Indians consider Varanasi one of the holiest, if not the holiest city in India. Pilgrims come to Varanasi by the thousands to take ritual baths in the Ganges River, the "Ganga", and to cremate their loved ones. Cremation takes place 24 hours a day in Varanasi on wooden pyres along the river. People are cremated with their jewelry which is then gathered and sold. The money is used to support the cremation sites and the lodgings where Indians from all over the country come to spend their last weeks and months.
I've never seen colors as vivid as in India, and especially in Varanasi.
One of the best ways to take in Varanasi and appreciate it is to see it from the Ganges in the early morning.
Both men and women perform the ritual washing in the Ganges.
There is wood everywhere around the crematory sites. Deforestation is a problem in India. We saw billboards encouraging electric cremation in Delhi. I don't know how popular it is, but I doubt that Varanasi will ever adopt it.
We stayed at a respectful distance and our guide told us when to stop taking pictures. It was an honor to observe this holy ceremony
There is an eternal flame on the ledge in front of the arches to the left of the photo above. The devout believe that the flame has never stopped burning. The oldest son or another male relative of the deceased lights twigs from the flame in order to set the body on fire.
Hospitals and hotels wash their sheets and towels in the Ganges. They lay them out to dry in the hot sun.
Of course, cows are sacred in all of India. We saw cows everywhere, but more so in smaller cities and rural areas than in big cities like Delhi. Monkeys are also everywhere as are dogs and goats. I asked our guide if the cows roamed wild. He said that most of them have owners who let them out during the day. They return to their home at night.
They take the cows down to the river in the late afternoon to bathe and cool off. And all the dogs in Varanasi - and there were many of them - looked like these two!
Monkeys were everywhere, too.
These young boys are Hindu priests in training.
Varanasi is about 500 miles southeast of Delhi. It's considered small despite a population of about 4 million. Every day thousands of Hindu pilgrims arrive by train, car, plane and boat to this holiest of cities. This group is lining up to go through a temple.
We spent an afternoon exploring the market in Varanasi. The colors were so vivid!
And a few beautiful photos that Nan took; @corradiniphoto
In the photo immediately above, you see the man panning for the gold and other jewelry.
There's so much color, even at night.
Sunrise on the Ganges, or Ganga as the Indians call it.
Varanasi was an experience of a lifetime. It's humanity at its rawest. We were humbled to be able to witness the solemn cremations as well as the ritual cleansing in the Ganges and we hope to return someday. if you are fortunate enough to visit India, you must include Varanasi.
➜ Top Tips
Stay on the ghats. They are the heart of Varanasi and it would be a mistake not to stay on them.
Hire a guide. There's so much to learn about this amazing place that a guide will be able to provide.
Go to the Aarti ceremony.
Take a boat out on the Ganges early in the morning; it's an intensely emotional experience.
Take walks along the ghats.