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Enlightened in Varanasi: Traffic, Ghats and Holy Temples

By Terrance Richardson Subscribe to RSS | March 2nd 2012 | Views:

There are pilgrimage sites, holy walks and spiritual tours in India, but there is no place in the country that has more transcendental power and holy mystique than Varanasi. Known throughout the years as Kashi, Benaras and the City of Light, Varanasi is the vortex of the Hindu universe. Varanasi is known as a crossing place. What does that mean? It means that in Varanasi spiritualists and devotees have access to the deities, and the gods and goddesses are known to walk amongst the living. It is believed that anyone who passes away in Varanasi will gain enlightenment. A city that is built on this much belief, myth and spiritual power is bound to attract an array of visitors. However, it wasn’t the Ganges that I saw first on my trip to Varanasi. It wasn’t the palaces, temples and stone terraces built along the river either. The ghats, which are the stone steps leading down to the Ganges, and the best place to access a ritual bath or a spiritual cleansing, remained out of view as well. The first thing I saw was the clogged traffic.

As I sat in traffic, I wondered why the deities couldn’t do something about the gridlock. I opened up my guidebook and looked at the religious sites that were on tomorrow’s tour. Outside the taxi there were rickshaws, motor scooters, buses and a woman in a red sari herding two goats and a cow down the main thoroughfare.

Varanasi is otherworldly. You need to be prepared when you come here. It’s an assault on the senses. The palaces and ghats have that decaying glamour that Venice is known for. However, being that religious life has existed in Varanasi since sometime in the 6th century, that sort of disrepair makes sense.

The first stop on the tour is Vishwanath Temple, otherwise known as the Golden Temple. This temple was continually destroyed by invaders and rebuilt by Hindu kings, and I guess that sums up the idea of reincarnation pretty well. After that our tour will visit the Vishwanath Temple and the Nepali Hindu Temple.

My taxi driver lays on the horn and shouts something indecipherable at the woman in the red sari. He continues to blast the horn long past any reasonable duration. According to the guidebook, there are over 100 ghats in this city. You will often see pilgrims conducting morning prayers there. Wild monkeys are common in Varanasi. Please don’t feed them.

The traffic is getting worse. The smell of curry and fried paan is drifting through the window. We’re going to be here for a while. I’m going to step out and grab dinner.

Terrance Richardson - About Author:
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