After Bodh Gaya I headed to Sarnath.
Taken from Wikipedia:
Sarnath is a city located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi near the confluence of the Ganges and the Varuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh, India. Deer park in Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna.
It was the site of the Buddha’s Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which was his first teaching after attaining enlightenment, in which he taught the four noble truths and the teachings associated with it.
My motivation for going to Sarnath was to visit deer park. The park was peaceful. An interesting thing came up in my meditation at the park, I was bothered that there wasn’t an exact location to be at. There was no indication that “this was the spot the Buddha gave his first teachings.” Unlike Lumbini and Bodh Gaya which both had specific spots of significance, this was more spacious. I was left with a sense of grasping for some solid place in space and was left to rest in that groundless state.
My hotel manager offered to take me to a lassi shop down the road and showed me a nice park on the way back.
While in Sarnath, I headed over to have a look at neighboring city Varanasi. I headed over to have another lassi at a place that had come recommended to me by a fellow traveler in Bodh Gaya.
After, I went to the most unusual temple I’ve ever been to, Kashi Vishwanath. Its a sacred Hindu temple. Its domes are covered in gold. You have to make your way through a labyrinth of city alleys to get to it. There’s a security check, you have to remove your shoes, and you aren’t allowed to take anything inside. The happenings on the inside look like something from an Indian Jones movie. There are ritual rooms inside the temple where men, dressed only in white skirts, orange flowered necklaces, and body paint are crammed into. There are these stones on the floor that people make various offerings to, flowers, milk, curd, money, and other things, and touch the stone then touch their forehead.
After this, I headed to a nearby ghat, a cremation place by the Ganges river called Manikarmika ghat. This place is the definition of dismal. Again making my way through the city alley labyrinth, I emerged into a place by the Ganges that had heaps of large log piles, several large fires in a row, and people gathered in small groups by the river. There were famished, skittish puppies about. There were clouds of black smoke and a stench in the air I had already grown accustomed to. The air reeked with death. Its hard to say how long I hung around for. Time seemed to be suspended. I witnessed a few bodies being brought out by the riverside and cremated in the open air. Next to me, a puppy whose skeleton was easily visible, was eating what appeared to be a burnt stick on the ground.
I felt fortunate experiencing this atmosphere of death in its raw essence. I was happy to leave as well.