Varanasi - View from the Inside

"By daylight the river is a dull brown, at dawn it is a slippery silver and by night is a sea of colour; a vivid multi-coloured fiesta of people."

July 2016 • Laura Kelly, Senior Product Manager

Varanasi - View from the Inside

My fascination with this incredible city stems from a National Geographical feature on Varanasi which sat on my bedroom wall through my teens, I wondered if I would ever visit this mystical city on the holy bend in a river far away.

Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities on the banks of the most sacred of rivers, The Ganges, is the place where all Hindus wish they could die. To perish in this city means the spirit escapes the further phases of evolution and proceeds directly to enlightenment. Yet this place is also known by Hindus as “the City of the Living.” 

Walking through the crumbling city that is centuries old to the Ghats, which are ancient steps and docks built into the sacred river, you take steps that are unchanged in millennia. By daylight the river is a dull brown, at dawn it is a slippery silver and by night is a sea of colour; a vivid multi-coloured fiesta of people. 

The evening was sultry, a ridiculous temperature as we travelled by rickshaw through the chaos that is Varanasi by night, a cacophony of noise that drives the city; the shouts, the bicycle bells, the tuk tuk’s hoots, the car’s horns. The skilful drivers avoiding pedestrians, goats and cows but somehow finding almost every pothole; the chaos is almost overwhelming. From the sublime to the ridiculous; in this most ancient of cities, we glow in the heat of our rides, full of anticipation and spy a cow taking respite from the heat in the centre of a jewellery shop making full use of the air-con.  Reaching the river we clamber aboard a small boat and join the thousands already watching this most mesmerising of ceremonies.  Then to sit on the river captivated by the evening Aarti ceremony, one of many thousand, to join the total silence; peacefulness pervades you thoroughly and you don’t even notice until you start your silent journey home and re-join the chaos.

The light is different in India it casts an extra-terrestrial glow with the difference most profound at dusk and dawn.  By dawn it is a different world completely as the sun rises over the Ganges with women washing clothes, pilgrims bathing in the holy waters, boatmen and boat builders going about their business, groups chanting in meditation, holymen proffering wisdom and advice and then there are the cremation pyres, built and burning on the river’s edge, a silent reminder. There are finally the wide eyed tourists completely in awe of all before them, cameras in hand and mouths agape.

The colour of India can never be overstated, or fully explained. Returning to the Ganges for a third time in the day to dip our toes into the holiest of rivers and walk the length of the old city Ghats in an easy hour and a half, we see yet another aspect to the river and its people.

“You have the monster crowd of bejewelled natives, the stir, the bustle, the confusion, the shifting splendours of the costumes – dear me, the delight of it, the charm of it are beyond speech.” - Mark Twain

I think I left a little of my soul in Varanasi; when we lit the Varanasi flower - a  candle set in a flower arrangement  on a floating piece of cardboard, ignited, we each said a prayer to our own god for friends and family back home, and set them to sail down the holiest body of water in the world.

View our selection of India tours featuring Varanasi.