Travelling with G Adventures - My time in Varanasi
Unlike many of my past adventures, when I booked my trip to India last year I wasn't planning on visiting the country to see all of the famous sites. Of course I wanted to see the Taj Mahal and I knew that places like Amber Fort were must-see destinations. But the reality was that a big part of visiting India was to meet the people, experience this uniquely different culture and see for myself how crazy (in a good way) India really was. Unlike my trip to China for example (where I was expecting a mix of this as well as sites like the Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc), my trip to India was expected to really be an off the beaten path experience.
All of that is to say though, that one of the places that I was looking forward to visiting in India was Varanasi. Known as one of the most spiritual places in the world (my G Adventures CEO even described it as "the Jerusalem" for Hindus), Varanasi was a place that I was very interested in visiting. So much so that when I was looking at different itineraries for my trip to India, I stayed away from trips that didn't visit the city.
The city itself reminded of a "stereotypical" old-school city more than any other place that I visited in India. Modern (well at least for India) buildings and streets were scattered throughout older buildings, shops and restaurants. The markets we passed through evoked memories of exploring markets through cities like Xian and Istanbul, while visiting places like the world famous Blue Lassi shop reminded me of meals I've had in Paris and Bacelona. In a surprising turn of events after having already spent two weeks in India, Varanasi gave off the impression of belonging in the same class as some of the world's most popular traveller cities.
Of course, that wasn't the reason I had wanted to visit Varanasi and it wasn't the reason Varanasi left such a distinct impression on me even after returning home to Canada. Even when I reminisce about Varanasi today, I can still see all the people who have travelled all the way to Varanasi to bathe in the Ganges, hear the countless prayers being sung up and down the Ghats leading to the Ganges and even smell the ashes soaring through the wind as another body is cremated as the sun sets over the city.
Simply put, Varanasi is one of the most spiritual places I've visited during my time travelling around the world. People who practice Hinduism travel to Varanasi from all over the world to pray, cleanse their souls while bathing in the Ganges and even to die when they know their life is nearing an end. I was lucky enough to take a boat ride along the Ganges both as the sun was setting and then the next morning as the sun was rising. Both times I was overwhelmed by the sheer meaning that Varanasi hold for so many people in the Hindu religion. The fact that people come to Varanasi to die should say enough about what this city means to so many Hindus.
Oftentimes, visiting a religious "institution" involves going to a mosque, church or other religious building. When it comes to Varanasi, the entire city provides you with a religious experience like no other. India is full of stunning mosques, grand palaces/forts and extravagant temples. But in a country like India, Varanasi still manages to stand out as something unique and special. In a span of 24 hours you can catch the sunset along Ganges (along with a prayer ceremony), witness a cremation happening, bathe in the Ganges as the sun rises and explore the streets while picking up some world-famous silks or even a lassi or two from the Blue Lassi shop.
Varanasi - you will not soon be forgotten.