Morning fly to Varanasi (Note, luggage allowance on this flight is 15 kg checked in baggage and 7 kg hand luggage). On arrival, assisted transfer to the hotel and check in for your stay. The ‘eternal city’, Varanasi or Benares, is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India, and the Ganges, which flows through the city, is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals. For the Satpious Hindu, the city has always been a special place, and it is considered a particularly auspicious place to die, ensuring an instant routing to Heaven. Late afternoon, start on a guided Bengali Tola walk where you will have an opportunity to get a glimpse of the symbiotic life of the riverside people of Varanasi. Eventually, as you tour through the city you will end up on Bengali Tola, the street of the Bengalis, where you will be visiting the hidden Mother Goddess Kali shrines, and the vistas of life along the riverside. The tour continues to the historic ritual bathing site called Dashaswamedh, or the ten-horse sacrifice Ghat, the perfect way to conclude this walking city tour. Evening, watch illuminated aarti ceremony at Dasahwamedh Ghat. The presiding priests stand on a wooden Chauki in the water. To the chant of Sanskrit mantras, and the clash of cymbals and drums, the river is worshipped with flowers, incense, sandalwood, milk and vermilion. First the blazing camphor lamp and then the many flamed aarti lamps are raised high and then arched back to the water, the dark river reflecting the golden flames as Ganges accepts the worship. It is the Ganges that gives Varanasi its spiritual resonance.
“Early this morning, take a boat ride on the sacred Ganges. Hindus regard the Ganges as the elixir of life bringing purity to the living and salvation to the dead. Watch the wonderful colors of the sunrise as you meander along the sacred Ganges River in a boat. As part of their pilgrimage rites, the faithful walk down steps into the river to perform their religious ablutions. Watching the people worshipping at the ghats is an extraordinary experience. You may also witness a funeral pyre, an essential part of the traditional Hindu funeral ceremony. Disembark the boat and walk through the narrow streets of Varanasi before returning to the hotel. This walk will take you through an inextricable maze of small streets and alleyways, hiding in disorderly array no less than 2,000 temples and shrines. Domes, pinnacles, towers and derelict 18th-century palaces dominate the left bank of the Ganges River. The streets are noisy, colour is rife. Return to the hotel for breakfast. Later, you will visit the holy city of Sarnath. Here in Sarnath, Buddha is said to have preached his first sermon after achieving enlightenment, setting in motion the wheel of law. Right near the Dhamekh Stupa are the remains of Ashoka’s pillar, with his name engraved in the stone. The stupa is believed to mark the spot where Buddha preached his sermon at Deer Park. Sarnath is also home to the museum that houses the iconic Ashoka Pillar with its four guardian lions, the emblem of independent India. Around the site are a series of temples built by Buddhist groups from around the world. We will have the special opportunity to chant with the monks at one of the Buddhist Temples. Afternoon is at your leisure. In the evening, interact with a Hindu scholar to discuss the philosophy of Hinduism.