If I could have taken pictures with the smell inside them, the photos of Varanasi will become one of the most special memories of my traveling period. I came to visit Varanasi knowing that is one of the most sacred places for Hinduism, being considered as the spiritual capital of India. What I didn’t know before was that this place will give my first cultural shock in India.
Varanasi is situated on Gange River, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It’s a city with a long history, being dated since 11 century B.C. According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was founded by Shiva one of three principal deities along with Brahma and Vishnu. The spiritual importance is given too by the location of 2,000 temples in Varanasi, including Kashi Vishwanath, the “Golden Temple,” dedicated to the god Shiva.
Two natural elements are associated with Varanasi: the Gange River and the magic fire, life, and death. Hindus believe that dying here and getting cremated along the “holy” Ganges river allows one to break the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation. It sounds pretty mystical when you read about it but being here and seeing so many corpses lying on the steps of Manikarnika Ghat waiting to be cremated, made my knees feel weak. But the smell of corpses burning is a though experience that will stay with me for a while.
Somehow we have a gift for choosing good places to sleep but well hidden and hard to reach even with a map. In Varanasi we did the same, we found a Guest House somewhere behind the Manikarnika Ghat…I still hear the people chanting carrying the bodies to the river. I still sense the heat of the big flames of magic fire. I still feel a contrast of emotions surrounded by these different people between sadness, grief, and a sort of peace. And finally, I still smell the dead bodies burning…Probably after I will understand more about the Hindu religion, I will be a witness to their funeral rituals but now I’m just a lost tourist in a twisted story.
Beautiful India has so many mysteries, it’s full of mysticism, hard for us to understand, that’s why I’m thinking if we, Europeans, are really so highly developed as we think. Maybe they know more about life and death…I will leave Varanasi intrigued to discover more about India.