Northern India: Varanasi

Northern India


Varanasi was the first city I visited in India. I travelled overland, by bus, from Kathmandu in Nepal to Varanasi. I had to spend the night on the Nepali side of the border and cross the next morning, when I took the second bus from the Indian side of the border to Varanasi.

Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in India, and lies on the banks of the Ganges River. For Hindus, it is most people's dream to have their ashes thrown into the Ganges after they die. Varanasi is well-known for its burning ghats, where cremations are performed. The town is also famous as a place where bathing on the public ghats (or steps) is considered a religious occasion. Near the ghats, you can see many holy men, called sadhus, who beg for money and offer prayers, and who sell assorted religious beads, icons, etc.

Because it is the first Indian city I visited, and because of the very special atmosphere in Varanasi, I will never forget this place. If you go to India, do not miss Varanasi!

It has become somewhat of a tradition to take a boat ride along the river and the bathing ghats for the sunrise. After bargaining with a boatman, you can have him row wherever you like, and get out after half an hour or an hour. It is a very pleasant way to start the day. I took a boat ride almost every morning I was in Varanasi. You can ride a boat almost up to the burning ghats, though out of respect for the dead, the boatman will not row very close to the ghats.

Another interesting aspect of Varanasi is that there are some boatmen who row around trying to sell items to people riding boats. You will very likely be accosted by one of these enterprising salesmen as your boat gets near the main ghats.

Here are some people bathing on the main ghats. Men tend to wear loincloths and women will bathe wearing their saris.

Varanasi skyline. In addition to the never-ending boat traffic on the river, here you can see the old palace which dominates the skyline of the city.

Varanasi is full of hundreds of temples, some here along the river bank, and many others scattered throughout the streets of the city.

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All text and photographs Copyright (c) 1991-1996 Naomi S. Smith
Last update: August 20, 1996