All of the images below are thumbnails and can be clicked on for a larger image.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2013:

On Sunday we flew to Varanasi, the sacred Hindu city on the banks of the Ganges.
Varanasi is holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism.
Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation.
It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India.
We checked into the Gateway Hotel Ganges Varanasi which is set amidst 40 acres of lush green
gardens, a veritable haven of peace and tranquility in this crowded and ancient temple city.
Jet Airways Flight #261 at the Khajuraho Airport Gateway Hotel Ganges Varanasi Gardens of the Gateway Hotel Ganges Varanasi

The video below is 3 minutes long of my accommodations in Varanasi.

Our plane was a little late so we quickly dropped the bags at the hotel and headed out.
Our first stop was at Bhara Mata (Mother India) temple.
Here we viewed the large relief map of India.
Bhara Mata (Mother India) temple in Varanasi, India

Our next stop was at a music school where we enjoyed a short musical performance.
Next we had a mesmerizing cruise on the Ganges to observe the evening aarti offering.
Every evening, as dusk descends, it's time for the Ganga Aarti to be performed at the three
holy cities of Haridwar, Rishikesh, and Varanasi in India. It's a very powerful and uplifting
spiritual ritual. An aarti is a devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering.
It's usually made in the form of a lit lamp, and in the case of the Ganges River,
a small diya with a candle and flowers that's floated down the river.
The offering is made to the Goddess Ganga, goddess of the most holy river in India.
The aarti takes place facing the river. The lamps are lit and circled around by the
pandits (Hindu priests) in a clockwise manner, accompanied by changing or songs in praise
of Mother Ganga. The idea is that the lamps acquire the power of the deity.
After the ritual is complete, devotees will cup their hands over the flame and raise
their palms to their forehead in order to get the Goddess's purification and blessing.

The video below is 17 minutes long of my evening cruise on the Ganges.

After our Ganges cruise we returned to the hotel for dinner.

MY DAILY EMAIL SENT ON FEBRUARY 10, 2013
Hello folks,

We had a nice restful morning as we didn't leave the hotel until noon. We went directly to the airport after leaving the hotel. The very small Khajuraho airport was only about a mile from the hotel. Security was interesting. My doctor doesn't examine me as close as these guys. Our flight to Varanasi was delayed about a half hour because the plane was late coming in. They did a remarkably fast job of turning the plane around. It was a fully loaded 737-800. We started boarding before the people already on the plane had even gotten off. It was only a 40 minute flight to Varanasi.



We touched down in Varanasi at about 3:15 and got to our hotel at about 4:30. We dropped our bags in the room and immediately headed out. Our first stop was at the large relief map of India.



Our next stop was at a music school where we had a short music performance.



As always one of the most interesting parts of the day is navigating the Indian traffic. Varanasi is a very densely populated city. We ditched the bus at the hotel and used several cars to get around the city.



Varanasi is to the Hindus like Vatican City is to Catholics. We Got to the River Ganges just after dark.



The buildings along the river all have ghats (steps) going down to the Ganges.



We boarded our rickety old boat and began our cruise down the Ganges.



This experience this evening was worth the cost and effort to get here. I felt like I was in a Cecil B. DeMille movie. We sailed down the river as they were having the evening aarti ceremony at the ghats on the river bank.



All these pictures are screen grabs from my video. Obviously my still camera was useless on a moving boat at night.



A little further down the river was the cremation site. All Hindus are cremated. Only the men go to the cremation. You can see several cremations in progress in the picture below.



We could see them bringing the bodies down to the river to be washed. Then the bodies are cremated. The cremation takes four hours.



We came back to the hotel for dinner after leaving the river. It was after 10:00 before we finished dinner. Have to get to bed now. Going back to the Ganges at sunrise tomorrow.

