the locations have all been at luxury hotels.
Since we ended up eating lunch a little later, we headed to the Ganges for our boat ride. We will take a ride on the river up to the site of the evening Aarti and then head back to the train for a late dinner.
The bus ride through town to get to the Ganges was somewhat shocking. The chaos and poverty were overwhelming and quite disconcerting. Having said that, once we were on the boat there was a whole different feeling. It was calming and spiritual.
We made our way up the river with the sun setting and had a chance to see people going through their daily activities. We stopped near to the Cremation Ghat and while it may seem shocking, it was really peaceful. We then made our way up to the temple area where the Aarti is held.
The Aarti is a nightly ceremony performed by priests to worship and ask Mother Ganges for blessings. People cram into the area, including tourists and many boats float nearby to watch. It all seems very chaotic and noisy. Not something that would help one to pray and ask for blessings.
We moved up river a little ways and participated as a group in our own way.