Thursday, December 1, 2011

On the Road: Varanasi

ISP students agree: Varanasi is a weird, fantastic, beautiful place. 

As it's currently winter in India (which is, undoubtedly, warmer than winter in the States), it's the "misty season" in Varanasi. When we arrived by train around 4am, visibility was about 10 feet.

The ghats of Varanasi are probably one of the most well photographed sites in the country of India.

In the words of Adam Freed, "there's just something really cool about a 3,000 year old stone city on the edge of a river in the mist."
Varanasi is the city of holy men. Everywhere you look, you see men clad in saffron robes, who have given up the trappings of this life and wear the color of fire, symbolic of taking on the fire of cremation in the life they have here and now.

Varanasi is also Shiva's city, and arguably the holiest city for Hindus in the entire country and world. We enjoyed an evening boat tour to see the Ganga Aarti, or river worship, and set off some floating lanterns with our prayers in the Ganga (Ganges River). We also spent a morning on a walking tour exploring the twisting, old, hidden alleys of this magnificent, ancient city.

One Hindu tradition holds that people who are cremated in Varanasi are released from the cycle of rebirth and skip immediately to moksha, or freedom from suffering ('heaven', if you will.) The burning ghats at Manikarnika see around 34,000 bodies burned yearly, with cremations happening 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The smoke rising from the pile of wood in this photograph is from a burning body.

Next stop, Jaipur, Rajasthan!

{images: 1, 2, 3, 4}

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