What to eat, Where to go, What to do?
Everything was very new here for us… We couldn’t wait to see Varanasi , Ganga Aarti ceremonies, Ganges River. We especially wanted to attend cremation ceremonies in Varanasi. We didn’t have a reservation to stay in Varanasi yet. We didn’t know that Varanasi was a city where human trafficking was common. They even tried to kidnap me and my mother. I told this story at the end of the article. Varanasi was too full of adrenaline for us.
After exiting the peaceful atmosphere of Rishikesh city, Varanasi city was very chaotic and old.
Be sure to read this article;
Accommodation in Varanasi
If you are not in the festival time, you can come and check for accommodation and decide on a place accordingly. Varanasi offers many different accommodation options than other cities in India. We wanted to go and see only one city in Varanasi in India and decide where to stay accordingly. We didn’t have a hotel reservation on the way to Varanasi city because what you see in India may not be what you want to see. So the hotel you bought can turn into a big disappointment when you go there.
Before we arrived, when I searched for ‘ Varanasi accommodation’ on the internet , we could not find a proper place that I would really like to stay . That’s why, when we landed in the city, we wanted to determine the area we wanted to stay in advance, then rent a tuk tuk and visit there and decide, and in this process, we would negotiate with a hotel or guesthouse that we liked and safe and then we would get our accommodation need in Varanasi accordingly. When I look back now, I see that I made the right decision. Since the city is already very small, you can easily visit with a small riksha and determine the most popular and safe place in the region. Also, many of the accommodations I identified were much more gloomy when I went and saw them than in the photo. As a result, we stay in the place that we liked the most.
Don’t rush to book accommodation in Varanasi!
This is so important! Before we visit there, we check the hotel occupancy during the period we are going to. If it is not the festival period, the occupancy rates are already low. So you can go and check the hotel you want and decide accordingly. If you are going there during the festival, definitely do not do this because you may not find a place in any hotel.
When we went there, there was no special program in the city, so we easily determined a place that would make us happy.
We booked our next station, Jaipur, months in advance because the Diwali festival was held when we were going.
Which area did the tuk tuk drivers not want us to go to in the city of Varanasi?
There is an area in the city of Varanasi that tuk tuk drivers fear. They told us definitely don’t stay here, don’t come here, and don’t even walk around here, this place is too dangerous. We wondered why this place was so scary, we investigated. We were very surprised by what the Hindus said because we did not expect such an answer.
People living here eat meat, drink, then slur and harass girls, they are Muslim, this is a Muslim area, stay away from here,’ they said, we looked at each other. We didn’t even say that we came from a Muslim country. He said, ‘They kidnap and eat our chickens, they are wild’. A lot of cockroaches and mosquitoes are raiding the surroundings. People get sick just because of that,” the locals added.
Definitely don’t forget this info when searching for accommodation and hotels in Varanasi!
After these statements, we didn’t really know what to say. Hindus are vegetarians, they have incredible respect for animals, and from their point of view these people are wild at this point.
Also, what they said was very true. When we approached those areas, there was a serious increase in the amount of mosquitoes. That’s why I would definitely recommend choosing a mosquito-free and insect-free area when staying in Varanasi. As a result, many flies and insects can easily land on dead bodies during cremation ceremonies. If the deceased has a contagious disease, mosquitoes can cause a trouble for you. So don’t forget to take this information into consideration when searching for accommodation and hotels in Varanasi.
Varanasi is worth seeing by boat over the Ganges river. Definitely include this in your tour while visiting.
Places to visit in Varanasi, where we went, what we have done, where are the places to be seen, now I will tell you in detail. At the end of the page, I have prepared a summary for you in the form of short titles.
Our Trip to India VARANASI, Cremation Ceremonies
Varanasi is a city where the dead and the alive live together.
It has a special meaning for the dead and the living. When you go there, you will see that the city has a different atmosphere. You will witness different ceremonies in the evening and during the day in Varanasi, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The dead, the living, are all intertwined together. It is as if this is why it is the city with the oldest lived places with its older history in 3000 years.
Attend Cremation Ceremonies in Varanasi.
Varanasi seems to come to life with the dead. This city is also known by the name ‘Benares or Kashi’. Apart from being on the banks of the Ganges River, this place is very important to the Hindus. It’s like a religious zone. It is one of the holiest places in Hinduism.
