Ganga (or the Ganges) – is not just a river but a mother goddess to the billions of Indians.
Winding roads on the uneven terrain of Madhya Pradesh took me to the plains of Uttar Pradesh. My riding pace was increased significantly with the size of the road. Delhi Kolkata Highway (NH19) was fun to ride and a key to reach Varanasi on time.
At any cost, I didn’t want to miss the vibrant ritual held daily at the Dashaswamedh Ghat in the sacred city of Varanasi. By cutting down the breaks and accelerating my speed, I just made it on time when this beautiful ceremony was in process, which made my evening special.
Ganga Arati is a magnificent event to experience religious vibes emanating from the Hindu customs in Varanasi. The rhythmic circular movement of brass lamps accompanied by the mantra chants set a spiritual mood. Through this ritual, Agni Pooja is performed in which a commitment is made to Lord Shiva, Ganga Mata, Surya, Agni and the whole Universe.
It was not only a spectacular event but also musical treat with rhythmic chants of Mantras. All the priests performing Arati will blow conch shells loudly in between, which gave an amazing feeling. The ritual is performed by the students of the Vedas and Upanishads lead by the head of Gangotri Seva Samiti. The whole environment is filled with various sounds of Mantras, bells, conch shells and claps from the crowd.
The musical night was over. I could see the people, young, old, poor, rich, getting up, praying to the mother goddess and leaving the ghat. Soon I also left the ghat and headed towards the Kashi Vishwanath temple to take blessings of Lord Shiva.
The narrow lanes lined by various shops required for pooja led me to the temple gates. I kept my valuables outside and entered the shrine with a faithful mind. The sanctum sanctorum was crowded and security personal was pushing everyone out immediately. I got my share of a few seconds to touch the feet and pray for humanity.
Now I required proper rest to get ready for the next day. I slept peacefully, with content.
The morning in Varanasi was entirely different from the chaotic night. The sun already rose well above the horizon at 5 am, when I hurried to witness its glory. I enjoyed tea before heading to the Ghats again. The empty boats, floating silently, were woken up by the devotees taking bath in the holy Ganges. Slowly the ghats began to shine in bright colours as the people started performing their daily activities.
I could sense – everyone around me, came here for a purpose; either triggered by faith or fate.
Kashi – The city of Light
Varanasi, the holiest city for Hindus, is one of the most colourful and fascinating places on earth. This is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. People come here to wash away their sins in the sacred waters of the Ganges. It is believed that dying in Varanasi liberates the soul from the cycle of rebirth, also called Moksha.
I spent an eventful morning on the ghats of Benaras, experiencing positive spiritual vibes. All you have to do is watch and listen. Amidst all the hustle-bustle, my camera lenses turned onto a man who was sleeping like a king. For him, everything that was happening around him was just an illusion, in Hinduism, it’s called Maya. Or maybe he was just tired of the previous day’s hard work, and he might not have a shelter on his head. I don’t know why but I was looking at the people with a child’s curiosity.
Out of 84 ghats of Varanasi, only Ahilya ghat is named after a person, to honour Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar. People were taking a dip of atonement in the sacred waters of the Ganges at sunrise. The boats were floating, watching silently over the colourful activities happening at the ghats. I couldn’t muster the courage to jump into the water because of the pollution. Instead, I preferred to be a silent spectator.
In any case, the Ghats of Varanasi accepts everyone, no matter how rich or poor you are.
Life and Death
Death, is an unavoidable truth of life, no matter what we do with our lives. Manikarnika Ghat is the main burning ghat in Varanasi, an auspicious place for cremation. It is believed that the soul finds Moksha if cremated at this ghat alongside the holy Ganges. In Hinduism, death is considered as the gateway to another life received as a result of Karma.
From a distance, I was watching at the burning corpse. They say the fire at Manikarnika Ghat never stops as dead bodies keep coming continuously. Half burned bodies and ashes were being pushed into the river, where others are taking a holy dip. The Ganges accepts dead as well as living with the same compassion. But in this process, humans had polluted the holy river without realizing the fact.
This ancient city is a sacred place for Hindus & hence people here are more attached to religious & cultural values. Due to the economic setup of the city, people are interlinked & interdependent concerning the religion, that creates social harmony. You can see, religious and ritualistic activities are being performed in every nook and corner of the city. Bhiksha was an integral part of the search of the Moksha, but I feel, it has lost its meaning over the years.
Like a mother, Ganges accepts everything we do; but is this how we behave with our mother?
