Varanasi sits between the Varuna and Assi rivers and is one of the oldest cities in the world, as old as Jerusalem, Athens, Peking, and Mecca. This is the spiritual center of India with 70 per cent Hindu, 15 Muslim, 5 Buddhist, 5 Christian, and the remaining 5 are Jewish, Jain and others.
We had a 4:45 wakeup and left at 5:15 to get back to the Ganges River for sunrise. We took the bus as far as we could and walked the remaining distance. The city was awakening. Many people sleep on the sidewalks. This is the city where people come to die. Hindus believe if you die in Varanasi and your ashes are put in the Ganges you will not have to go through reincarnation but will reach paradise. The banks of the river were bustling with people in meditation, religious ceremonies, a group of young men in yoga training, clothes washers cleaning their clothes in the waters, Hindus washing away their sins in the Ganges, bodies being cremated on the banks by the crematoriums, people bathing, chanting over loudspeakers, dogs wandering and people selling flowers and trinkets. There were also branches from the neem tree to buy to brush your teeth. We went on a boat up the river and David took water in his hands so the light of the sunrise would reflect into his eyes... he can see again!!
As we went down the river there was a body floating from a water burial. Lepers, people who die from a snake bite, pregnant women, and children are buried in the water. People who are burned are brought to the river within 5 hours of death.
We left the Ganges and went to the site of Buddha's first sermon and the Buddhist temple there. The prestigious university in Varanasi has 25,000 students. This was built by a man the Gandhi called the "biggest beggar". The founder felt education was the key and would ask for donations from the street beggars. Our last stop of the day was to a factory to see and learn about the loom weaving of silks.
Varanasi is a city that is loved or hated - we loved it. Namaste!