Streets filled with holy men, who are fully committed to the Hindu faith. A holy river filled with pilgrims in search of the remission of their sins. Burning piles filled with corpses, who receive their final blessings. Varanasi is not a city that you simply visit, it is a city that you experience. In this article I share the places that you certainly should not miss during your visit to this special, spiritual city.
5 SIGHTS THAT YOU SHOULD NOT MISS IN VARANASI
1-Browse the many ghats
There are 88 ghats in Varanasi; wide stairs that lead from the city to the Ganges. The pilgrims descend down these stairs to wash themselves in the holy river and cremate their loved ones on the bank. The best known ghats are:
- Manikarnika Ghat: also known as the “Burning Ghat”. Here you come face to face with death and you can experience the ritual burns up close.
- Dashashwamedh Ghat: the main ghat and the place where the famous Ganga Aarti is performed. This is the place to be, especially around sunrise .
- Assi Ghat: this ghat is a lot quieter than the ghats in the center, so you can escape here from all the hustle and bustle. In the neighborhood you have a number of nice shops and cafes.
2-Take a boat trip on the Ganges
The best way to admire life in Varanasi is from the water. As you slowly sail along the banks, you see how the many pilgrims want to wash away their sins with the holy water, how corpses are openly cremated and how the locals try to clean their dirty laundry in the Ganges.
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The ghats are busy especially in the early morning, so for the most spectacle and when you want to see Varanasi at its best, it’s best to rent a boat around dawn. Make sure that you are at the ghats around 5.30 am, so that you are in the boat no later than 5.45 am, or book your tour in advance so that you will be picked up at your hotel.
3-Admire the Ganga Aarti
Every night hundreds of tourists and pilgrims gather on the Dasaswamedh Ghat to witness the Ganga Aarti. This holy ceremony – meant to worship the goddess Ganga – is performed by young priests. They do this on the basis of the five Hindu elements: Akash (space), Vayu (air), Agni (fire), Jal (water) and Prithvi (earth). The ceremony starts at 6.45 am and lasts approximately 45 minutes.
4-View a cremation No matter
How lurid it sounds; you cannot leave Varanasi without having experienced cremation from start to finish. Hindus believe that when you die in Varanasi and your ashes are scattered over the holy river, you immediately attain enlightenment and can escape the vicious circle of life, death and rebirth.
Seeing countless burning bodies initially gave me a strange, emotional and uncomfortable feeling, but the longer I watched the rituals and the more I began to understand their way of thinking, the more beautiful the cremation became.
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There are several “Burning Ghats” in Varanasi, of which Manikarnika Ghat is the largest and best known. No fewer than 300 corpses are cremated here every day. There are a number of “volunteers” around who would like to tell you more about the rituals, but keep in mind that they then expect a substantial donation from you.
5-Wander through the narrow streets
Forget about Google Maps and get lost in the many narrow streets behind the ghats. Along the way you will come across small cafes, colorful shops, hidden temples, chaotic vegetable markets and of course the many rickshaws, goats, dogs and cows. Be careful where you walk, since many streets are really dirty.
TIP! Varanasi is a special, but also intense and intense city. If during your visit you would like more explanation about the things you see or if you prefer not to walk on ghats alone, you can also choose to book a day tour with a private guide. The day tour includes transfers, entrance fees, lunch and boat trip on the Ganges. Together with the guide you also view traditional ceremonies.