Updated: Mar 24, 2019
When I visited the most holy city in the world in January 2015, I was taking my dad's ashes to dissolve them in river Ganges. Hindus believes that when someone dies in Varanasi or their ashes are released in the river Ganges they get liberated from rebirth and reached Mukti (liberation). It was winter in Varanasi and the weather wass about 10 degree Celsius. I was there one month after my dad passed and was trying to do the rituals necessary, hoping to bring closure to my pain caused by losing my dad. After going to Varanasi, "the holy city of India" my perspective of life has changed and I started seeing things differently.
Varanasi can be very disturbing to your senses due to population, cleanness and by the cremation rituals along the Ganges river, but it's an unmissable Indian experience and one of the most fascinating places I have seen. This ancient city is located on the banks of the holy Ganges river. Best way to understand this city is simply to walk along the ghats and explore the atmosphere and chaotic, winding lanes of the old city to absorb the uniqueness.
As you stroll along the Ghats, you can see most of the spiritual activities in Varanasi revolve around the Ghats, which are the riverfront steps along the river. When you take a morning boat ride along the Ghats, you will see people taking a holy dip in the Ganges river as they believe that it will wash away a lifetime of sins, smoking sadhus (holy men) and cremation of bodies.
You will also witness the morning holy rituals since many temples and small shrines are located along the Ghat. The most famous one is the Vishvanath Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva where only Hindus are allowed inside the temples.
Witnessing a cremation along the river bank cane very disturbing and emotional. The Hindu traditions see cremations and funeral pyres burning almost 24/7 at Manikara Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat. Sometime when you walking in a narrow street in the old city you might come across few funeral possession in a few hours and bodies were carried in wooden board openly only wrapped in white cloths. I found it is a traumatic experience but it is quite a normal process in this city.
The following picture was taken while we were walking along the Ghats in the morning. You can observe all the life, colour and activities along the Ghats.
Quite a scene to see that life and death are celebrated a few meters apart. People carry on with their loved ones death rituals and others were busy in their regular life, and others on their religious activities. I've never seen all the actives happening at same place simultaneously.
The evening spiritual ritual :"Ganga Arathi" is very special in Varanasi. All the priests perform this ritual at the bank of Ganges. Thousands of people will gather in place and come from other parts of the city in boats to participate in this ritual.
While the priests lead the ceremony of fire they will be chanting while music plays praising the river Ganges and Lord Shiva.
You need to stay at least 3 to 4 days in Varanasi to get the best of it. There is no place on Earth like Varanasi with its rich cultural history and religious activities. I am sure that your visit to Varanasi will change your life perspective.