Every time I visit a new country there is usually a different reason behind that particular place. Sometimes I am sent on a press trip, other times I chose it for its affordable flights and beautiful views, and sometimes I visit places because of happy events. My recent trip to Santorini, Greece was to celebrate the upcoming wedding of a dear friend in a fabulous European bachelorette weekend.
My last night in Varanasi was spent at the highly anticipated Aarti ceremony, along the banks of the Ganges River. The ceremony is held each night at dusk, with many people renting a boat to watch from the water. A mixture of prayer, incense, fire, and sound, the ceremony is a treat for the senses. I could not understand what was being chanted, but the energy along the river was one of peace and clarity.
Taking a boat ride down the famed Ganges River is to learn the saying “waste not, want not.” The river serves many purposes for the residents of Varanasi, some that seem a bit conflicting to the foreign eye. Along the banks of the river you can find families washing their clothes, cooling off from the midday heat by taking a dip in the waters, or fishing for dinner from small, wooden boats. The river is a source of life and hope, and so I found it interesting that it is also used as a burial place. In the same water that is used to cleanse and feed, the funeral homes pour the cremated ashes of the newly deceased. It took me a while to comprehend how water that was viewed as holy and pure, could contain these bodily remains. Yet once I saw the circle of life there on the banks, children laughing and playing not 20 feet away from a funeral service, I saw the larger picture.
Varanasi, India is home to world class weavers and a huge textile industry. I was lucky enough to get to visit these craftsman and observe as they handled the enormous looms with grace and dexterity. The process looks impossibly difficult, and the colors are blindingly bright and beautiful as they become a small part of the larger piece. While some of these looms were located in large warehouses or studios, many were housed in the homes of artisans, passing down the craft to each new generation. It was here in Varanasi, the last stop on my trip through Northern India, that I finally purchased a sari and learned the proper technique to tying it up.
To continue with the floral theme from my last post on Flower Girl in New York, and the perfect segue back to my journey through India, the Indian city of Orca stands out for one reason. The dusty, gray stones that make up its palaces look worn and forlorn on their own, but when juxtaposed with a bright splash of flowers, they suddenly become the perfect backdrop. I like to imagine that they brighten themselves just a bit, inspired by the bright, hopeful color of their neighboring flowers.