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For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
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Things to do in India

Death and rebirth: a Varanasi night walk

The lights go off and people begin chanting and throwing flowers, it’s an eerie-yet-beautiful experience…

By Jeremy 'Jai' Oltmann
Founder of Varanasi Walks

Explore ideas of death and rebirth on this unique night tour of Varanasi. The city is one of the most spiritual places in India and referred to as Mahashamstana, the great cremation ground of Shiva. We start at 8pm by visiting a fertility temple with a pond where people go to pray for a baby. Then we move to the Aghor Ashram which belongs to the black-robed Sadhu philosophical sect who are an important part of Varanasi’s history, surrounded by flesh-eating myths.

As we wander the alleyways of Varanasi we’ll discuss different concepts related to life and death in Hindu philosophy and stop at a Kali temple made by a queen from Bangladesh. There are interesting stories surrounding the queen, who constructed many important buildings in Varanasi, including one of the city’s most famous temples; you’ll also hear an eerie tale about her daughter, who died in their house. Next, we enjoy a break for some chai before heading onto the highlight of the tour, the cremation grounds.

We arrive at the Sankata Devi Temple around 10.30 for the aarti, a ceremony where saffron-robed pandits complete a ritual with golden oil lamps in front of the Ganges. This temple has a giant tree at its centre and is devoted to the mother goddess of sorrow, who was also a demon slayer. When the aarti starts, the lights go off and people begin chanting and throwing flowers – it’s an eerie-yet-beautiful, interactive experience that you’ll never forget.


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Alfred & Jeremy 'Jai' Oltmann

Jeremy 'Jai' Oltmann hails from Minneapolis, USA, and has lived in India since 1997. After working among marginalised communities in New Delhi he studied Hindi language and completed a Bachelor of Social Work. While overseeing a study abroad program in Varanasi, Jai developed VaranasiWalks which explores the city's hidden lanes and sacred sites. Jai is also a yoga teacher and Master of Sociology.
Jeremy Oltmann, Varanasi Walks

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