I also attended many ceremonies and cremations in Kathmandu, Nepal. I saw many cremation ceremonies, especially at Pashupatinath Temple, but in Varanasi city the situation was a little different.
You can also check out my another article about the cremation ceremony at the Nepal Pashupatinath Temple.
In Varanasi, India, it felt as if you were going to do laundry, not a cremation ceremony.
In Nepal, tourists were not allowed to attend the cremation ceremony, but it was an event that was kept out of life but to some extent. In Varanasi, it was as if the borders were being lifted. The place where the dead were cremated was interfered by those washing clothes and children playing games. Everything seemed to be together and intertwined. Even if you wanted to be impressed, there was such a natural and normal atmosphere around that your feelings were suddenly normalized.
What Happened at the Cremation Ceremony?
I knew what was going to happen because I had seen a cremation ceremony before. This was the first time my parents had witnessed such an event. Despite this, they did not give the reaction I expected. They watched what happened in silence.
An average of 300-400 kilograms of wood is used to burn a dead person.
An average of 300-400 kilograms of wood is used to burn a dead person. The burning process takes place first from the mouth area, as in Nepal. Since the most difficult burning place on the body is the skull, the ignition process takes place with a cotton ball placed in the mouth. If the family of the deceased is rich, sandalwood kindling can be used instead of cotton. The duration of cremation varies according to the size, weight and gender of the person to be burned.
Cremation takes an average of 5-6 hours.
The burning process, which lasts an average of 5-6 hours, takes a little longer in men. The fire to be lit is also bought from the priests with money. In addition, due to the expensive living conditions, the dead are no longer burned with sandalwood, but only by sprinkling the sawdust of sandalwood on normal wood.
They are released directly into the Ganges River without being burned.
There are some cases when cremation is not carried out. Young children and women who die during childbirth are thrown to the Ganges river without cremation because they are thought to be clean. After a stone is tied to their feet, they are released into the river. In addition, since the snake is considered a sacred animal, people who die by being stung by the snake are left in the river without being burned.
They come to Varanasi to die.
The dead were then released into the Ganges River. Many people come to this city to die because they believe that if they die in Varanasi, their karma will be healed and liberated. If you can reach the final stage of karma, it is thought that you will not come back to earth.
You can read about the cremation ceremony I attended in Nepla before.
Be sure to read this article;
Attainment of nirvana is called ‘Moksha‘. I know it sounds weird, but for these people who have been able to accept and normalize death, it is very valuable to be able to die in the most beautiful way. That is why they intend to spend their last time in Varanasi, where they can die and reach Nirvana (Moksha). In fact, being able to live in the moment makes me think that coming back into the world isn’t that bad. I think it’s a blessing that we came into the world, but it varies for a lot of people. It is very important for Hindus that their ashes are thrown into the Ganges river after death. In addition, for religious reasons, many Hindus consider this place special and want to visit.
The fact that Varanasi’s history is so old, that it is considered sacred by Hindus, and that it is a religious center, makes it an important, touristic and worth seeing.
Sit on the Ghats of the Ganges River and watch around.
We calmly walked by the Ganges river with to the smell of the dead the detergent smells of men and women washing clothes by the river.
You can see a lot of people around the ghats. People who do laundry, burn their dead and demolish themselves use the stairs (ghat) on the edge of the Ganges for these operations.
As the waters of the Ganges rise and fall, the functionality of the stairs, namely the Ghats, becomes more important.
Is death in Varanasi a separation or a union?
While thinking of the burning dead in our minds, we saw people doing laundry in a while. It was as if these people were meditating by the river. They were lifting those clothes up in the same rhythm and hitting the floor. It was like a little ritual. The laundry was white and clean. There was neither a stain nor a mess.
They looked as if they had come to the edge of the Ganges and were searching and clearing all the snags between life and death. We witnessed the flow of the river, people swimming here, children playing and the dead accompanying their existence right in this flow. In fact, there was no gloomy atmosphere, there was no feeling of separation, there was a feeling of togetherness.
