The Holy Ganges River | Varanasi, India

"Are you sure you're going to India?"

I cannot count how many times I've heard this question of concern when I told my family, friends, and people in the office that I plan to go to India. With the spread of sexual harassment incidents in social media, I understand the fear they felt for me.

"Absolutely!" was always my determined answer for everyone. Actually I never even think twice. It has always been a go for me. In fact, the risk made it more exciting. You all know Im a bored woman and I always prefer to take risks.

Taj Mahal could be everybody's reason for going to India, but not for me. The moment I watched a segment in a cable channel about the holy river of Ganges in Varanasi and how Hindus perform their rituals there - I know one day my feet would drag me in India to witness this upclose.

the burning ghat of Ganges River

From Delhi, my travel buddy friend Kat took a Spice Jet flight to Varanasi. Train ride is also an option if you have lots of time. Anyway, we arrived in Varanasi past 7pm and we arranged an airport pick up for a smooth way out of the area.

The main roads of Varanasi seems normal, except cows are everywhere. Hindus believe that one of their gods or goddesses has been transformed into a cow, or something similar. Aside from the cows, what we noticed are the wedding celebrations from every corner of the street. For that night alone, we saw at least 10 wedding receptions. The driver also shared how his parents arranged his marriage. Now, he is getting ready to arrange his daughter's marriage. Fair enough. ^_^

Because the famous hostels in the ghats area are fully booked, we ended up staying at Hotel Central Residency. The staff are polite, the room is clean, there's hot water and free wifi. Location is not bad at all, aside from it's just 50 rupees away from the holy river. The hotel is also walking distance to the malls and fastfoods. Yes, there are several malls and cinemas in Varanasi.

The next morning after breakfast, we took a cycle rickshaw down the main attraction in Varanasi. Cycle rickshaws are not allowed to pass by the main roads, and it's so amazing that our ride passed by the residential village. Omg, every scene was so interesting. Every person we saw seemed has a story to tell. It's so priceless to pass by that residential area. That early, I told to myself, this is the India I really wanted to see.

ride a cycle rickshaw instead of an auto rickshaw!

Since it could be rude to take photographs of the people in the residential village, I just enjoyed the moment with my own eyes. It's so amazing that I ran out of words.

We finally reached the riverside and had a first glimpse of the holy river. Okay, people did stare. Just like here in Manila when you stare at foreigners. Maybe the difference is that the eyes of Indians look intense in some ways - so when you're being stared at, you may feel scared or annoyed or irritated. 

Moving on, we hired a boat for a minimal fee and off we sailed the holy river of Ganges. Varanasi is the holiest among the 7 sacred cities in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Varanasi is often referred to as "the city of temples", "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", "the city of lights", "the city of learning", and "the oldest living city on earth. 

Meanwhile, Ganges is the most sacred river for Hindus. Some Hindus wished to die around this river in belief of salvation. Hindus bathe in this water, say their prayers to their gods by lifting the water and letting it fall back to the river, wash clothes, and even cremate dead bodies here. This is their river of life.

I found the "cruise" beautiful, serene, and very interesting. The river is obviously polluted, yet Hindus see nothing but its holiness. I didn't miss the chance to dip my legs into the holy water. It feels normal. Hehe For the record, I asked permission first if I could do this. The boatman said there's no problem. He was just amazed that a lady tourist positioned herself in front of the boat and dipped her feet all throughout the sail. El Nido ang peg?!  ^_^   He just told me I should be careful. I told him not to worry because Im from the Philippine islands and boating is so common. Char!

It's an overwhelming experience to see how life begins, sustains, and ends in this river. To witness the old ritual of cremation is a once in a lifetime experience. Photos are prohibited as they said, but if you give money to the families, you may take photos even upclose. Eehh?

bodies which are about to be cremated

cremation ghat

If a Hindu died and cremated somewhere else, the family will still bring the remains and throw this into the Ganges river. They believe that when ashes are scattered in the water, the soul of the deceased will be blessed and will rest in peace for eternity.

I couldn't get enough of the experience that's why I convinced Kat that we attend the religious ceremony at night,  where 7 priests will perform the ritual. The ceremony is divine and spectacular for devotees and tourists like us. The family from southern India which we shared the boat with willingly discussed this religious ceremony to us.

Devotees also did some flower and candle offerings. So we did as as well. After saying the prayer, we were told to float the flower offering in the water.

Varanasi is definitely the highlight of my India trip. There's nothing like it. This is a must see. But of course, you can only appreciate this place only if you have an open mind. Open your eyes and you would not see the dirt but the colorful and rich culture of India. 

Incredible India indeed!

