We finally had the opportunity to visit Varanasi, India – also known as Benares or Kashi – one of the seven holy cities of Hinduism and Jainism, and also important in the development of Buddhism. Varanasi, a city of 3 million on the western bank of the Ganges River, is said to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
There are plenty of nice hotels in Varanasi, but we chose a “heritage hotel” on the Ganges in order to be at the center of activity and to better experience the atmosphere of the city. The view is worth it:
The hotel, located on one of the central ghats (there are nearly 100) is only reachable by boat. We were dropped off by taxi at the northernmost ghat, were picked up by the hotel’s boat, and enjoyed a late-afternoon ride down the Ganges. That night, we were invited to take a boat ride upriver to the city’s most spectacular Ghat, the Dashashwamedh Ghat, where Hindu priests perform a nightly dedication to Lord Shiva, River Ganga (the Ganges), Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.
On the way there, we enjoyed a spectacular (just post-)sunset ride. See some of the photos:
We were instructed to keep our hands inside the boat to avoid getting them crushed, so thick were the boats on the river. Boys in rowboats were selling onlookers small floating candles to send downstream, while hawkers stepped from boat to boat selling bottles of cold water. We were pretty far out and there are better videos than ours, but this was our experience (very much shortened:
Still images of the ceremony can be found at this link.
Afterward, a meal on the rooftop restaurant at the hotel. And our waiter explained that this evening was the last in a multi-day Hindu festival (there are so many we lose track – and they vary between cities and regions!), and he encouraged us to get out and have a look. So we did. We wandered around the alleys behind the hotel:
and eventually managed to find our way to the main road, which was packed with people heading in all directions.
In fact, I recorded a short video clip to try and convey our impressions. The sound is actually from the streets, not music I added afterward.
Finally after a long day we decided we’d had enough excitement for one day, so we headed back. On our way, we saw these guys just above street level: