Monday, September 29, 2008

The oldest city in the world

Varanasi is claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited place in the world and it is also the holiest place in Hindu culture. The sacred River Ganges runs through the town and Hindus believe that if you die there you will break the cycle of re-incarnation and get a first class ticket to heaven. You also get brownie points if you are cremated in Varanasi and/or your ashes or bits of your skeleton (retrieved from the funeral pyre) are thrown into the Ganges. As I approached the city, some of my fellow passengers were busy chucking the bones and ashes of their relatives out of the train door as it crossed over the river - presumably they didn't have time to get off. Life in Varanasi revolves around the Ganges and there are numerous ghats – steep steps leading down to and into the water. As well as the many cremations – on the “burning ghats” – people take ritual baths, float candles in the river, do their washing, pray, promenade, do yoga or just sit. It was swarming with sadhus and swamis and buzzing with colour and activity even at 5am when we went on a boat trip to see the sun rise – yes, I got up that early! Strangely, it reminded me of the Grand Canal in Venice with a large spoonful of Indian spice thrown in.

I'd gone to Varanasi for a conference (which made a pleasant change from, say, Birmingham) but you also got to meet all the other VSO volunteers in India and swap stories in the hotel bar ... over a beer - I hadn’t had a drink for nearly four weeks. The next jolly is in Ranchi so roll on December.
Varanasi map : Culture and history : More pictures.

No comments: