Varanasi is the oldest city in India and the heart of the Hindu religion. It is set up along the Ganges where apart from bathing, drinking, washing laundry and placing offerings, the Indians also burn their dead at the famous burning ghats. It is considered highly auspicious the die in Varanasi and be burned and placed in the Ganges because the soul is thus liberated from the cycle of rebirth and freed from suffering.
This is possibly the most powerful city we’ve been to in India. We’ve seen many interesting and shocking things including a five-year-old tight rope walker, a six foot cobra being thrown out a building, a street-side chicken slaughter house, many maimed and disfigured animals and people, body after body being brought down to the river to be washed and then burned and a snake charmer with two very awake baby cobras at the side of a narrow alley. The backstreets of the old city (where our hotel is) are a veritable maze of narrow winding roads often blocked by cows, goats or hoards of people carrying offerings to the temple. The hotel is close to the ghats and there are always a variety of ceremonies being performed. The biggest one we saw was very long and involved: there were seven men who waved a number of different objects such as incense, some kind of small golden pine tree with fire coming from the branches and what I can only describe as a very soft feather duster, with many synchronized hand gestures and turning while an either person chanted. This lasts about an hour and a half and happens every night at the main ghat.
We are currently heading to Sarnath (neaby town where the Buddha gave his first teaching) where we will be doing a ten day silent meditation course. Provided we complete the ten days, we won’t be able to post until the 30th at the earliest. At that point we will probably head back to Varanasi for a time and we will put some pictures up then.