Travel to Northern India: Varanasi (Benares)
Varanasi, known during the British period as Benares, is the sacred city of India for the simple but perhaps remarkable reason that it lies along the Ganges at the one point where the river flows north and where someone sitting on the bank will therefore see the sun rise over the sacred river. Although Muslim iconoclasts have made sure that few buildings in the city are very old, the city was a religious center in the 5th century B.C. After all, when the historic Buddha set out to preach, he chose to do it here first, at nearby Sarnath.
Morning prayers at one of the many ghats, or steps, that line the river's edge. The flotsam is disgusting to a few, trivial to the many.
A more practical use of the river: morning hygiene.
Like so much valuable real-estate around the world, the Ganges bank here is privately owned and densely built-up; access points are few.
The best known is the Dasasvamedh Ghat, where Brahma is said to have sacrificed ten horses for King Divodasa. (The name is strictly literal: das for ten, aswa for horse, medh for sacrifice.)
The river from its thalweg.
Boatloads of firewood heading to the cremation ghats.
Stacked and ready.
Behind the ghats are the densely crowded pukka mahals, "fine houses" separated by the narrowest of alleys.
There are many truly fine houses here, but access is tricky and with inescapable squalor.
The important temples are off-limits to non-Hindus, but here's an exception: the Vishvanath Temple on the campus of Benares Hindu University.
Pushpa, or flowers, are a common temple offering. Beautiful ones are for sale.
A flower seller.
A European city has been grafted onto the old one, and a few streets have been cut through the pukka mahals. This is the one cut through to the Dasasvamedh Ghat.
European it may be--but new or in good shape it isn't.
One of the best-preserved buildings of European vintage: the Benares Sanskrit University, originally Queen's College and copied from Cambridge University.
Plaster peeling from the brick tower of the St. Thomas Church.
Tombstone at St. Mary's church. The inscription states that Rev. Davis (1825-1897) "Came to India 1859, Laboured in Allahabad from March 1861 till 1878 and in Benares as Principal of Jay Narain's College from 1879 till death."
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