“There was literally shit everywhere” said Phillipe, the French Canadian traveller we met in Delhi of his short visit to Varanasi. So we had been warned. Our next stop was Varanasi, one of the holiest cities in India, and also one of the longest inhabited cities in the world. Soon after arriving and making our way through the city, we realised that Phillipe was right! Varanasi was everything that you expect from an Indian city – frantic yet peaceful, dirty but still beautiful and full of intrigue.
Our visit was just after some major monsoonal rain which meant the Ganges River was very full. During our first day here we visited the burning ghats, where many Hindus come to get cremated when they die as they believe that being cremated here allows them to achieve moksha, which is liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. This was a very intense thing to witness, especially when we saw a family throw their deceased family member on a pile of burning wood. We were lucky to have a young local guy who was able to explain everything which helped us understand everything that was being done. After a while the heat of the midday sun, coupled with the burning smell from the ghat made the air suffocating.
Around the ghats, there were lots of dead bodies wrapped in colourful material and tinsel that were first washed in the holy Ganges River and then brought to the firepit to be burnt. Families would buy wood from the nearby stores in order to have sufficient wood to burn the dead body.
We spent the next couple of days exploring the other ghats and markets around town. The Ganges is so central to the city and the people who use it for bathing, washing, swimming and fishing. The alleyways of the old town and some of the ghats gave a glimpse of how people live here. Parts of Varanasi were incredibly dirty with piles of rubbish filling the streets and cows, dogs, goats and pigs roaming freely. Probably the funniest thing we saw here was a doggy three way which even some of the locals found funny.