The Ganges river is really dirty. Sewerage, laundry waste, the dead are thrown here. People with a lot of diseases bathe here. The Indian state says it is not appropriate to enter the Ganges River. Despite the threat to human health, many people continue to bathe in the Ganges River. We want to put our feet in the Ganges River, but suddenly we give up on this idea. Already, a strange expression appeared on my mother’s face. Their understanding of cleanliness does not coincide at all with ours.
Ganga Aarti Ceremonies
We sail to the Ganges River to watch the GANGA AARTI ceremony.
We were excited for the Ganga Aarti ceremony taking place in the evening. We were going to witness the ceremony over the river. Many tourists, like us, were watching the ceremony over the river. Many people began to sail into the river slowly with boats.
Rent a boat to watch Ganga Aarti ceremony.
They were praying and leaving candles from the boats. Can you imagine? Many people in tiny little boats were lighting candles on the Ganges river to pray. The ceremony was held with the sunset. Prayers are offered to the god Ganga in the evening on the Ganges River. The whole day is thanked for that holy day that God has offered. So when redness goes down on the river, everyone prepares for the Ganga Aarti ceremony to offer their gratefulness. A beautiful view was coming out above the river. Along with the candles, wishes and prayers were set free. The tiny boats that roamed free-floating over the Ganges River began to move towards the place where the ceremony was to be held as it got dark.
We were slowly approaching the ceremony area without disturbing anyone. It was as if there was a big crowd of boats. Over the sea, our right and left were starting to get crowded. Those who wanted to watch the ceremony in the best angle had rented a boat like us and were positioned towards the area.
GANGA AARTI ceremonies are best watched from the Ganges River.
Since the priests were facing the river, this ceremony had to be watched from the river. Those who wanted to pray were at the front, and then there were tourists who did not want to miss it. It was getting darker and a pretty coolness covered the Ganges river. Bells began to ring around. It was impossible for one to remain indifferent at a point where prayers are heard on the Ganges River amid these voices. We were starting to get goosebumps. Hindu priests began to perform in their special ‘Pandit‘ costumes for the ‘Ganga Aarti‘ ceremonies held in memory of the goddess Ganga. Orange, saffron, yellow, red clothes symbolize vital energy and spirituality.
There were seven platforms in front of us. First of all, a short Hindu prayer ceremony (puja ceremony) was held in front of the Ganga statue in the temple. Fires and Hindu hymns in their hands created a magical atmosphere on the stage. I would like you to imagine that all the people are accompanying these hymns at the same time, really one is taking a deep breath.
Every element has a meaning.
The Hindu riding the boat said that the five priests in the scene represented five different elements. Air, fire, water, earth and space. We did not really understand what space was.
My parents and I looked at each other. It was as if we, too, were praying our deepest prayers.
Lights, fires, music, incense, torches were all around with an air of both spiritual and feasting.
The priests on the platforms prayed Puja as if they were dancing, performing movements called mudra with their hands. As the torch burned, turns were made in front of the symbolic god. Each symbol was used for the Puja prayer ritual with the same turns.
The fire was lit with certain oils, butter and camphor oil.
The smoke ofsandalwood incensesymbolizes the smell and smoke of liberation from the ego after purification.
The sacred shell was used to dispel negative energy and evil spirits. The sound that emerged from the sacred shell like a trumpet was considered “OM”, the primitive voice of creation.
It was a moment when we enjoyed being there. Even if you don’t go to Varanasi, remember that you can watch this ceremony in regions such as Haridwar and Rishikesh, which are adjacent to the Ganges river.
If you want to know what we have experienced in Rishikeshte, places to visit, accommodation information, please read this article;
At Ganga Aarti ceremonies, fire wanders among those who pray.
Since the ceremony lasts an average of one hour, we were slowly approaching the end of the ceremony. Fire was circulating among those who pray. Everyone pretended to take a piece of fire with their hands and rubbed it on their faces. It was as if they wanted to bring this fire, which they considered sacred, inside.
Then the milk was poured into the Ganges river and the ceremony ended.
Many people and boats that had come to watch the Ganga Aarti ceremony on the Ganges were slowly starting to move away from the area.
Candles were lit on many boats. It felt like a magical moment, as if many souls were moving over the Ganges. The tiny lights of the boats illuminated the Ganges in the dark. We also felt that we were having a really special night and approached the bank of the river.
Wander the streets of Varanasi and stop by the Silk factory.