Up Next: Udaipur

Sunshine and Snow Moments of 2013

For a few days, I told myself I wont be pressured to do a year end post. Hey, I just came back from China yesterday and I did nothing but do loads of sleeping (including on new year's eve) because of this fever. No, it's not birdflu, I hope. ^_^

2013 is not a much-traveled year for me, but Im glad I accomplished almost everything I planned and those trips which I didn't even plan.

I purchased a new baby! Thank you Harvey sa serbisyong totoo. Sulit na sulit ang pagbili ko sayo. I hope your new owner will take care of you. ♥ 
Hello Luke, Im so impressed with your picture quality and your weather proof feature. 

 meet Luke, my Canon 60D

A few days after I purchased Luke, I flew to Cebu for my ultimate glamping experience. I cannot erase the smile on my face as I saw the glamping tents. They were perfectly equipped with the basic (and luxurious) needs of a wannabe camper. 

I scratched off an item on my To-Do-List, and that is to travel by sea. Having lived in the crowded mainland of Manila, I never really had the chance to travel by sea. Well of course, riding those improvised boat whenever it floods is an exception. ^_^ To my surprise, I enjoyed the journey.

For the 1st time out of my 4 trips to Boracay, I will be staying away from the White Beach. Yes, away from where the action is (and away from the crowd).  The sand may not be very fine but I really appreciated that Puka beach didn't have seaweeds on the shore. There were not so many people too compared to the White Beach.

Thanks to Mica for the last minute invite, I had a great weekend getaway in this lovely Pico de Loro Beach & Country Club. As a bonus, I also witnessed a triathlon competition for the first time.

Ilocos remains to be very special and memorable to me. Last 2010, I had an unexpected solo trip. There I was - traveling with insufficient money, no ATM card, no cellphone on hand, and the best part was it's all happening on my birthday! So last March, I managed to revisit the place and the person who helped me - Mang Arnel.

My balikbayan friend Chris was home and of course he insisted to go to CWC again. Since last year's experience was a big turn off, I researched for an alternative and found a nice place to wakeboard – and it's just around Laguna. Perfect! That's how I discovered Republic Wakepark in Nuvali.

Whatever happened to me in Bali doesn't exactly mean I am not a fan of the Balinese culture anymore. In fact I am still a big fan of the Balinese art and sculpture. So when Nina invited Upper, Cla and I for an overnight stay in this Bali-inspired sanctuary resort in Batangas, we immediately set the date.

In my entire employee life, this is just the very first time I joined a company summer outing. My boss volunteered me to organize the event and I chose Coco Beach Resort at Puerto Galera as the place to be.

My birthday month means a fabulous trip with my friend Rob who shares the same birthday as mine. For the 3rd time, I attempted to go to Davao. It's a success at last, with just a little mishap at the airport runway which made all flights cancelled on our way back to Manila.

Summer is not ended yet so we flew to Cebu this time for an ultimate staycation at Crimson Resort and Spa in Mactan.

Got invited to participate for Bigg's Diner's 30 Plates Around Bicol event. This was my 6th time to visit the Bicol region.

Wanderlust is a very strong and uncontrollable desire to travel. So even when I'm juggling all my tasks in the middle of a very busy work week, the other part of brain was preoccupied with the thought of hitting the road again. Well I admit I'm always a willing victim of this wanderlust thing.

I joined Instagram!!! And hey, I just posted my 100th post! Oo na, mabagal ako mag update. Hehe

my 100th post in Instagram

You can never visit the same place twice. The memories you create and the people you meet will always be different. I went back to Sagada and traveled alone once again.

no blogpost, just instagram post

My first full page feature in a magazine got published, yay!

A goal without a plan is just a wish, that's why I've been planning my India trip since last year. I came short with preparation though, but still I had a very incredible India trip. Only if you can ignore the faults and look at India in a different way, then you are ready for India. It's a totally fascinating country that you cannot even capture its character in your lens. All you need is to keep your eyes wide open + an open mind to have a whole new world experience. ★

the burning ghat of Ganges River

living in a postcard moment at the majestic Taj Mahal

Due to peer pressure, I impulsively booked a flight to Shanghai. I never wanted to go to China. I never dreamed of experiencing snow. I never planned to trek a mountain outside our country. I even secretly wished for my visa application to be denied. 

So how's my first snow experience (note: -15 degrees real feel temperature with snowfall while walking for 3 hours in the mountain) - unbelievably amazing!

 a totally different and unbelievably amazing experience at Huangshan Mountain

Sunshine is delicious. Rain is refreshing. Wind braces up. Snow is exhilarating. There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

Thank you 2013 for the sunshine, the rain, the wind, and the snow. I enjoyed every moment of your everyday good weather. Thank you for making me feel alive! ♥

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