I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some fantasic historic places, such as Stonehenge at the summer solstice, Ayutthaya in Thailand, Ephesus in Turkey, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Borabadur in Indonesia (Borabadur photos), Saranth in India where Buddha preached his first sermon, but the most jaw-dropping must be Varanasi on the Gangees, the holiest site for Hindus. It was brilliant to return here for my first weekend off, and, unlike everywhere else I’ve been, it hasn’t changed since I came here 14 years ago. In fact, it probably hasn’t changed much for a thousand years.
It’s a long succession of ghats, river-front temples with steps leading into the river, and it’s full of pilgrims from all over India, boys playing cricket or swimming, saffron-robed sadhus (holy men), courting couples, beggars, ice-cream sellers and conmen. (See Varanasi photos.)
The reason that it’s so incredible is that people have been performing the same rites here since literally time immemorial—puja (offering), cremations on the river bank and, every night at 7pm is the ritual of Aarti.
It’s not easy to describe the ghats or the aarti, so come with me, Shwetank and Shwetank’s uncle for an eight minute journey up the Gangees from Assi Ghat to Dasashwamedh Ghat to watch the Aarti performed.