Festivals in the city of Varanasi in India are unlike anywhere else.
Festivals in the city of Varanasi in India are unlike anywhere else. In this city, which can embrace more than 4 million people, the festival enthusiasm is of course different from other cities. To be here in ceremonies such as Buddha’s birthday “Buddha Purnima“, heralding the arrival of spring: “Holi” ,the festival of light “Diwali“, “Ganga Dussehra“, will make you feel great enthusiasm.
Places to visit in Varanasi;
The city of Varanasi was once a city under British colonization. That’s why you can see hotels and structures built during the British period. It was as if some parts of the city were made of the future and were suddenly abandoned. The structures that were built after the British handed over the city have survived to this day without much deterioration, but still, walking around the city gives a different feeling, as if the future and the past are mixed…
What you should definitely do when you come to Varanasi;
Our Varenasi journey in India
- Get up early in the morning and watch the sunrise and cremation ceremonies while the Ganges water is relatively clean. Maybe it will be a shocking experience for you, but it will definitely change your perspective on death.
- If you want to watch the cremation ceremonies to the end, you may witness a ceremony that you cannot never forget. For example, I cannot forget that a burning foot or head suddenly fell to the ground and the person helping the burning process picked it up with the help of a shovel and threw it back into the fire. Keep in mind that you should watch half or part of the ceremony in case parts of the body fall during the cremation process.
- Ask the people who do laundry around and the soaps they clean, and if you want to remember this place, buy one of them.
- Be sure to attend the Agra Aarti ceremonies.
- Rent a boat for the Agraa Aarti ceremonies and watch this ceremony over the river in the evening.
- Before the Agra Aarti ceremonies, pray with your heart that your dreams will come true and do not forget to leave flowers and candles in a banana leaf on the Ganges river.
- Travel around the city of Varanasi with a connoisseur and try not to wander alone as much as possible.
- Visit the silk factory.
Our Varenasi trip in India
How did they kidnap us in India?
Human trafficking in India is serious. Every time I remember and talk to my mother, I feel different emotions. Sometimes we just say ‘what if we couldn’t run away’ and look at each other without saying a word about it. We remember what happened at that moment, how my mother hit the man on the head with her bag, how we ran like crazy in the street, and we laugh for minutes. Sometimes we remember my father desperately waiting at that train station and we are grateful that we were able to come back. So this experience allowed us to see, albeit very briefly, what life looked like from the edge of life.
They ABDUCTED MY MOTHER AND ME in the city of Varanasi!
How such a thing happened to us, I want to tell you the story from the very beginning.
Before coming to India, my mother and I were discussing the details of the trip. We were planning what we were going to do from my birthday to the Diwali festival. We were laughing and thinking about how my father, who could not find anything to eat properly even in Thailand, would react in India. Although my father was used to rice and curry sauces because he was Iranian, he still hadn’t eaten Indian food before. In fact, none of us had tasted an Indian dish yet. So we decided to give my dad a surprise and took a can of shell beans with us.
We were about to leave the city of Varanasi. It was 20 minutes before our train arrived. A lot of rats were wandering around the station. We were in the right place at the right time, but we didn’t have a chance to sit anywhere and wait for the train. We wanted to sit on the floor or on the pavement, but we were nervous when we saw the sewery waters flowing from one side and the rats wandering on the iron tracks. Not to mention the insects roaming the edges of the walls. If we sat on the floor, we would sit on the suitcases and wait for the train to arrive, with the feeling that something would come through our trousers.
We were happy to find the right station. We quietly talked to my mother, thinking ‘we can open the canned shell beans on the train and surprise my father’, or we could eat at the hotel when we went, but when we got to the hotel it might be late and we thought we might not find a place to eat after that time. We couldn’t eat shell beans alone, we thought we should buy a small loaf of bread.
We just wanted to surprise my dad.
At the entrance of the station there was a man selling vegetables and fruits. There was also a grocery store right next to it. We got up to get a few tomatoes and cucumbers. If we could the bread from a market, the mission was going to be completed Of course, without giving these details to my father, we told him that we would only buy water from the market around the corner and left the station immediately. First we went and bought some tomatoes and then we went to the market to buy bread, but there was no bread left. The man pointed his finger at the grocery store just down the street. He said you should walk there and you can find what you want.
