Varanasi is the spiritual heart of India and the holiest of the 7 sacred cities in Hinduism. After watching the travel documentary, "Departures", it was the place I was looking forward to the most while visiting India.
Varanasi was a fascinating place, and the high points of the trip lived up to most of my expectations, but I still left a little disappointed. I realize Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, and India is still a developing country, but the sewage, drainage, and sanitation of the city were failing before my eyes. I talked to many travelers and I heard the same reoccurring theme, Varanasi is really polluted.
I'm a little conflicted about criticizing a place as an outsider, however, this is the holiest city in India. I couldn't help but think that the city, especially the Ganges, should be protected like the Taj Mahal. The river that runs along the city bank is worshipped like a goddess (Ganga). Hindus come from all over to bath and wash themselves "clean" in the river. Spiritually the river water is pure and that's a false and potentially dangerous assumption.
I wouldn't want my rant to discourage anyone from visiting Varanasi because it's still a magical place. I just hope that future generations will also be able to visit such a holy and important city.
1st Row: Varanasi is believed to be where Buddha founded Buddhism.
2nd and 3rd Row: Life on the Ganges. The city has 87 Ghats (access areas to the waterfront). Many celebrations, religious ceremonies, washings, and cremations happen at the various Ghats.