Saturday, 24 February 2007

Varanasi: Misty Morning Boatride

Last pit stop on our pilgrimage to the Kumbh Mela was Varanasi, one of Hinduism's seven holy cities and also know as the "City of Light".

Varanasi is famous for it's hundreds of "ghats", which means steps leading down to the water, which in this case is Hinduism's most holy river: The Ganges. An absolutely mandatory part of the Varanasi experience is to take an early morning boatride, and we did so starting out before sunrise, going through the early morning mist until the sun's rays cleared the air.

Every morning Varanasi attracts thousands of bathers, local as well as pilgrims, who come here to purify themselves by washing away their sins in the holy (but rather dirty) waters of river Ganga, as it is affectionately known here.

Varanasi is very cold in January (when we visited) and the waters in the morning are nothing short of bone chilling. That, however, did not seem to discourage this gentleman having a refreshing swim in the middle of the river. I asked him if he wasn't freezing and he answered: "No no, it is only cold for the first 5 to 7 minutes. After that you don't feel it"! I would consider myself lucky even to survive the first 7 minutes in that water.

The various ghats vary much in their character and appearance based on a number of factors such as when they were built, who was the benefactor behind it and which group of people uses it. Kedar Ghat, which you see above, is one of the more colourful ghats.

At Man Mandir Ghat the defining feature is a large palace once belonging to Maharaja Man Singh. The Palace itself is beautiful but it further distinguished by housing on the roof a very old astronomical observatory, with various instruments telling time and other more complex things. You can see a bit of one of the yellow instruments on the right side of the roof.

At Darbhanga Ghat the great mansion you see above had a very early hand operated lift. It worked in the large grey tower in the middle of the picture, but today only the elevator shaft is still there.

At Chet Singh Ghat you will see this red building, which was Maharaja Chet Singh's fort. He was eventually imprisoned here by the British, but escaped by climbing down a rope and swimming away in cover of the night.

Varanasi is full of monkeys. Here five of them get their early morning grooming done.

Some monkeys even get fed by human disregarding that they are actually quite a pest. This could possibly be tied to the monkey's status as holy due to the existance of Hanuman, the monkey God.

1 comment:

Basia said...

Aaaah, Varanasi. To me, it has always been the essence of India.