Benares, the sacred city of India
India offers the traveler thousands of experiences but one of the most impressive and unforgettable is to visit Varanasi, the sacred city of India, also known as Varanasi. Many travelers are clear that Varanasi is a must-see city but others leave it out of their itinerary when they discover that getting around India is complicated.
How to get to Varanasi (Benares)
In India, renting a vehicle is unthinkable and dangerous, catching a bus is slow and uncomfortable, the train more of the same… as little as possible, the best way to travel from north to south and from east to west is by taking a Low cost flight with the companies Spice Jet, Jet Airways or Fly Kingfisher. The journey usually costs about € 150 / person but time is money in a country where everything is complicated and 200 kilometers by road can be more than seven hours of uncomfortable and rugged journey.
That said, to get to Varanasi, it is best to buy a plane ticket. In my case, I took a flight from Delhi that lasted about an hour and a half.
Getting to Varanasi (Benares) is shocking. This town, at the foot of the river Ganges, is pure spirituality. If this is the first time you travel to India, I recommend leaving Benares for the end of the trip. It is easier to “understand” why, the meaning and value of Varanasi, the city where Hindus travel to die or fire a deceased, when you have accepted the harsh reality of India and trained your feelings and emotions.
People travel to Varanasi to die. It is the sacred city, the city of the dead, where the lucky ones make their last trip to be calcined in the crematoriums and delivered to the Ganges River in the form of ashes. Many travelers who have already been to Varanasi remember an emotional and unforgettable experience; however, for others, it is the worst memory of his trip to India. “Too difficult,” said a traveling partner who will certainly never recommend this visit. For many others, Varanasi is an unforgettable experience, even more exciting than watching the Taj Mahal live.
The crematoriums and the Ganges River
At sunset … The crematoriums begin, where the lucky and wealthy can afford firewood and a priest to make their last trip. The poorest are buried and, of course, do not travel to Varanasi during the last days of their life. Here, once again, the upper castes have it easier, not to say they have almost the exclusivity of a death in peace.
At dawn … At 5 in the morning, Varanasi wakes up. All people descend to the Ghats, the stone stairs enabled to access the waters of the Ganges River, whose real name is Ganga, which means “go, go”, referring to the movement of the waters. The sacred and polluted waters of the Ganges River are filled with rowing boats, floating desires, candles, flowers, music, incense … and people bathe, swim and wash their clothes and household clothes in a mystical environment starring spiritual songs and smell of incense Hindus have the belief that dying in Varanasi or less than 60 kilometers frees your soul from karma and as a result you pass from earthly to spiritual life, leaving behind the misfortune of reincarnation.
The road to the Ghats
To get to the river Ganges you must cross the Chowk, the old quarter of the city, a labyrinth of narrow, dirty streets and through which you have to go with your eyes wide open to avoid tripping. I advise looking for someone from the street to accompany you as a guide for a few rupees to the crematoriums and boats. They cross motorbikes, people, dogs, cows … I even had the luck and the shock of crossing with a deceased covered with flowers, transported on a stretcher by two men who were going to the crematorium area.
Mountains of logs and wood announce that you are in front of the crematoriums; also the smell is something unforgettable. From the river, hundreds of boats watch the fires that incinerate and fire the dead. Out of respect, tourists are warned not to photograph in the space of the crematoriums, it is an image that you will not have in your collection of photographs of the trip but that you will never erase from memory. In the area of the fires there are incognito cops hidden among the crowd who will not hesitate to fine you and make you go a little embarrassed.
Varanasi, without prejudice
Without a bit of emotional training, the image of the crematoriums or of the people bathing in those waters can be shocking, which is why I recommended leaving it for the end of the trip, once you notice that you are integrated in India and “understand ”, Although Do not share, many traditions of Hinduism.
When you understand how Hindus think and what their beliefs are, you can live the experience of visiting Varanasi without prejudice. Suddenly, what is almost hell for you becomes a spiritual luxury.