Colours of Faith
According to Hindu Astrology, Sun is the significator of Soul, the reason for the existence of Life. Hence, Hindus pray to the Sun god in gratitude and offer water while doing the Puja. Ancient Hindu texts explain the miraculous effects of offering the water to Sun god early morning. It also explains the way to pray the powerful one and seek his blessings for humanity.
People were taking bath in the holy river, offering water to God. It is a good way to express gratitude towards the supreme power by giving back a portion of his creation. By walk, I explored almost all ghats accessible from the Dashashwamedh Ghat. The ghats were cleaner than I had imagined earlier.
According to ancient mythology, Lord Brahma performed ten Ashwamedh sacrifices here. Hence, it is believed that bathing at this ghat confers the benefits of Ten Ashwamedh Yagyas. This is the most prominent ghat in Varanasi, where Ganga Arati is performed daily morning and evening. Last night I was witnessing a vibrant ritual but now it was peaceful yet busy.
Although Ganga is a holy river, I couldn’t muster the courage to take a dip into the water because of the pollution. Varanasi is a place where people from all across India came to get rid of their past sins, to seek Salvation.
The present structure of Dashashwamedh Ghat was built by Peshwa Balaji Bajirao of Maratha Empire in 1748.
From the busy streets of Varanasi & newly built Ramnagar bridge, I started my ride towards Bodh Gaya – an important place of Buddhism which attracts thousands of pilgrims from around the world. Again I was riding on Delhi Kolkata highway. In scorching heat, I crossed Uttar Pradesh and entered into Bihar. The vast landscape had large agricultural farms and many farmers working in the field.
Before Gaya, the police asked me to pull over on side road. They checked my documents and then allowed me to move ahead. I parked my bike in the parking, kept my extra stuff at the cloakroom and bought tickets for my camera. The place was highly secured with multi-layered security. Every corner was under surveillance.
The ancient Mahabodhi Temple tower soaring high in the sky captures the attention quickly. Behind the temple, there is a 2500 years old Bodhi Tree under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment.
This ancient Buddhist temple, much rebuilt and restored, is constructed near Bodhi Tree. The structure visible today dates back to the 7th century, or perhaps somewhat earlier. Several Major restorations were done in the 19th century, which retains the original work from the 2nd or 3rd Century. The temple has two large straight-sided towers. The largest tower is 55 m (180 feet) high. The colourful prayer flag adorned the temple from all directions.
Bodh Gaya stands for peace but unfortunately a target of terrorist bombings back in 2013.
On 7 July 2013, low-intensity bomb blasts were carried out by an Islamic terrorist organization. Fortunately, no damage was caused to the temple or the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. In terms of Blessedness, this tiny temple town is to Buddhists what Mecca is to Muslims. Attack on such holy places proves the regressive religious mindset.
From the main entrance, I went inside to take the blessings of Buddha. The calm mudra of the idol has that unfulfilled dream of world peace. I prayed for him to give me the strength to become a peaceful and compassionate human being.
Right behind the Mahabodhi temple, there is a 2500 years old Bodhi Tree, under which Gautam Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment. This large sacred Fig Tree (Ficus religiosa) in Bodh Gaya, is one of the most important Buddhist sites. According to Buddhist texts, Siddhartha meditated without moving from his seat for 7 weeks.
Siddhartha said, “Here on this seat my body may shrivel up, my skin, my bones, my flesh may dissolve, but my body will not move from this seat until I have attained Enlightenment, so difficult to obtain in the course of many Kalpas”
I couldn’t belive I was under the same tree where Buddha attained enlightment & I wished to get some wisdom to lead a happy and meaningful life.
Ride in Bihar
In Bodh Gaya, while having lunch I was examining the route till Begusarai. It was 175 kilometres away but due to road conditions, the estimated time was almost 5 hours. Riding at night in Bihar was not a good choice but the day had defeated me in this race.
A few moments before, I was in overcrowded streets of Gaya, stuck helplessly in worst traffic. But later I found myself on a deserted street amidst amazing landscapes on the way to Rajgir. The route passes through some beautiful landscapes as well as small villages.
I was riding on the dusty road from Barbigha to Begusarai when I stopped by this spectacle. Even though I was extra alert, I enjoyed my ride through Bihar except for the last patch. Google Maps showed some unbelievable route where I was alone riding in the dark. Somehow I made it to Begusarai safely.
Every moment is unpredictable and full of surprises when you are out there on a solo road trip. Sometimes it’s people, sometimes it’s nature.
On a solo roadtrip, you will never find a second to cry over your failures or worries.