We made the first mistake by trusting this man.
When we walked there, we would get tired and lose time at the same time.
The tuk tuks were so cheap that without thinking about it, we jumped a tuk tuka in front of the market and showed our hands to the market at the beginning of the street. We said, “Take us there and bring us back to the train station immediately.” It was a short distance that we would go back and go back in 3 minutes. It was worth it for Turkish night surprise we were going to do to my father.
We never thought that a Rickshaw driver could kidnap us…
The man was a skinny, dark-skinned young driver, he started driving fast, but before he even got to the street, he crossed from the alley to the back street. The driver did not speak English, but we used to call it the market with hand gestures. He was also making a hand gestures. We thought, ‘That market is probably closed.’ We watched him continue on his way without making a sound.
On one side we were smiling focused on the surprise we were going to make.
We warned the Rickshaw driver many times.
When we crossed the back street to the other street, we made the sign that he was going too far, but he was telling us to stay calm. I think we were almost there, but we realized that we were going five more streets away. It was too far away, and if it went a little further we wouldn’t have enough time to catch the train back. It was also only a matter of time before we missed the train if this man couldn’t find the train station again.
We gave up going to the grocery store. That didn’t seem like a good idea. We were saying okay, stop. We were making a signal with our hand to him that he needed to stop. The man wasn’t even looking at our faces. We started to get annoyed with his attitude and touched his back and told him to stop. He was still pedaling fast without even looking back.
The first moment we felt kidnapped…
We were starting to get disturbed. We stood up and started to slap his back faster and say in a loud and clear voice that he should stop, but when we realized that he was starting to act like we weren’t there, the adrenaline in our bodies skyrocketed. We were hitting the man in very harsh moves and shouting stop so that everyone passing by on the street could hear us. He certainly didn’t stop.
We started hitting the Rickshaw driver.
At that moment, we realized that we were quickly taken somewhere behind a malevolent person. We were far away. As we drove away from the train station, our hearts beat so fast that it affected our voice.
We were panicked trying to decide what to do. The man quickly turned into the street.
What happened on that street was our greatest chance.
He entered the street so fast that at the beginning of the street, he saw at the last moment that the truck was dumping a large sand in the middle of the street. He suddenly had to stop the car to avoid hitting the pile of sand. That sand truck was our greatest chance. That’s when my mother hit her on the head with her heavy bag. So I jumped from the tuk tuk as I hit him on the back with whatever I had. We were trying to reach the main street by running without breathing. On the one hand, I was shouting loudly and saying “run, mom, run”. We wanted at least someone to notice if the man came after us. We didn’t feel safe until we got to the main street. At any moment we felt like the Rickshaw driver was going to come back.
We had to run all the way to Varanasi train station.
We thought about riding a tuk tuka again but we were also afraid of this idea, we had to run to the train station. We ran all the way to the station without stopping. We were relieved as we ran and got closer. We never felt like we were getting tired. I think the adrenaline in our bodies gave us all the explosive power we needed to run. We were looking at the clock on our arms, and the train was almost about to depart.
My father was so scared and worried, the Varanasi train was about to depart!
‘Did my father go out to look for us?’ ‘What is he doing?’ ‘Is he scared?’ We were asking each other and we kept running.
When we entered the station, there was no one around. Everyone was on the train. My father was standing alone at the station and looking around with worried eyes. He saw us in the distance, shouting, “The train is leaving.” “Is this the train we are going to ride, Daddy?” I was running and talking to him out loud. “Yes,” he said.
The question that we will never forget throughout our lives. Can we get on a moving train?
All the doors of the train were open and people were watching around through the doors of the train. The train had not yet accelerated enough. I was shouting, “Come on, dad, get the bags, run on the train, get in before the doors close, come on, Dad.” When my father took the two bags on his shoulders, we were with them. My mother and I also grabbed a bag. “Come on, Mom, I said quickly”, I had to get my first mom on and then my dad and me… The speed of the train had reached a slight running pace. We took the bags from my mother’s hand and she threw herself inside. We threw all the bags into the train right after.
We were holding the iron of the train speeding with one hand and running on the other. Then, with the last move, my father and I threw ourselves inside. A few minutes, there were still people running on the train after us.
It was madness!
