If you ask anybody, if they know Ganges river which is one of the most spiritual places of the world for Hindus, probably most of them know it as a word of mouth, without being able to tell exactly where it is.
I believe that I was the luckiest person of entire world while I was watching Ganges river in reality. Once you are in India, your way goes by Varanasi where there are religious burning ceremonies are going on all year long.
When I was in Varanasi it was an extremely hot summer time, we can also say monsoon. The weather was so hot as it is in all middle part of India. I was travelling by train to Varanasi from Jaipur where is another important city of India. It took around 12 hours to reach there, you might think that it should have been really boring for me to travel such long distance but I can say that I didn’t get bored so much as I was travelling with a polish girl who was also doing her internship in Jaipur, like I do.
India is also a country where all the tourists are familiar to each other as all of us are having fun, and problems. It became a habit for me to talk with another tourist on the way, in the station, in a cafe, during the lunch, dinner or so on.. I used to drink milk tea (which you will be drinking during all your trip around India) with locals or tourists if I bump into them.
Anyway, again I was travelling with another girl, it was pretty nice to travel and experience Indian trains and also journey style of Indians. You can buy 3 different types of tickets for trains:
- First class ticket which will provide you a seat number.
- Second class ticket which has no seat number or guarantee to provide you a place to sit for your journey, briefly you will just stay where you can find a space for you.
- And the third option is sleeping class ticket, which means you will have a bad-seat to sleep on.
To be honest my favorite one was second class ticket because as a tourist, it’s the best option to communicate with locals if you like to answer thousands of questions which are related to your personal life, family, religion and so on. I liked to travel with locals to get to know their opinions about other cultures and also their own cultural lives. Also you might meet with the most helpful people who share their food, drink and sometimes their company for the way.
As soon as you reach the train station, plenty of taxi drivers and tuk tuk (a small taxi for 1 or 2 people) drivers will surround you to take you in. Also they will try to trick you and want from you more money than Indian price.
So the first thing you need to know about drivers is that you can always make price down even to the deepest number, which you do not expect to make. In that case we can say bargaining is the first thing to do with any kind of sellers.
Varanasi is not a big city that’s why we preferred to walk around and found our hostel which cost around 4€-5€ for double bed room after a while.
After leaving our stuff we went to a restaurant to have some food and we have met with a French girl who was travelling alone around India and we decided to take a boat tour in Ganges river in the evening to watch religious ceremonies in the Gath-es.
We decided the time to meet and started discovering the city. Compared to a touristic city, Varanasi seemed one of the dirtiest cities where I visited in India.
Streets were full of people, trashes, cows, beggars… It was also really good chance to see how the Hindus worship and live. There was a big street in the middle of the city where you can find souvenirs, religious stuffs. The other streets around river were pretty small and tiny. Still there were so many small shops in every corner of the city though.
On the streets you might see one room-house where one family lives or a tailor store as a whole room.
Children are playing games, cows are running around, chefs are cooking street foods and sometimes dishwasher washes dishes on the floor. You might think it is a bit disgusting but once you are in that life and culture, you do not mind anymore.
You see that there is no another option for those people. You understand how rich lives we normally have but do not deserve, or are aware of having. You see how life could be harder for us if we were born in those conditions.
After watching around for some hours we went to one of the Gathes to take the boat and we started to move from the shore. It was getting dark a bit and the ceremonies started already. So we stopped in front of the most important gath named Dashaswamedh Gath to watch it from river.
With a religious music, five people were dancing next to river while hundreds of people watches. The ceremony lasted around 2 hours if I remember well. During the ceremony and after it, people were praying, joining their songs, sending some flowers and burning candles into river.
Even I was no Hindu but the melody of the divines was making me feel excited and emotional. You will definitely feel the movement into your heart. I do not know the reason of those feelings maybe because it was my first time to see this famous and spiritual ceremony or maybe Hindu’s attitudes were attractive. Seeing people worshipping on a river, which doesn’t have any importance for you, can make you think a bit deeply of other’s faith. Without doubt, it was one of the most interesting and enthusiastic moments of my life.
After all day we decided to take another boat tour in the early morning to watch sunrise in the river so we have agreed to meet them and left to have dinner with a Hindu person, friend of our random French friend.
