Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Travel Highlight You Will Never Forget

     There are countless wonderful sites around the world that beckon the traveler. One place I would recommend from my many years of globe trotting is Varanasi, India, the ancient city of Benares. I often call India "a wonder a day" travel location and that notion surely applies to this city along the Ganges River which is considered the holiest site of all by the many millions of Hindus who populate the country.

     One gets up at dawn for an uncanny and unforgettable experience along the river. We arose as the mosquitoes outside dive bombed our glass door to the garden, got dressed and met our guide outside. In the dim light of early dawn, we all descended the hill from our hotel to the riverside. We were not alone, even at that early hour. Alongside us were Indians heading toward the heart of their pilgrimage. They were silent and serious as they made their way down the path. It was still relatively dark when we reached the riverside.

     We boarded the small row boat that was arranged for us and headed toward the middle of the Ganges. The only sound we seemed able to hear was the splashing of the oars. As we looked back we saw the large steps or Ghats slowly filling up with Hindu devotees many of whom were fulfilling a lifetime dream by immersing themselves in the holy water. Our boatman put a small candle on a tin plate to float it down the river as an act of devotion as had many others.  The sparkle of the candles stretched down the river as far as we could see.

     As the sun rose slowly in the distance, the spirituality of our experience became overwhelming. The Ghats were filled with thousands of worshippers, the old run down hotels on the riverside loomed above the scene and fires were set for the many cremations that were to be done that day. It is a Hindu dream to be present there and to perform absolutions in the river or be cremated along its shore in Varanasi. Hindus who are able to do so will bring a dying relative to the riverside, stay with them until death, and then place their body in the fire. That is their ultimate act of devotion. For us, the whole experience was like a dream. Although we have been present at many religious ceremonies and activities, we were never quite so enveloped by any other scene. It would have been worth the long journey to India for that experience alone. It was truly a traveler's highlight.

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