There are few places on earth which hold certain kind of magical aura around them and one of them is Varanasi.
Varanasi also known as Banaras or Kashi is a town situated on the bank of River Ganga, in Uttar Pradesh, India. Considered as one of the oldest cities in the world, references of this city can also be found in several Holy books like Vedas and Puranas. The chaotic lanes, colorful Ghats, bustling street life and aroma of street food; the mere words are not enough to explain this beautiful town. Apart from its religious importance in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cultures, the city is also famous for its beautiful Ghats, traditional Banarasi Silk Sarees, lip smacking street food and off course the famous Banarasi Paan. Among the photographers the city is famous for it’s street life, Sadhus meditating on the bank of Ganges and the various looks and colors of this holy city, which offers amazing frames for street and portrait photography.
The primary reason for my visit to this town was the darshan of Holy Vishwanath temple, but I was also looking forward to experience the wide variety of culture and cuisines of Banaras. As it was only a four days visit, I was bit tight on schedule and decided to cover as much places of Banaras as possible. Once landed at Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, I left straight for my hotel Taj Gateway. Situated near the Nadesar Palace area, The Taj Gateway offers excellent stay, delectable food and the serene plush green lawns and the private mango orchards. Peafowls and other birds are plentiful in the orchards and made the surroundings quite tranquilizing with their chirping.
On the next day, I visited Holy Vishwanath Temple. Counted among the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva, Kashi Vishwanath Temple has a unique importance in Hindu culture. Every day thousands of devotees visit this holy temple and get the blessings of Lord Vishwanath. You have to reach the temple on foot. There are cycle rickshaws available for internal transportation in lanes, as you have to leave the car in the main square near temple areas. After passing through usual security checks, I first saw the glimpse of Kashi Vishwanath Temple, a golden Kalash emerging out of many small lanes. Though it’s considered as one of the famous temples in world, the cleanliness and the conditions around the temple area are seriously in the need of improvement. After the darshan, I decided to visit the famous Blue Lassi Shop in Kachowri Gali Chowk. This small shop is literally painted in blue color with the customers’ testimonials covering the front wall. All the lassi flavors available here are amazing, especially the Dry Fruit Lassi was awesome. The Blue Lassi shop is actually unique in its food taste and its ambiance. One can also try some street food which is served in lanes of this town. Kachauri Gali is a must visit place for all chaat lovers.
On the second day, equipped with my camera, I left for the early morning boat ride which covers almost all the ghats of Varanasi. There are about 108 ghats in Varanasi, among which Dashashwamedh ghat, Manikarnika ghat, Munshi Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat are quite well known. Starting the boat ride at around 5:30 in the morning, I clicked few pictures of sunrise and started witnessing the changing beauty of ghats and morning rituals that happen there. Dashashwamedh Ghat is adorned with the saffron flags and the place where evening’s Ganga Aarti takes place. Only few distance away from Dashashwamedh ghat, Manikarnika Ghat offers quite a grave view other than all ghats. Being an open cremation ground, which runs for 365 days of a year, one will often see burning bodies and the people waiting to perform last rituals. According to Hindu mythology, the people whose bodies are burnt at Manikarnika Ghat gets Moksha. The morning ride ended with the famous Kulhad wali Chai; hot tea served in the small earthen pots called Kulhad.
Later that day, I visited the other attractions of city like Kaal Bhairava Temple, Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple (here you will get the one of the best Prashad made from ghee and Mawa), Birla Temple, Banaras Hindu University and Sarnath Museum; the oldest site museum of Archaeological Survey of India. One can also find hundreds of temples dedicated to various deities in Varanasi. In the last evening of my stay in Varanasi, I attended the evening Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat. One can witness this ritual from near the altar or also from the boat while sipping hot tea served by the local vendors. The chanting of mantras, sounds of conch shells (shankha) and the aarti diyas make the atmosphere tranquilizing. The evening ended with the delectable dishes and the mango juice made from the local favorite mango breed called Langda, at Taj Gateway.
On the next day, I returned to Pune with lots of memories and pictures and a name of new place in my favourite list.
As I come to the end of this blog, I would like to address some of the things that I witnessed during my Varanasi tour. Mainly due to religious believes and conservative thinking, I saw various things here which are seriously hampering the development of the society as well as the environmental balance. The litter around the temples and the pollution of the Ganges are some of the serious issues and are in the need of desperate improvement. Even the conditions at Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats are grave and human remains are seen around the burning pyres in bad conditions. It’s our responsibility to maintain the environment and the places that we consider holy and revered. Cleaning the Ganges and protecting the environment; in my opinion will be a true form of service to the God and the religion.
With this second journal, I bid adieu to all my readers and assure to be back soon with another blog post.
Details about Varanasi:
How to reach: Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport (approx. 26 kms) is the nearest airport and Varanasi Cantt Railway Station is the Nearest railway station. Varanasi is well connected to major cities like Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur and Agra
Places to Visit: Vishwanath Temple, Dashashwamedh and other Ghats, Sarnath Museum, Sankat Mochan Temple, Kaal Bhairava Temple, Banaras Hindu University, Birla Temple, Jantar Mantar, Ramnagar Fort and Alamgir Mosque. Don’t miss the Boat Ride and Ganga Aarti.
Shopping: Banarasi Silk Sarees, Shiva Lingas made of stones and crystals, Rudraksh mala, Souvenir items.
Local cuisines: Banarasi Paan, Lassi at Blue Lassi Shop, Chaat items, Rabdi & Thandai, Jalebi, Kulhad wali Chai, Samosa & Kachauris (in Kachauri Gali).
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LOVE. CONSERVE. SUSTAIN.