Dinner was pretty interesting as we had a chance to talk with a local to ask questions which we wonder about Hinduism and social life of Indians. We had learnt about the sacred sound and spiritual icon, which named “OM”. India is really a “curious” country. How come? You asked, people are curious, animals are curious, tourists are curious and after a while it makes you curious… as I told you before, there are strongly good and helpful people who are ready to make your trip easier. The Hindu man offered us our boat trip in the morning for free just to make experience the beauty.
In the early morning we met next to Ganges as we decided then took the boat. In that our city was pretty silent, totally opposite of how it is normally, then we started to watch sunrise into the religious center of thousands of people as coming from so far away. I can easily say that you will feel the peace into deep of your heart.
After taking around the riverside, we saw some dead cows in the river and when we asked the reason, people said that Hindus do not burn the body of cows, children and pregnant women. They do throw their bodies inside the river tied to a stone. When the man said that there are maybe thousands of dead bodies in the deep of river I felt so thankful of seeing the river invisible and dirty as nothing can be seen in it.
During the daytime, the city doesn’t seem like a center of Hindus, mostly it looks like a commercial city to sell everything to the tourists. Sellers are running after clients, waiters calling the people on the door of the restaurants to take them in, tuk tuk or riksha drivers are trying to make you convinced to take any vehicles.
It is also a possibility to see a huge crowded and noisy traffic. Number of the vehicles makes the roads full of people and impossible to step on easily. All transports push the horn in every second.
When you walk down to the city, close to the Ganges, you might see several people who take shower in the river.
For the first time when we saw the river we both thought it was not possible for us to touch it, but at the same time, for believers of Hinduism, it is okay to take shower in it without any problem.
They were following a proper way to worship in it and they used to think that river cleans all their sins, bad behaviors and dirtiness of their souls. The river can also clean their past and all their mistakes. When we think of their belief, we understand more why a lot of people take a shower and wash their body in it.
While people take shower in the river, in another corner of the city next to another Gath, a really special religious ceremony goes on. In that part, Hindu people bring their relatives’ death bodies to burn and splash body’s ashes to the river.
I imagine that the time when the death’s ashes are splashed in the river would be the last duty of a Hindu, but also, it is the most important time of a Hindu’s life. As I heard, if a Hindu dies, his/her relatives must splash her/his body’s ashes to a river and if it is possible, this splashing must be into Ganges river. Relatives of that person should blow her/his last pieces into one the most holy things of Hinduism. (In that area it is not allowed to take any pictures, you can only do it from your boat while passing by it)
In the area of burning ceremonies, people are making all things in order. First, they take the death body on their shoulders, then bring it to river, wash it with the holy water of Ganges, put the body on wooden and start burning. During the ceremony we were talking to a person in charge to get some information and we learnt that area never stops fire. The person who I talked said that thanks to Lord Krishna (one of the gods of Hinduism) that fire never ends, under rain, storm or in a flood, never… So people believe that until the last Hindu dies that fire will be lighted.
We continued to watch the ceremonies and once I saw a man’s face so paled and while the wooden were burning under of his body, his feet were out of fire. After a while, one of his feet felt down in front of all of us. In that moment I noticed that all human beings are flexible to be harmonized in every conditions, we people exist strangely, If you imagine to see a falling foot in front of your eyes you might feel scared or shocked but after living in another culture for a short term you can handle its own difficulties and get used to, to survive. When we think in this way, can we say that we belong to one country or one culture? If it would be so, then how we could get used to live in another culture? I believe that we people belong to this world, not to one country…
We spent our 3 days as doing such things like wandering through the city or out of the city, chat with people, and discover some temples and tiny streets. We tried some typical foods, which were pretty spicy and delicious, and also a famous yoghurt.
There were so many tourists from different countries so you have chance to meet with new people, share good experience and discover an unique story.
If you are in India, I strongly recommend you to visit Varanasi to experience the spiritual heart of Hinduism and discover a new and incredible faith.
P.s: When you travel alone in India, you are never alone.
By Emine Ülkü Şimşek, from Turkey
More photos of this trip on the Facebook page