We arrived in Varanasi by train, 2nd train ride of our trip so far. It was expected to arrive at 12:30 a.m. but ultimately arrived at 3 a.m. which is to be expected in India and is understood. The local hotel had offered to send a car and they had kindly waited. This made finding our way out of the labyrinth of tunnels and platforms covered with people much easier than it may have been.
Our first day in Varanasi was a recovery day as we both had acquired a stomach bug, Nateon’s more serious than mine. Late afternoon we took a walk around the neighborhood which offered similar sights and smells as many we had seen…various food carts, shops, cows, people, traffic and small piles of burning trash on the side of the road.
As we returned to the hotel a rickshaw driver offered us a lift, instead we made an agreement to meet at 5 a.m. the next morning to get to the Ganges River for sunrise. It was a beautiful morning to be in the rickshaw and making our way to the river. By 5:30 a.m. we were in a boat with a 70 year old ‘driver’ (rower) who showed us the sights. The river is huge and beautiful. At sunrise hundreds of people bathe, fish, meditate and do laundry at the water’s edge. Families gather and children play. We exchanged many smiles and good mornings with the people there.
We returned to the river, with the same rickshaw driver, in the evening after a day of sightseeing and temple visits. Then we saw what the river is known for, the Aarti ceremony, a very special ritual of Hindu worship and expression of love for God. Hundreds if not thousands of people gather every evening for the ceremony at ~6:30 p.m. We also floated over to the ghats where the cremations take place. This is a very sacred place and photos are not allowed. The peacefulness and beauty of these ceremonies was unexpected.