“What is a city, but the people; true the people are the city.” – Coriolanus III
Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India. People often refer to Varanasi as “the holy city of India” and “the city of lights”. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India. Mark Twain described Varanasi as “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together “. You know what? He was right!
The city of Lord Shiva, the god of creation and destruction, is the beating heart of the Hindu universe, a crossing place between the physical and spiritual worlds. The whole city is built around one bank of Ganges which is viewed as a river of salvation, an everlasting symbol of hope. It’s believed that anyone who dies here will be liberated from the cycle of reincarnation. Even a wash in the Ganges River is said to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals.
Hindu pilgrims come to wash away a lifetime of sins in the Ganges or to cremate their loved ones. Varanasi has always been an auspicious place to die, since passing away here offers liberation from the cycle of birth and death. It is the Ganga Ghats of Varanasi that complement the concept of divinity. Ghats are a series of steps leading down to the river and are perhaps the holiest spots of Varanasi. It is at the Ganga Ghats where you can see life and death together. The fascinating thing about Ghats is that they are used for everything, from bathing to burning bodies of the dead before their ashes are placed in the Ganges. Yoga, massages, praying and games of cricket are among the other popular activities you’ll find performed along the river banks. All those intimate rituals of life and death take place in public on the city’s Ghats. There are more than 100 bathing and burning Ghats alongside Ganga in Varanasi, most popular and prominent ones are: Dasaswamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat and Assi Ghat.
Would we recommend going to Varanasi? When we’ve reached Varanasi all we could feel is thousands of people, chaos and smell of garbage, sewage and rotting meat. A maze of alleyways full of people, shops, motorbikes, holy cows, monkeys jumping over your head and diseased skinny dogs everywhere you look. In many ways Varanasi represents the very best and worst aspects of India. The holy river is full of trash, excrements and probably bodies that didn’t burn completely. Meantime, people are bathing, swimming and playing in the same water not too far away. But you know what? It is Varanasi, it is a mysterious place where death is on display for everyone to see but at the same time place full of life, colors and different moods of Indian culture, life and death coexist there. Varanasi is by far the craziest place we’ve ever been to. We would advise anyone to go. It is magical, it is overwhelming, it changes the way you think. Varanasi is an experience!