Goway’s Holiday of a Lifetime Tour Director, Kit Cross, paints a vision of an evening in Varanasi, one of the most spiritual places in India, as experienced when you embark on the Splendours of India – Holiday of a Lifetime.
I can’t believe we made it. For several reasons. Heading down to the river for the nightly Aarti ceremony, a worship in homage to the great River Ganges – the mother of all life and death – was eye-opening. It is conducted by the Brahmin priests in training and witnessed by over 10,000 at a time. We were sitting high above the foot traffic in pedal rickshaws, and you just have to have your faith in India. The horns blaring at you are not meant to be taken personally. (Besides, what could you do?) The cacophony is only a gentle reminder that someone would like to pass please, and everyone shifts position accordingly. As soon as you quit trying to apply a Western perspective to the chaos, everything just works!
The ancient town of Varanasi (or Benares, as it’s been called for centuries) hasn’t changed substantially in 2000 years. It’s obvious from the crumbling infrastructure. Buildings with retrofitted electrical – enough to make the technically inclined among us cringe with visions of what could potentially happen, the almost futile brushing of streets by hand from a squatting position, to the inevitable cricket pitch in the median. This is the end of the end of the road, as it were for Hindu faithful from across the country. To be able to scatter your ashes into the holy Mother Ganga (the Ganges River) is the ultimate in funeral rites.
The last 200 meters, having survived the rickshaw ride, we travelled on foot in the steps of millions of pilgrims, past flower and candle sellers, the chai merchant with the sweet smell of cardamom and cloves, dodging the colourful Sadhus (holy men) looking for donations, and the ever present piles of cow dung recently offered from the north end of India’s Holy Cows. Spiritualism in all its forms. Clutching our candles and matches, we board the boat and are rowed into the relative calm of the river.
It’s such a huge change as we move down the river into the waning light and towards the funeral ghats. We smell wood burning and watch in fascination the huge flames lapping upwards into the sky. I look around my group and can sense the longing. Someone else’s history, someone else’s rites. One woman is looking away because she doesn’t want me to see she’s crying. As we pull away into the fast approaching darkness, we light our candles and set them adrift on the holy Mother Ganga. I see a stream of 21st century cares and worries released… drifting behind us. Immaculate!
Goway’s 17-Day Splendours of India – Holiday of a Lifetime is one of 13 incredible Holidays of a Lifetime itineraries, offering a “promise of something special.” Our tours are fully escorted by professional Tour Directors, such as Kit, and include First Class accommodation or better, unique dining experiences, and most tours – often taking travellers behind the scenes, and providing opportunities to meet locals.