Tim
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MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2013:

We rose early on Monday to discover the soul of India during our visit to Varanasi,
the city of Lord Shiva, one of the most sacred cities in Hindu India.
Here, temples line the sacred River Ganges, with broad ghats or steps leading down
to the water’s edge. We followed steps to the river’s edge in the pre-dawn light
to board a boat for a ride into the broad river. As we ventured out into the morning mists,
we found ourselves transported to a different world. Then, as the sun rose and illuminated
the temples along the river, we saw the devout coming down to the river for a ritual
washing away of sins. Priests were performing sunrise rituals.
We passed the cremation grounds just before the sun began to rise.
Cremation grounds in Varanasi, India

Every morning at sunrise, 365 days a year, Indian people arrive at the shores of the
Ganges river to bathe in the sacred water, to mourn and burn the dead, to pay homage
to their ancestors with offers of floating candles and flowers petals, and to pray.
Sunrise on the River Ganges in Varanasi, India Sunrise on the River Ganges in Varanasi, India Sunrise on the River Ganges in Varanasi, India

The Ganges is 1569 miles long and rises in the western Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand,
and flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain of North India into Bangladesh, where it empties
into the Bay of Bengal. It is the longest river in India and is the second greatest river in the world
by water discharge. The Ganges basin is the most heavily populated river basin in the world.
Sunrise on the River Ganges in Varanasi, India Me on the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise

Thousands of people stream into the ghats to bathe and make offerings,
while hundreds of boats ferry tourists up and down the river.
Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise

“Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend,
and looks twice as old as all of them put together”—Mark Twain
Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise

It was very interesting to watch the faithful perform their morning rituals.
Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise

For thousands of years people have been thronging these Ghats to offer their morning
prayers to the rising sun. There are more than 100 ghats along side Ganga in Varanasi.
Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise

According to the Hindu mythology, Varanasi liberates soul from human body to the ultimate.
It is the Ganga Ghats of Varanasi that complement the concept of divinity.
Ghats of Ganga are perhaps the holiest spots of Varanasi.
The Ganga Ghats at Varanasi are full of pilgrims who flock to the place to take a dip
in the holy Ganges, which is believed to absolve one from all sins.
Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise Ghats along the River Ganges in Varanasi, India at sunrise

The video below is 32 minutes long of my sunrise cruise on the Ganges.

We returned to the hotel for breakfast after on sunrise cruise.
In the afternoon we visited Sarnath Temple.
This is where Buddha first preached the “Middle Path” of Buddhist practice.
Sarnath Temple in Varanasi, India Sarnath Temple in Varanasi, India Sarnath Temple in Varanasi, India

The video below is 81 minutes long of my two days in Varanasi, India.

MY DAILY EMAIL SENT ON FEBRUARY 11, 2013
Howdy folks,

For the most part this was my last day in India. We fly back to Delhi at the end of the trip but we never leave the airport. Tomorrow we fly to Kathmandu in Nepal. This morning we got up at 5:00AM to watch the sun rise on the Ganges. We had to walk quite a ways to get from the bus to the river. We would have had to walk even further if the bus driver hadn't bribed the police to let us go through a roadblock. The streets were really crowded with people heading to the river for the morning rituals. The smell from the filthy streets was very intense. The streets of India are just one big toilet. I am going to burn my shoes when I get home.



We took the same route on the river as we did last night. Below is the cremation site.



The sun continued to rise as we sailed along.



Below is a picture of me as we sailed past the most popular ghat. That's Roger from Colorado on my left.



The sun was fully up in the picture below as we pass more ghats along the river.



Hindus come from all over to bath in the sacred water of the Ganges. Varanasi is their holiest city.



We came back to the hotel for breakfast after our sunrise cruise on the Ganges. I skipped the afternoon sales pitch so I had four hours after breakfast to take a nap. Didn't get to bed until 1:00AM last night and had to get up at 5:00. This afternoon we went to a Buddhist temple. There aren't many Buddhists in India. This is the place where Buddha first spoke.



Until tomorrow,

Tim
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