Hindus holiest city.

Trip Start Sep 21, 2006
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Flag of India  ,
Monday, January 22, 2007

Varanasi is the most sacred city in India. It is here that Indus come to bath in the Ganges River to wash away their sins. It's also here that corpses get burned so the dead can go straight to Nirvana. It is believed that if one dies in Varanasi and is burned on the Burning Ghat, it puts an end to the infinite cycle of reincarnation. So many Indus come here to die in search of that deliverance.

The Burning Ghat is quite a gruesome site. Mortal remains are brought from all over India. First they are washed into the Ganges River. Then they are laid on a stack of wood to be lit up. The family stands next to the deceased as the body gets completely consumed by fire. They chat casually as if nothing was going on. There's no crying here as it would keep the soul from ascending to Nirvana. 

You can go with the family and have a chat, only a meter or two (3 to 6 feet) away from the fire. One night as I was watching a burning I saw a dog eating a meaty bone next to the pyre. Suspicious, I asked a member of the family what this dog was eating. He said: "It's just a bone that dropped from the fire." I was totally shocked. He didn't seem to mind at all that a stray dog was actually eating human flesh, his own mother's on top of that. When he realized how shocked I was he added: "Don't worry about it, it happens all the time." They say you shouldn't come to Varanasi before you're ready. But how in the whole world can you get ready for this?

Walking along the Ghats, sort of wharves set all along the Ganges, is like diving head first into a fantasy world, yet a very real one for Indus. You see everything from holy cows to Sadhus, holy men walking around butt naked, to your average devoted Hindu bathing in the Ganga, as they call it. It's quite a spectacle to see them bath. Some get in some kind of trance state. They come from every walks of Hindu life and you can feel that it really means something to them.

Varanasi is one of the most spiritual and mystic city in the world. It's easy to forget that you are actually still on Earth. You get the feeling that you're hovering somewhere between two realities, those of life and death.

You know you're in Varanasi when:
- you hear monkeys run on the roof of the wagon you sit in as your train gets to the station.
- your rickshaw wallah nearly runs into a cow herd that's coming your way in a busy boulevard.
- you have to keep your room windows locked to prevent monkeys from breaking in and stealing your stuff. Which raises the question: have they actually been trained to do so? And if so, by whom?
- a cow walks right by you on platform no 7 at the train station. How the heck did she get through the first six railways?!?

In India, it's not what you see, it's what you experience. And Varanasi is the ultimate spiritual experience.
Andre.
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