The first thing Varanasi reminds me of is waking up at 4 am in the morning (or night, whichever one you call it!) And that for someone who experiences 4 am only during the Champions League nights in football. So you can imagine how ‘chuffed’ I was with the whole waking up at 4 am thing. But thanks to my one crazy friend who had this crazy idea of doing a boat ride in the Ganga river at 4:30 in the morning, we got up at 4 am anyway.
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Also known as Benaras and Kashi, Varanasi is situated on the banks of the holy Ganga river. It is also considered one of the spiritual capitals of the world, as it is a holy place for Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
If you ever wanted to visit one city in the entire globe that encapsulates the energy, chaos, colors and spirituality of India, Varanasi is the one. And our plan was to experience the city riding on a boat in the Ganga river.
Few minutes walk from our hostel, we reached the nearby ghat from where we would start our boat ride.
Ghats are the riverfront steps leading to the banks of the river. Varanasi has a total of 88 ghats. It is said that each ghat in Varanasi has its own story.
The most famous ghats are Dashaswamedh Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat. Dashaswamedth Ghat is the one where the famous Ganga aarti (Puja Ceremony) takes place and Manikarnika Ghat is the one where cremation takes place 24/7. The funeral pyres were burning even in the morning when we had reached there.
It was a calming experience riding in the Ganga, with everything around so serene and beautiful. Along with the beautiful ghats, you always get to see the glimpse of local life all around the way.
As the mist of dark was all gone, we remembered about the sunrise, even worrying a little if we had missed the whole thing. But the moment did arrive, and it was a great sight – watching sun rise above the Ganga.
It was then I kind of realized waking up at 4 am wasn’t actually that bad!
By the time the ride was over, I was really glad that I had relented to that crazy idea of my friend. And now, looking back, I can only thank my friend even more and cherish the experience I had.
Varanasi has a host of other activities to liven your day. You can visit the famous Kashi Viswanath temple, try the delicious local foods on street and even visit some of the famous Banarasi silk saree factories and learn about the craft of silk making.
You should also visit the nearby Banaras Hindu University which looked bigger than the Varanasi city itself (one of the biggest residential universities in Asia.)
In the evening, you have to see the famous Aarti in Varanasi (at all cost!). With its intense chants and music, coupled with the shimmering sight of light and fire, the aarti in Vanarasi transcends you to the world of spirituality.
All in all, Varanasi is one of those rare cities with life. From young kids swimming in the river to the pilgrims taking a dip, from bustling locals in the market to the wandering cows on street – with bodies being cremated 24/7 on the ghats – Varanasi is a living embodiment of life happening around you.
I remember seeing this Mark Twain quote on the wall of the hostel that we had stayed in, which totally sums up the Varanasi experience.
Experience Varanasi to experience everything in the quote. And even more. Especially that magical 4 am boat ride in the morning that even Mark Twain managed to miss somehow.