Kari Iverson spent months traveling around the world. Get her tips on what to see and do in India.
India is a vibrant nation where more than 800 languages are spoken. From its varied cuisines to its different dances, religions and languages, India attracts curious travelers each year who can immediately see, smell and taste the many different cultures while visiting.
India is a large nation; it would take nearly a year to cross the nation walking from the Southern tip to the edge of the Himalayas in the North. It can be difficult to choose which destinations to visit while traveling there. First-time travelers to India often travel the “Golden Triangle” which includes Delhi, Agra (including the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur.
Each of these locations is incredible. However, one of my favorite places in India was Varanasi. Varanasi offers liveliness and real-life experiences. A local told me, “If we can detach ourselves from our surroundings, our soul will be liberated and we will live in freedom.”
It is certainly an overwhelming city -- beggars are relentless, the streets are overcrowded and vendors pull you into their shop hoping you’ll buy something from them. However, that did not destroy the sensation of positivity I felt while I was there.
As I walked down the ghats (steps leading to the Ganges River) at sunset I took in my surroundings. Aarti, the evening prayer ceremony, was happening. I stood among thousands of people who reached the final destination on their religious pilgrimage; thousands more people were on the river watching the ceremony from a boat. I saw flames in the river and was told they were bodies being cremated. I also saw bodies in the process of decomposition floating down the river. It is believed the Ganges is the giver of life. People, in return, give the cremated ashes back to the river that once gave them life. In return, they will go to heaven.
At sunrise I watched the city come alive from a boat on the river. Hundreds of people were practicing yoga and meditating on the steps while others bathed and drank the water. The river is not only used for religious purposes, but also practical ones. Poorer people carry heavy loads of clothes down the steps each morning and beat them on rocks until they are considered clean.
Although the main streets in Varanasi have a lot to offer, the alleyways lead you to another world. Clothing lines are hung in the windows between homes, restaurants are tucked into a hole in the wall and vibrant fabrics are overflowing from shop doors. Cows enter shops freely and can lie wherever they please.
Traveling India can be busy, stressful and altogether tiring at times. The people can be “in your face,” but that is only by Western standards. India has a spirit of her own and traditions that have been alive for thousands of years. India, Varanasi in particular, is especially unique to travel to because everyone takes away a different story.