Day 19: Thursday, March 22nd, 2018. Varanasi, the holiest Hindu city in India.
Spent the morning touring Varanasi, the holiest city in India. We had planned to take a sunrise boat ride down the Ganges as it was our last day, but the German Prime Minister was visiting and they did not let boats float down ( although we saw a few people doing so). They likely also cleaned up the city and it seemed less hectic than what I was told and imagined it would be. Later on we had seen that school children dressed in their uniforms holding flags were on the sides of there street to welcome the prime minister. The French President Macron and his wife visited not to long ago and I saw pictures of the Dalai Lama there as well.
Visited the main ghat out of 84 in the city, the Dadaswamedh Ghat. It is here where Hindu people perform their religious rituals and bathe in the Holy Ganges. People also bring the cremated bodies of their family members and may take a boat and spread the ashes in the river. The close male family members shave their heads and women cut their fingernails as a way of purifying the body. There are barbers around the Ghat to shave the heads of men if needed. Priests perform ceremonies for the deceased and there is also food which goes into the Ganges along with the ashes.
It is also said that if you die here, then you are freed from the cycle of rebirths. Those that are close to death may try to come here to die.
Diyas, floral offerings with candles were also floated here just like in the other Hindu religious cities we visited (Hardiware, Rishikesh).
Further down the way, is where the deceased are cremated at Marnikarnica Ghat. The fire to start the cremation always started from a fire that is called the eternal flame. It is said that this fire has been continuously burning for 1000 years and someone is always tending to it. Ashes were flying in the air, cows here supposably eating the flowers around the ashes and the dogs eating bones from the remnants of the bodies. The tour guide stated that it was related to the cycle of life and it does not seem to bother him of the others witnessing it. Photos were not allowed into this area.
We also visited a essential oil shop and other silk shop down windy narrow alley ways of one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world.
After visiting the ghats, we drove by the Banaris Hindu University, the top in university in India which teaches many languages including Sanskrit.
Then we explored the Hanuman temple with many monkeys wandering about.
Tulsi Manas Mandir was next. It has great historical significance as the ancient Hindu epics, Ramayan, was originally written in Sanskrit by poet Valmiki in 100 B.C. Many people could not read Sanskrit. Hindu poet/priest/ philosopher Goswami Tulsidas translated the text to Hindi in the 16th century so the Indian people could read it. This version was called Ramcharitmanas. In 1964, the Sureka family of Bandhaghat constructed the temple where the text was translated. The text is on the inside walls of this temple.
Last was the Durga Mandir (temple), one of the most famous temples in Varanasi dedicated to Maa Durga.
Then back to the room for breakfast and on a flight back to Delhi.
Random facts from the tour guide:
Men and women are separated at -all levels of school ( most schools).
Hospitals are free of charge to everyone including foreigners.