• Indian holidays - Golden triangle including Varnasi - the ancient holy city on the Ganges
  • Indian holidays - Golden triangle including Varnasi - boat ride on the Ganges
  • Indian holidays - Golden triangle including Varnasi - pilgrimage site and the burning ghatts
  • Indian holidays - Golden triangle including Varnasi - ritual bathing in the Ganges
  • Indian holidays - including Varansi

  • Indian holidays - including a boat ride on the Ganges

  • Indian holidays - The holy river Ganges

  • Indian holidays - Daily rituals on the banks of the Ganges

Varanasi

A lot of our clients choose to include Varansi in their Indian Holidays. Varanasi is perhaps one of the world's most intriguing and overpowering cities, its religious and cultural importance in India being unparalleled. Continually inhabited for over three thousand years, a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways wind through this ancient city, exposing visitors to the lives of its inhabitants. Every sideways glance, each open doorway gives a glimpse of a different world, people, animals, workshops, the smallest of retail outlets - all crammed in to the architecture of a city that has stood the test of time, but was perhaps never designed for such over-inhabitation.

A boat trip along the Ganges is probably the best way to take in the sometimes overwhelming whole of Varanasi. The stillness and quiet of being on the water being a stark contrast from the busy city itself, it's allows you the best perspective from which to contemplate all that is mystical and holy about this place which is of significance to Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. The historical royal palaces lining the riverbank are somehow overshadowed by the ghatts (of which there are nearly 100), where everyday life plays out - people washing themselves or their clothes, those herding water buffalo and cows, children swimming and of course the burning grounds. Varanasi is the confluence of life and death, the two seemingly intertwined without fanfare or grandeur. Newlywed couples come to Varanasi to have their marriage blessed by the waters of the river, which embodies the goddess Ganga, and in the final stages of life thousands make the journey to have their last rites performed on the banks of the sacred river. Every year one million pilgrims come to Varanasi to bathe in the polluted waters of the Ganges to purify themselves.

The burning ghatts, Marnikanika and Harishchandra are for many visitors one of the most fascinating and intense experiences on their Indian holidays. As funeral pyres burn around the clock, the doms, the untouchables handle the business of death. As voyeuristic as it may sound, watching from the sidelines is permitted and absolutely fascinating. Traders weight out different types of wood for the pyres or sell sweet-smelling sandalwood powder, temples and buildings are scarred by thousands of years of smoke. Incredibly solemn ceremony and the proximity of such events makes even the least spiritual of us reflect on our existence.

Traditionally a city of learning as well as religion, Banares (the traditional name for Varanasi) attracts many international students - some seek spiritual enlightenment, others come to learn traditional yoga and meditation, others to master Sanskrit at the famous university.

Each evening the ghatts pulse with even more life as devotees flock to the temples for Aarti and or to the ministries of the Brahmins who deliver their sermons open air. The mixture of people is bizarre, but reflects the cultural diversity of those attracted to Varanasi - from Tibetan monks, to dreadlocked tourists playing guitar. The atmosphere is unique, solemn and yet almost fanciful.

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