Monday, June 4, 2007


After a 23-hr combined bus and train journey from Kathmandu, I finally arrived in India, the holy city of Varanasi, to be more precise, wide-eyed and bushy tailed.

Before leaving for Varanasi, I had met many people who had already been there, all of which who had offered me wonderful accounts of the city; however, in my mind, I was still expecting the dirty, smelly city that most in the West would describe for a place with hordes of cows and bodies burning everywhere-- basically expecting the dirtiest place one could imagine when I arrived.

That vision was, luckily, immediately dashed from my mind, however, with my first glance at the ghats, he area surrounding the mighty Ganges. Not only was Varanasi much cleaner than I expected, but it had a certain aura about it that few places I encountered had. I immediately fell for Varanasi, despite how hard the heat (a constant 50 C or 122F daily) tried to sway my opinion.

Here are the photos of my trip to the holy city of Varanasi. I would highly recommend a trip to it for anyone visiting the region. I hope to include more detail in the near future.

Locals produce sugarcane juice on the Nepalese side of the Nepal-India border.

A glass costs 5 nrps and is DELICIOUS!

The Nepal-India border.

After traveling by train through the night, I finally arrived in the holy city of Varanasi at 4am. My first act? A walk on the Ganges at sunrise and a 2 irps cup of chai.

(The cup is made from clay and is designed to be thrown away, like most anything in India, after use. Broken clay chai cups can be found everywhere in Varanasi.)

Washing clothes in the Ganges at sunrise.

My first glimpses of the locals enjoying the holy Ganges River.

Fishermen at work...

As children play cricket...

...While nearby a prayer ceremony takes place.

A baby cow nurses from its mother in an alleyway near my guest house.

Varanasi is known as being a leading producer of silk in India; unfortunately, however, it is also home to child labor violations. Even though India has laws against child labor, the police are often paid off by the factory owners.

The scheme of child labor often starts with the family, who is often in desparate need of money, receiving a large quantity of cash from a factory owner, frequently at a very high interest rate, which, therefore, frequently cannot be paid off, in exchange for the family's son, typically, to work in the owner's factory.

Naturally, the family is thus indebeted to the factory owner, so their son must work many hours at low wages in order to pay off the family's debt. In most cases, the debt carries over to the son's children as well, thus, beginning the vicious cycle of child labor violations in India.

This is also one of the main reasons why silk can also be bought so cheaply in India.

The fantastic craftsmanship of the childrens' work.

A laborer looms a fine piece of silk.

A view of the Ganges from above.

My "guide" Raj, who was employed by my guest house to lead me around the city, receiving commissions from places I bought. A first for me and a clear sign "Welcome to India."

Raj turned out to be a friend, rather than a guide.

Raj and I decided to take a boat ride on the Ganges at night, rather than during the morning. This night was special as there was a full moon.


Every night Varanasi hosts a cermony to the holy Ganges. The ceremony resembles being at church but outside and is an absolutely fantastic experience to witness.

One might say, in fact, that experiencing this ceremony might be one of the keys to unlocking India as a nation since nearly everything in life there revolves around religion and their beliefs.

The glorious full moon from the Ganges.

Looking back toward the ceremony at Man Ghat.

The 24-hour burning pyres at Manikarnika Ghat.

When most people think of Varanasi, they think of the ghats, and in particular, they think of the burning ghats where the bodies of the dead are cremated.

Most people might think of this ritual as being dirty, disgusting, or even grotesque. In actuality, however, it is quite the opposite and is a beautiful ceremony showing respect to their religion and their loved ones via a cleansing process of the soul.

All persons, except those who saddhus, infants or expecting mothers are cremated in the Ganges. Holy men (saddhus) achieve enlightenment upon death and are, therefore, already cleansed, so they are buried instead. Infants and expecting mothers are considered clean but must be reincarnated so their bodies are placed directly in the Ganges (with weights to hold them down).

(Incidentally, most health experts would probably say that Western practice of storing corpse in the ground is much less hygenic than cremating one, epecially in a land with one billion inhabitants.)

A calm night on the Ganges.

The festivities on the Man Ghat continue.

As Indians look on...


A view of the crowd. Each night thousands of spectators pack the Man Ghat for ceremony to the Ganges.

The entrance to Benares Hindu University (BHU), one of the most famous universities in India.

A most welcome sign to my ears after months of honking!

Just as I snapped this photo, a motorcycle with three passengers-- an unbelievable, but very common scene-- turned the corner at the intersection ahead of me in this photo.

The New Vishwanath temple at BHU.

Sunrise on the Ganges.

The people gather for their daily rituals.

A boat cruise makes its journey up river while a man is hard at work cleaning his clothes.

A birds is working just as hard to find food while the man labors away.

This little fellow stopped to say "hi" to me while I took a rest near one of the ghats.

Looking up river toward the heart of the city and the Man Ghat.

A little girl dries herself after her morning bath.

The Ganges ceremony-- this time with a more traditional view, from land.

A man calls the gods using a conch shell.

While in Varanasi, I thought it might be a good idea to send home some of the items that I thought I wouldn't need for the remainder of my trip, so with the help of Raj, we bought a box for 5 irps and then hired this man to stitch together the box for me-- a necessity for any box being sent by post in India.

After a box has been stitched, it must be sealed with wax to ensure that no one unstitches it and opens your box before it reaches its final destination. This man had his own die to mark which boxes he had completed.

"What's my home address again?"

"And how am I going to top this guy's handwriting? OK, concentrate..."

The finished product-- you can plainly see my handwriting isn't nearly as refined as my friend's...

The owners of the silk shop where I decided to buy some samples after my original seller tried to rip me off.

The brother is a long-time friend of Goldie Hawn.

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