On the western shore of the Ganges river, between the Varuna river on the north side and the Asi river on the south side, (hence the origin of the word Varanasi), lies one of the world’s most colorful and fascinating stretch of real estate, the ghats of Varanasi. Varanasi is one of the oldest cities on earth and the holiest city in the Hindu religion.
Ghats are sets of steps leading down to the river’s edge. According to our guide, there are 365 ghats between the Varuna and the Asi rivers, a distance of about two and a half miles. Our focus is on the 100 or so ghats lined up next to each other along the Ganges river in the center of Varanasi.
Each ghat is from about 30 feet to 100 feet wide, and a very eclectic array of structures have been built on top of the ghats in the past two hundred years or so, ranging from simple guest houses to elaborate palaces.
The best way to experience the ghats is by a boat ride along the river at sunrise or at sunset. Each ghat has a name and a story, and our guide, who seemed to know them all, explained each ghat as we went by.
Many of the ghats have been built up by various kings and maharajahs of India. Some are guest houses for visiting pilgrims from various countries, some are ashrams, at least one is for followers of Hare Krishna, etc… The ghats are tradable private properties, as evidenced by the recent purchase of a ghat by a hotel chain. They are redoing the inside of the structure but are obligated to keep the river facade unchanged.
Ghats are used for religious purposes by the Hindus Bathing in the Ganges river follows thousand years old rituals.
Some ghats are used for clothes washing.
Two ghats are dedicated to the burning of dead people and the throwing of their ashes into the Ganges river.
An amazing and memorable sight!
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