God what the hell were we doing? I couldn’t believe I was running to the train. As soon as we got on the train, our nerves drained and we started laughing.
My father wasn’t laughing at all. We could see that he was very angry.
This was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard in the world. My mother agreed with me. We looked at each other and felt a great gratitude for being there. What if we couldn’t go back or couldn’t see my father again. What would my father do without us? God, I didn’t want to think about it for a moment.
The greatest peace we have experienced since being kidnapped in Varanasi…
We were like “Oh, God, I’m glad we’re here.” Even that chaotic dirty train had become the most peaceful place in the world at that moment. All those angry words of my father were like a lullaby in my ear. We were always telling my father that he was right, no matter what he said.
He stopped for a moment and asked, “What have you been through, what has happened to you”? I think he was also very scared.
We were still laughing, foolishly but we were laughing. Our nerves were so broken that I even took it on video. God, who would think of taking video the moment we got on that train? We got on the train from the wrong side of the train and we went standing in that crowd until the next station. We found the wagon-lit at the station and moved.
What do you know about human trafficking in India?
What we went through turned into a memory that not everyone wants to experience, but I still remember that the food I ate on that train, the peace of that uncomfortable seat, the relaxing effect of that smelly sweat, the most beautiful train ride I ever made. My mother and I were constantly looking at each other and hugging each other saying that I am glad we are here, my god, this is the most beautiful train in my life. There could be no greater peace than this. What were these people going to do to us, were they going to steal our organs, were they going to rape us, were they going to kidnap us and ask for money? Were we going to die? What would my father do at that station for hours, who would he talk to, who would he ask for help? Without knowing a word of English, where would he sleep, where would he resort to. Our hearts clench as we think about these things, but we were also very grateful that none of this had happened.
NOTE: We also used to ask my mother for years, ‘What are you carrying in that bag, for God’s sake, it’s so heavy’ and make fun of her for having a bag like stone. That day, my respect for that bag also increased. She’s still using the same bag.
Human Trafficking in India
Keep Your Eyes Wide Open in India, It May Not Be Just Your Money That They Are Stealing.
When I returned to our country after a bad experience in Varanasi, India, I learned that human trafficking was very poppular in India. It was customary for them to kidnap tourists, especially for money, and then ask their families for large sums. The interesting part is that in India, these incidents are mostly experienced in the city of Varanasi.
Human trafficking is common in India.
I learned that human trafficking is common for a number of reasons. From organ trafficking to child trafficking, each has a different purpose and intention.
There is a market where they steal a person’s organs and sell them for very high prices. In the market, also known as the organ mafia, it is known that living organs make a lot of money in the international market. You know that in case of organ failure, you have to queue up and wait for the most suitable organ for you to come out. In this period when people do not prefer to donate organs, many people cannot have surgery because there is not enough organ donation. That’s why there are so many people who die because organs aren’t transplanted. People who are in a good financial situation and want to buy organs can contact with these mafias. Of course, there are many people who do not know how those organs reach them, but there is a harsh truth that there are many people and stories that have been kidnapped and their organs taken in countries with low socio-economic levels.
There is no age limit for human trafficking in India.
Child trafficking and abductions for many purposes causes trouble to India. Certainly, the authorities need to prevent this situation.
Of course, ignorance and cultural level also cause rapes to be high. At this point, people, mostly women, kidnap people even for rape. These are the big troubles in this country. They sometimes hold the women they kidnap for their momentary pleasure for months and rape them regularly.
In fact, in India, abductions usually take place through women. Of course, foreign tourists also get their share of this issue.
We will never know the intentions of the man who kidnapped us in Varanasi.
We will never know the man’s intentions in the incident that happened to us that day, but there is a fact that he is definitely not good. We barely returned to the train station with our hearts in our mouths and our souls in our hands. We narrowly escaped a great trouble that had no return that day.
I am sure that with the increase in literacy and education, these abductions will also decrease, but this is the case for now, and we regret to remind you that you must always have one eye open and your mind awake on your journey to India.
After Varanasi city, we were ready to move to Jaipur. The next station is Jaipur, please click for the full article.
Be sure to read this article;
We also came to Varanasi city from the city of Rishikesh. If you want to know what we experienced in Rishikesh, places to visit, accommodation information, please read this article;