Varanasi (Benares)

-  Relaxed by the Ganga


November 21, Tuesday 

Ganga - Why do you make me so relaxed?

I woke up at 4:00 a.m. on the bed of the night train.  It ran through a railroad bridge over a big river - this must be Ganga!  Saw a lot of people gathering on the terraced bank in tiers or Ghats in the grey dawn.  Shortly the train stopped at Varanasi Railway Station at 4:30 a.m.

“Varanasi” - I have not heard this name before although its old English name, “Benares”, is well-known.  This city has another name, “Banarasi” similar to Benares in pronunciation: this is used for the university in this city.  I feel strange why the two letters, n and r, exchange in the names.  “Ganges” is well-known but this is also the old English name.  “Ganga” is the formal name in India and then will be used below.  Varanasi has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage City in 2009.

I was caught by an autoricksha driver.  Drove to the upper area of the Ganga.  The driver wanted to take me to the hotels he knew but I liked to find one by myself as an active backpacker.  Leaving the driver with a lingering sense to me, I walked around to see several rooms.  Finally I decided to stay at Sonmonny Hotel that is located beside the Ganga and has a good view. The rate was Rs300. 

Standing at the small terrace of my room, I watched the sun rising over the Ganga.  I felt extremely relaxed while watching the splendid view unfolded before my eyes.  It was a wonderful feeling.

I went to the restaurant on the roof of the hotel to have a breakfast.  I met with two sole middle-aged tourists, a Swedish woman and an American guy from New York City.  He said this was his third visit to India.  This time he trekked in Nepal with four Nepali for 17 days and then traveled in Assam, the eastern most district of India.   He admired the view in Assam, extended rice fields and people working there with elephants.  His talk about trekking and Assam strongly drew me and brought me to visit Assam in my present travel.  A group of Chinese came in the restaurant.  They come from Kunming, Yunna, China.  Most of them did not speak English at all but we talked with each other by writing Chinese letters.  I took a picture for them.

I sent out my clothes for laundry and put on a T shirt and a short pants.  Around 10:00 a.m. I began to walk along the Ghats of the Ganga to go down stream or to the north.  I felt refreshed in the brilliant sunshine.  I met a Japanese young lady, Ayumi.  She stared at me in a moment, smiled and said that she had thought I was a Brithish, not a Japanese.
This must have been due to my white Tilley outdoor hat, my favorite one, sunglasses and my red T shirt.  The Tilley hat stood out in India because Indians commonly do not wear any hat or cap even in the strong sunshine.  Some Indian told me they thought I was a Nepali.

I saw a boat rowing out that a lot of Indians were on board.  When I pointed my camera to them with a moment’s hesitation,  all of them turned toward me. Some smiled and some waved.  I waved back and took pictures (Left).

Walking on the Ghats, I saw a snake charmer wearing red clothes treating a rattlesnake with a pipe.  He looked so busy to press people for money while piping (Right).

I arrived at the area of crematory.  Several groups were executing cremation.  Thick wooden logs were crossed each other to assemble a square tower, like in campfire.  Men carried the body completely wrapped with white cloth and placed it on the logs.  Brilliant gold and red paper decorations were scattered around.  People of another group were surrounding the fire.  After the cremation, all the things are put out to the Ganga according to the guidebook.  The Ganga is believed to be sacred and personified as a goddess for Hindus.

In the some concept of Hinduism, one continues to be born and reborn in various realms in the form of human, animal, plant, rock or other being in the wheel of life.  As each being in the transmigration, one suffers.  Bathing in the Ganga could cause the remission of sins, cut the wheel of the sufferings  and facilitates the attainment of salvation.  The concept of the wheel of life has been brought to Japan with Buddhism although Buddhism itself does not assume such a concept originally.  I feel that a lot of concepts in Hinduism has been brought to Japan and has exerted basic influence over our culture.

I walked further to the north and arrived at Bridge Malviya that I had seen from the train this morning.  A group of cows walked around freely, not managed by people (Above).  In this country, all the people and animals look to live free from intervention.  I left the Ganga to walk through the town.  The roads were crowded and complicated.  I found a hotel, “Diamond Hotel” where I had a lunch of chicken curry or Mulgh Handi.  I walked toward the Ganga again.  I met with a young Japanese guy, Kengo Yamaguchi, who also stayed at my hotel. He said he had been here for four days so far.  He talked about his long walk to the opposite side of the Ganga through two bridges yesterday.  The opposite side is thought to be a defiled land for Hindu but some Muslims are living there, Kengo said. 

I returned to my hotel, I felt a chill.  Did it come because I kept still at the bank when it got cooler?  I took a medicine and went to bed at 9:00.  I will have a rest tomorrow.

November 22, Thursday

Spiritual sunrise at the Ganga.  Visited Sarnath, the sacred place of Buddhism.

Kumiko, I came to Varanasi, the most sacred place of the Ganga for Hindus.  Here I feel wonderfully relaxed.  Thinking why I do.  Last night I had a slight cold but now feel OK.  Today I like to visit Sarnath located at the north of Varanasi.


