Varanasi, city of cremations

On 10 January 2014 by From elephants to kangaroos

Be careful, you understand through the title that some parts of this article may offend sensitive people.


Varanasi, a city which both attracted me and at the same time scared me.
Why afraid? Because Varanasi is the city cremations, a chaotic city steeped in a very special spirituality, where pilgrims come to wash away their sins in the Ganges when others come to burn the bodies of their loved ones in the eyes of all on the ghats. So we see everything, life and death, men and women, bonfires and cremation fires. And alone, I must admit, I was apprehensive.
But to hear so many people telling me that we should not miss such a different city, I started.


20h train to go from Delhi, with a delay of 8 hours, here I am at 4pm arrived at the station. Time to take a rickshaw and drop my bag at the guesthouse and I throw myself into the arena. I had already been shaken by the people in Delhi or Agra, but Varanasi… more rickshaw everywhere, people did not know where to walk more, people at all street corners to take you on a particular store or get a boat. A shock.
imageAfter I slipped in the middle of everything, I finally get on the ghats at around 5:30pm, finally some fresh air and a little less crowded. The night begins to fall, the Puja ceremony will not be long, so I’m going to settle on Dasaswamedh Ghat. The Puja is a ceremony that lasts 1 hour during which five men are ode Shiva through bonfires and dancing. Many Indians are here to collect and share this moment in the middle of tourists watching from the steps or boats. After that, towards a restaurant to eat quickly and go to sleep to enjoy the next day. To explain the mind, I met a Jew who had a revelation in Varanasi and wants to paint graffiti on one of the ghats, while he and a German take different drugs (very common in India and more in this city).
On returning to my room, I meet Marek, Polish, which is in the city for quite a few days already and who therefore knows very well and all the rituals. We’ll leave together the next day.

image2nd day so we ‘re off to wander the streets first . He explained a lot about the Hindu religion, the daily life of this city and another . We then went to the “classic” ride on a boat to see the city and the ghats from the Ganges. It therefore requires a Ghat in another, some for bathing, other cremations (the largest being the Manikarnika Ghat but there is also another a little further smaller ) and observes all, it impregnates the peculiar spirit of this place. Arrived at the cremation Ghat, seen from a distance the body burn, others arrive on the streets. Bodies are indeed transported (by men only) through the streets of the city on bamboo stretchers and body are covered with linens and flowers. They are then immersed in the Ganges to purify the body . Then men buy the wood for the pyre and the one who was appointed to light the fire will shave completely and cover with a white cloth. The body is then burnt at the stake , the head imageare sometimes discovered. At the end of the cremation, which takes about 4-5h, the same person dressed in white throw one last time Ganges water on the body and throw it with his left hand and the pot of water on the body and then leave with others, without turning, which means that the soul and the body left with Shiva. No woman in the family is allowed to attend the cremation, the Indians believing that it’s too hard for them since the incident took place. Be aware that you can attend from the Ghat directly if you want, provided of course you behave respectfully. Then it is just a matter of resistance to all this, I personally observed while later in the day for about 20 minutes but without going to close, because I already had seen a little too much for me that I will not describe here.


After the boat ride , we walked for 4 hours on the various ghats , sometimes to observe more closely the bathing rituals , prayers and cremation. There are also many very nice graffiti and temples to see everywhere.
After a stint in the bazaar , and an excellent chocolate Banana Lassi at the Blue lassi (address which I recommend) , return to the station to take a train to Delhi. About 30 hours on site , many things in mind, a very special atmosphere.
So to do or not afterwards ? Without a doubt , yes! Although it’s pretty hard to see certain things, there prevails nonetheless a very special atmosphere that would be a shame to miss . People there are not sad, it is not heavy because for them it is the way of life and they believe that the soul is freed. Nevertheless, I advise sensitive souls refrain to go or at least avoid cremation ghats too close, there is (unfortunately ) images that you can not clear your mind . For the rest, no worries, this is a really interesting city ! And I admit I was lucky to meet Marek who explained everything to me and that it was easier to see it all rather than as constituting be alone.

Next chapter , quite different : 10 days in Rajasthan

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