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Varanasi - Picturesquely situated on the crescent shaped left bank of the holy Ganga, is one of the ancient seats of learning in India.
It is said to be a compound of the names of two streams, the Varuna and the Assi, which still flow in the north and south of the city respectively.
Varanasi is the religious capital of the Hindu faith since recorded time and is a microcosm of Indian life. When Buddha came here around 500 B.C. he encountered an ancient settlement. Contemporary with Babylon, Nineveh, and Thebes.
Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, a hub of firmly rooted traditions. For all its variety of sacred spots, Varanasi is really one big shrine, the shrine of Shiva. This cult is one of the oldest forms of worship, and was practiced in the Indus Valley thousands of years ago. Legend recounts how the Ganges was created. The water goddess Ganga was ordered to redeem the souls of some humans of great merit. But the fall of such a quantity of water would cause great damage to the world, so Shiva caught the goddess in his hair and let her seep out slowly to wash the ashes of the worthy mortals, and their souls ascended to heaven.
Explore the inner city (old city of Varanasi) on foot. Through a twisted maze of small streets and narrow alleys, home to numerous shrines and pilgrim shops, you will walk back a few centuries. Life here seems to have stood still for years. Domes, minarets, pinnacles and towers, and derelict eighteenth century palaces dominate the sacred left bank of the river. The homes, the shops and even the cattle have not changed over the centuries. You will see marriage processions and funeral processions and cows grabbing big flower necklaces destined for the gods.
Your visit to this fascinating and spiritual city will be a brilliant and nostalgic experience.
A dawn boat trip takes you along the bathing ghats on the holy river Ganges to witness 2,000-year old rites of prayer and devotion.
The Ganges is the most sacred and venerated river in India. Beside the ritualistic aspect of Hinduism (thread ceremony, head shaving, food to departed souls, etc.) you can also see the bathing, laundry, and cremations of the dead that take place here on the banks of the river. Life and death go hand in hand in Varanasi.
While young people seek prosperity and protection from harmful influences, the older generation comes to Varanasi to cleanse their souls in the forgiving waters in preparation for the ultimate dissolution. A ritual cleansing in the holy waters of the Ganges at Varanasi absolves the believer of all sins: it is the aspiration of every devout Hindu to die at Varanasi, thus ensuring a direct passage to heaven.
Varanasi, the City of Light has become a haven for the sick and the aged waiting out their final days. The smoke that billows from the crematoriums on the edge of the river gives testimony to their final release from life’s earthly confines. On any given day, anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred corpses are cremated here; the ghat is assiduous with activity as the cremated bodies threw up smoke and fire. The views of the city from the water are mysterious and magical.
Also you can visit the buried city of Sarnath where Buddha preached his first sermon, setting in motion the Wheel of Law. It is here that Buddha revealed his doctrine and founded his monastic community. Pilgrims travel from around the world to Sarnath and there are monasteries constructed by Buddhists from several countries including China, Burma, Tibet and Japan. Although only a few miles from Varanasi, Sarnath reflects tranquility far removed from the bustle of the city.
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