Varanasi… aka Banaras, Kashi… names would fall short, so will the adjectives to illustrate the oldest city. This city is known to all… Everyone has heard to it, as the holiest Spiritual place, a foodie’s paradise and the Wedding SHOPPERS Stop… These facts some way or the other stay true as heard and said. This time our friend’s marriage made us pit stop in Varanasi, before we headed to the function destination. It gave us room to manoeuvre, land in Varanasi and wander through the Ghats and market alleys.
It was a short stay in Varanasi for one night. From the aerial view of the city, we could easily identify the mighty Ganges flowing within the city with all livelihood on the banks of it. Our flight landed in Varanasi Airport in the afternoon. We immediately rushed to the city located around 40 kms from airport which took around 1 and half hour. Roads to airport were under construction which delayed the running traffic. Varanasi was relatively colder than Hyderabad and sunset was early. By the time we checked in to our Hotel, it was already dark.
Without wasting time, quickly freshened ourselves and set to the banks of Ganga. Our Hotel was very close to popular Assi Ghat… just 2 mins walk. We were startled to see the narrow alleyways leading from our hotel, but this is the way the city is. On our way towards the ghat, we had the popular snacks from this part of the country, SAMOSA… Unlike our expectation, Assi Ghat was neat and clean, the chanting of hymns on the big speakers made us feel connected to God. As far as our eyes could see, there were only Ghats… 87 to be the count or more!
Ganga Aarti in Varanasi is a mystical tradition of thousand years on the banks of Holy Ganga. Evening Aarti in these Ghats is a must see… A phenomenal one…! We sat in Assi ghat to watch the spectacular evening Aarti. There was an astounding energy among the Pandits. As the momentum picked up, the lamps were lit, fragrant smoke from incense sticks rose along with the chants of mantras. The entire surrounding got engulfed in bright colorful lights and the smoke forming cloak of mystery accelerating spectators to a different time and dimension. As the Aarti came to an end, devotees including us, rushed to the river front to offer floating lamps in leaf boats to the holy River.
After Aarti, we left the ghat and decided to explore the local markets. A general saying goes as
“If you have not been to those narrow streets of Banaras, you have not been to the city”.
We walked across the streets, boarded a rickshaw and visited local cloth vendors for the famous Banarasi Silk Sarees. Local market hopping made us enough tired and we came back to a restaurant in Assi ghat for dinner. Sitting in open by the Ganges we had Vegetarian Thali for dinner and promised to be back in the Ghats early morning for sunrise.
Next day, morning was way early then our usual routine and much before sunrise we reached the famous Dashashwamedh Ghat. To our surprise it was already crowded, with lots of people visiting the ghat and some priests performing early morning Aarati. Many colorfully decorated sadhus have already grabbed their places on the ghat banks by this time. People usually visit the Ghat to watch the sunrise or to take a dip in the holy river. One can take the boat rides or enjoy the sunrise from the ghats. We saw many of them boarding those hand steered or motor ferries on the Ganges to experience the enthralling sunrise. We though opted to be on the river front to watch the sun rising.
After sun rise we left the river bank and started walking towards Kashi Vishwanath Temple… Next one in our checklist. Old Kashi Vishwanath Temple is very near to Dashashwamedh Ghat. It is one of the most famous temple dedicated to Great Lord Shiva. This temple has a very deep and long history and has been referred in most of the Hindu scriptures. The main deity of the temple is the Shiva Linga, with temples of other God and Goddesses surrounding it. It is often believed that
“A visit to the temple and a dip in river Ganges is one of the many methods believed to lead one on a path to Moksha”.
We said our prayers and left the temple.
By this time we had rats in our stomach and stopped at a nearby stall for breakfast. Pooris and Kachoris, aloo sabji with hot tea is the staple breakfast in Banaras and neither could we refrain ourselves from having them.
Next destination for us was the Banaras Hindu University popularly known as BHU. The university campus was quite large and we took a rickshaw to reach the newly built Vishwanath temple. The view and the atmosphere brought back our university lives. We saw students in various departments organising multiple co-curricular activities, while others were busy gossiping. Over-all the campus was lively and dwelling with people. In contrast to the old Kashi Temple, the temple inside the campus was better managed attributing to the fact that the numbers of visitors were less.
Next we visited Monkey Temple which is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and probably has got its name for it. We could see many moneys and langurs skipping and hanging around branches and within the temple premises, disturbing visitors and snatching belongings. As we walked back to our hotel, we stopped to have Lassi. Pehalwaan Lassi in Lanka is quite popular and they are carrying their ancestral legacy. We tasted the thick creamy Lassi and Malaoi and some snacks. It was more of a filling meal in itself, a dessert meal in fact… served in earthen Kulhads.
Best way to wander around in Varanasi is to take a rickshaw or stroll around the cranky streets. The famous Banarasi silk – saree and carpets, Dhoti and kurta will overwhelm every addictive crazy shopper. Thou one needs to keep an eye on the quality and price. Other than that in every nook and corner u will find some mouthwatering food. Depending on your food habits one can indulge on what u want to have. Give a try to Lalpeda and Banarasi Paan and not to miss the tea being served in small earthen cups. . It seemed everything in Varanasi is famous and we tried our best to dirty our hands on most of them.