Backpacking Varanasi: the oldest city in the world
Along the most fertile river of India, Ganga, in the North, lie a series of ancient civilisations. These were the first settlements that India developed around. Benaras, or Varanasi, as it is now called, is said to be the oldest existing city in the world. To journey through Benaras is to journey through the many folds of history wrapped in this time bubble.
Backpacking through Varanasi
Assi and its neighboring ghats is the backpacker section of Varanasi. Here, you will find a host of guesthouses, eateries, and tons of people selling touristic takeaways. One thing you should keep in mind is that Varanasi lies in one of the poorest states in India. A huge part of the population is below the poverty line. Keep this in mind when you are (and you will be) hassled on the streets by pushy vendors trying to sell their wares, rikshaw (tuk tuk) and taxi drivers competing among themselves to be able to offer you a ride. Poverty lies in the undercurrents of the vibe here. And if you watch closely, you will see it staring back at you blatantly. Beware of mugging. The people here are nice, but poor.
It is easy to find a guest house here. Check around Assi Ghat.
Things to Do
Here are a few things I’d recommend you do in Benaras:
5 am chai at Assi ghat followed by a sunrise walk
A boat ride on River Ganga
Watch the aarti at Assi Ghat
The sunset and sunrise prayer sessions at Assi and its neighboring ghats are a sight to behold. Garbed in shades of gold, blue and red, priests and dancers perform a beautiful synchronized ritualistic dance with fire.
The ghat of the dead
Death, in Hindu beliefs is not regarded as something to be feared. It is welcomed, and prepared for. The ghat of the dead is the most sacred cremation site for Hindus. People from round the country bring their dead to be cremated at this ghat. Do not try to photograph the cremations. It is disrespectful.
They say, everyone who comes to Ganga leaves behind something, and takes with them something more than they came with. In Varanasi, I lost my pride, and was humbled. Hope you find that something to leave and take back too.