I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and went to the Ghat of the Ganga in front of my hotel.  The sunrise. I saw the sun rising in the haze.  It looked mysterious although it must be due to air pollution.  An Indian group came  and a woman began to pray to the rising sun.  I took a picture shown below.  (This is my most favorite shot in India.)

A boy came to me to sell lanterns.  I bought some thinking people I love, ignited the lanterns and offered them afloat on the water.  They drifted slowly but steadily to the downstream, with my desire.

I returned to the hotel to have a breakfast.  After I wrote  some postcards, I went to the post office to ship them and drove to Sarnath located 13 km north east of Varanasi by an autoricksha.


Sarnath is thought to be the land where Buddhism and its order was born.  Buddha or Gautama Siddhartha, who had experienced spiritual awakening under the Bodhi tree, had a travel to the west and arrived here to talk about his thought to five people who later became Buddha’s first followers.  It means that this is the land where Buddha’s teachings appeared as words and his order was created for the first time.  Many years ago I read a story that was believed that Buddha had talked about his memory to his followers.  The summary of the story is as follows though it must not be accurate because I am writing based on my faint recollection and using my own words.


When Gautama, after his enlightenment, traveled to the west, he met with a guy, a fellow during the time they had studied together.  The guy asked Gutama, “Hi Gautama, you look extremely lively now.  Tell me what happened.”  Gautama: “Come on!  I have already attained the enlightenment.  Therefore please don’t call me just friend or Gautama easily”.  The guy was surprised, saw off Gautama and talked to himself, “It might happen by some chance.”

Gautama walked further to the west for Varanasi, the sacred place for most Indians, and arrived at the place known now as Sarnarth.  Five guys, the fellows during time they and Gautama had studied together, ran up to Gautama thinking their good old days and said, “Hello, Gautama, you look very well.  What make you so bright?”  Gautama: “I’ve got the enlightenment.  Don’t call me just Gautama but call me Bhagava.”  The five guys were confused in the beginning.  They listened to Gautama’s words and finally became the first Buddha’s followers.

When I read this story for the first time, it made me strange because Buddha sounded to be so arrogant.  At the same time, I felt the story impressive because it expresses Buddha’s elevated mind activities.  This story reminded me another well-known tradition on Buddha’s birth:  when Buddha was born, he walked seven steps, directed his hands toward the heaven and the earth and said, “Holy am I alone through the heaven and the earth.”  I think this tradition might be created based on the episode of the time when Gautama, an ambitious young man, was born as Buddha after his enlightenment. 
Concerning “an young man”, Gautama renounced the world to become a bonze when he was 29 years old and attained the enlightenment 35 years old, not necessarily be young.  He lived to the age of 80, very long in those days though.


In Sarnath, I visited the deer park where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma.  In this park, I walked around a large tower, the Dhamekh Stupa (Right) constructed in 6th century thinking about young Gautama and chanting “The Heart Sutra.” 
Outside the park, I visited the National Archeological Museum where the main attraction is the Ashokan Pillar in 3rd century B.C.: it has four back-to-back lions, which has been adopted as the national symbol of India (Left).

When looking for a vehicle to return to Varanasi, a cyclericksha appeared.  I declined first because Varanasi is as far as 13 km.  The driver hit his thigh and said that he was strong enough and asked me to ride his aggressively.  I accepted.  It took about one hour to Godowlia, the center of Varanasi.  I paid Rs100.

I walked through the crowded streets and reached the Ganga again.  I took a walk along the Ghats to the south.  I saw a building where on the wall was painted “Kumiko’s House”, probably a hotel owned by a Japanese.  In front of the building, I met two young Japanese,  Daisuke and Yuki.  Daisuke with nice beards were studying Hindu and staying here more than one month.  Yuki was an expert of traveling in India, from the north to the south.  She recommended to visit the south, Kerala in particular (Right).

November 23, Friday 

Boating on the Ganga. Left Varanasi to Bodh Gaya.

I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and walked around the Ghat of the Ganga thinking why I felt very relaxed and happy since I arrived at Varanasi. 
I met a guy who were working at my hotel.  He asked me to try boating.  I felt inclined.  He took me to a young boy, Rabi.  Rabi rowed a boat toward the center of the Ganga while the sun was rising.  I saw the fire of cremation in the remote Ghat.  Here is the direct combination between nature and humans.  Does it make me so relaxed?  The rowing boy said there would be a big festival the day after tomorrow.  The Ghats will be crowded with people and the Ganga filled with a lot of boats.  It will be nice to experience such a cheerful time but I will leave here for the next destination, Bodh Gaya, as scheduled.  Today is one week after I came in India.  I shaved for the first time since then.  (I wrote this at 8:00 a.m.)

I went to Varanasi Railway Station, where I bought three tickets, Varanasi - Bodh Gaya - Patna - New Juspaiguli.

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People bathing in Ganga (the Ganges River)