The Holy City of Varanasi

Tourists and pilgrims flock to Varanasi, a sacred Hindu city on the banks of the Ganges River

Nearly 2.5 million people come each year to Varanasi which sits on the banks of the most sacred Indian river. (iStockphoto)

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At Kedar Ghat a priest used to perform a daily prayer to Lord Shiva. One day he became ill and couldn't perform the prayer, telling Lord Shiva, "You will have to come yourself."

"So Lord Shiva rose from the water in front of the ghat," Prakash says.

Further down the river, a ghat is abandoned. "That's Narad ghat," says Prakash. "The story is that women who bathe there will fight with their husbands, so no one bathes there."

Heavy black smoke rises from Harish Chandra and Manikarnika ghats. Ashes and flowers dot the waves. These are the burning ghats, where relatives bring their loved ones to be cremated. According to Hindu legend, those who are cremated in Varanasi will achieve enlightenment and be free of the cycle of death and rebirth. Nearly 300 bodies are cremated every day.

"This is the best city to die in," Prakash says, smiling, as he looks at the sun rising over the ghats. The bathers are out in full force. Some lather up, while others dance and sing in the water. In the narrow alleys behind them, the city of Varanasi is just waking up.

About Anika Gupta
Anika Gupta

Anika Gupta’s writing has appeared in India and the United States, including in Business Today magazine, where she served as its first digital content editor, the Hindustan Times newspaper and Smithsonian magazine. Currently, she is a Master's student at MIT, where she studies user-generated content and mainstream media culture. She's also a science writer, media blogger, and essayist.

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