The Ghats, Varanasi - Stein Travel
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The Ghats

There are over 100 bathing and burning ghats (literally 'steps') at Varanasi, but the most sacred is the Manikarnika Ghat, which is the most auspicious place that a Hindu can be cremated. Outcasts, known as chandal, carry the bodies through the alleyways of the old city to the sacred Ganges on a bamboo stretcher swathed in cloth.

At the top of the Ghat visitors will see large piles of firewood, with each log weighed on giant scales to calculate the price of the cremation. Tourists who wish to watch the cremations are tolerated, but should dress conservatively and leave their cameras behind. Tourists should also be aware that, although witnessing a ceremonial cremation is considered a 'must-do' activity in India, it can be quite a harrowing and emotional experience, and one that shouldn't be undertaken lightly.

The nearby Dasaswamedh Ghat (the 'ghat of ten sacrificed horses') is said to be the spot where Lord Brahma made a sacrifice to pave the way for the return of Shiva - and is one of the best ghats from which to take in the riverside activity. Crowds of people congregate here not only for a ritual bath, but also to do yoga, get a massage, offer blessings, buy flowers, play cricket or work on their karma by giving money to beggars. It is also a good place to arrange a dawn boat trip, to watch the beauty of Varanasi manifest as the sun rises over the city. Dotted around the ghats are numerous temples - the highlight being the Golden Temple, with its stunning, resplendent towers.

Information & Facts

Language

Although English is generally used for official and business purposes, Hindi is the official language and is spoken by about 40 percent of the population. Urdu is the language common with the Muslim demographic. India has a total of 22 official languages

Money

The currency is the Indian Rupee (INR), which is divided into 100 paise (singular paisa). Major currencies can be changed at banks, and authorised bureaux de changes. It is impossible to obtain rupees outside India, but no matter what time you arrive in India there will be an exchange office open at the airport. It is illegal to exchange money through the black market and it is advisable to refuse torn notes, as no one will accept them apart from the National Bank. It is best to change money into small denominations. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted, particularly in tourist orientated establishments. ATMs are not generally available.

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