Ganges River bathers at Varanasi. The Ganges is sacred to Hindus and is worshiped as the goddess Ganga. They believe that bathing in the sacred river will cleanse them of sin and help them attain salvation. As Varanasi (Banaras/Benares) is considered to have been founded by Lord Shiva 5,000 years ago, it is Hinduism's holiest city and, thus, an important pilgrimage destination. Bathing ghats (steps) line the banks of the Ganges for over six kilometres to accommodate them. The five most important ghats are Assi, Dasaswamedh, Raj (Adi Keshava), Panch-Ganga and Manikarnika, which is a sacred cremation site. Bathing in these five places in the listed order is known as Panch Tirtha Yatra (Five Holy Place Pilgrimage). If one performs Panch Tirtha Yatra in one day, it is said you will forever transcend your material body after this life. (Brian K. Smith photo.)
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