Varanasi river Ganges India

“Bobbing in a boar we are sailing upstream on the holy river Ganges. It’s still early and quite dark, just after 4:30 in the morning. The first sunbeams are touching the holy water, the first locals are waking up and are going to the river. People take off their clothes and step into the Ganges in their underwear. They bathe themselves, brush their teeth and simultaneously they are washing their colourful clothes. Life in the north Indian town Varanasi is slowly starting.

The captain of our little boat, a friendly Indian names Raj, paddles forward peacefully. “Look, there it is”, and all of the sudden he points into the distance towards the quay. We see a group of people kneeled next to a pile of sandalwood. A stake, it seems, because a little bit later the branches are set on fire and the smoke of the fire is mixing with the thick morning fog which is hanging over the Ganges River.

We watch from an appropriate distance. Eventually the flames will extinguish and the family members of the deceased will push the smouldering pile of wood from the Ghats off the shore onto the river. The soul of the deceased family member is now free of sin and will ascend to Nirvana, the afterlife, the deepest wish of every Hindu.

Cremation in Varanasi

Varanasi is a special place where you can take a look into the soul of India. About 85% of the population is a follower of Hinduism, one of the oldest living religions in the world. The belief is based on a variety of gods and many traditions, of which reincarnation is one. The belief is based on a variety of gods and many traditions, which reincarnation is one. Most Hindus are cremated after their death because this is the quickest way is to let the soul escape from the body and send it to the hereafter. Varanasi is one of the holiest cities of India and thus the ultimate place to be cremated. Provided that the family is rich enough to pay for the trip to Varanasi.

Not everyone is cremated. Young children, pregnant women, holy men and a few other exceptions do not require purification of their souls. They are made heavier with stones and this way their bodies will sink to the bottom of the holy river.

Holy Ganges River

Not just the dead make the trek to Varanasi; it is a place of pilgrimage. The Hindu truly believes that when you wash and bathe in the Ganges River, it will purify all the bad karma from previous lives. You bathe at least once in your life in the Ganges, and so it is on the bucket list of most of the Indian population. Varanasi owes its name and sacred status, moreover, to its location. The town is halfway between the two rivers Varuna and Assi which both flow into the holy Ganges.

Make a boat trip in the early morning

Be sure to spend a couple of days in Varanasi during your stay in India. Explore the impressive chaos of the city in the small streets full of people, shops, tailors, rickshaws, bicycles and cows. Take a look at the Ghats: the wide stairs which will lead you from the city to the river. Are you brave? Then try and bathe in the Ganges, the locals would love it. (We recommend you take a shower after you’ve done this). And especially make a boat trip on the Ganges. It’s rewarding to get up before sunrise, so that you, just like us, will be the witness of the awakening of a spiritual city. Ask your guesthouse or hotel for their connections to book a boat trip. That would be the easiest.

Explore Sarnath

Can you spend more time in Varanasi? Then have a look in the nearby village Sarnath. Around 10 kilometres away of Varanasi you can find some peace at the Buddhist stupas so that you, after this, are ready again for the hectic and chaotic city of Varanasi.