VARANASI – WHAT TO EXPECT IN INDIA’S SPIRITUAL CITY


India’s Varanasi was one of my favourite places that I’ve visited on my travels.Varanasi was my introduction to India, and although people say it isn’t a good idea to go there first, I’m so glad that Varanasi was the first place I experienced in India.However, people often say that arriving in Varanasi can be a little overwhelming. You will be greeted by chaos, colour and the feeling of stepping back in time. Varanasi is a wonderful place to visit and I recommend anyone who visits India to experience Varanasi if you can. If you are planning a trip to Varanasi, here is what to expect.Varanasi is India‘s oldest city, located along the banks of the famous River Ganges in the state of Uttar Pradesh, in North East India.Varanasi is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities and is dripping in history and spirituality. It is one of the seven Hindu and Janist holy cities, or Sapta Puri, in India. Buddhism is said to have been founded in Varanasi as well.Varanasi is a spiritual city, where Hindus go to pray, wash away their sins and honour their dead on the banks of the Ganges. Dying in Varanasi is seen as auspicious, as it ends the cycle of rebirth.A trip to the Ganges will reveal countless sights that will remain with you long after you leave.The Ganges are not only a place of worship, they provide the backdrop to millions of locals’ everyday life. The Ganges is a bath, dishwasher, swimming pool and  a vessel for commerce for the people who live there.The Ghats are the big steps that led down to the banks of the Ganges.The best time to visit Varanasi is from November to March.We went there in May, and it was insanely hot. Temperatures were in the 40’s (Celsius). June to September is monsoon season, when the weather is still hot and humid. October to March is cold, when temperatures can be as low as 5 degrees. This time of year would be the most comfortable time to visit Varanasi. Summer starts in April, and may be a good time to visit if you want it to be hot, but not unbearable.Varanasi is a special place. It is also crowded and dusty. All around you, life is taking place. You will see wonderful sites in Varanasi. From young boys having a water fight in the Ganges, to women sitting preparing food in doorways along the winding alleys, or galis, to bodies being cremated and holy men smoking pipes.Away from the ghats, the streets are busy with people going about their day, and small shops display their wares piled precariously all around their stores.The streets and ghats are often busy and hectic. You will see lots of great sights that you won’t forget.Cremation is a big part of Varanasi, so you will see bodies being burned. You can’t take pictures of this, out of respect for the dead. Some bodies are placed in the Ganges without cremation, so there is a chance a corpse will float by your boat. Try to embrace these customs, because they are something to be experienced. It’s really interesting to see how a different culture deals with death.Varanasi is a town experienced in tourism. You should watch out for friendly guys offering to show you around or charge you money to watch a burning ceremony. You don’t have to pay for anything like that. Holy men may perform a blessing on you and then try to charge you for it. People may ask for a donation to buy wood for a burning ceremony. Try not to get frustrated by this. Just keep your wits about you and don’t follow people blindly.We got talking to a really nice guy who was interested in our lives and proud of his town. He showed us a temple around the corner from where we stood. Then he really, really wanted to show us his uncle’s silk shop. We knew we were being scammed, (although scammed is a bit of a strong word, more like hustled/ given a sales pitch!) but he was so friendly and nice that we said okay, we would have a look but not buy.Of course, once in the shop we had to repeatedly explain why we couldn’t pay €80 for a duvet cover, but those situations aren’t so bad so long as you know what’s going on, and that you won’t be swayed. There are lots of scams like this in India and other touristy places. But really, these kinds of acts are no worse than a PR rep outside a club in Ibiza! And I’ve been one of them, so I can’t really complain!There are so many cows wandering around Varanasi. It can be a little intimidating to try squeeze past a huge bull in the narrow alleys, but they usually won’t pay you much attention.



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