Crazy it may sound I have hallucinated of being in Banaras ever since I was a teenage, I have dreamt of its alleys, imagined its ghats and felt more spiritual and at peace thinking about the temples.
I have never called it by it’s official name. For me Varanasi is Dev Bhoomi Banaras. Banaras truly stands by its name, the minute you set foot in the city you realise every local is friendly and willing to help. I too met a handsome local who engaged me with his interesting talks. When in Banaras live like a Banarasi so embark on this beautiful journey that I experienced in this land of Love and Death.
Kashi is the oldest living cities in India and a common belief is that if a person passes away on this holy land he is sure to attain salvation. When I landed in the city I knew it wasn’t a place to sight see but to absorb yourself in the way of living of the locals.
I would sometimes be amused and sometimes just wonder seeing the hustle bustle and activity people engaged in from wee hours of morning to late in the night. The city just never sleeps.
- Ganga Aarti
The evening I landed I knew that the first thing I wanted to see was the pompous worshipping of the Holy River of Ganga just a little after sunset. I hopped onto a boat and made my camera experience the thrill that was enthralling. Crowds throng in thousands each evening to capture the event. They say it is best to see it from the boat but I had to get a feel up close and thus I moved closer to the Pujaris.
I had goosebumps as I saw the magisterial ceremony. The pujaris were in a trance as if possessed by Goddess herself as they moved from one step to the other in perfect synchronisation and rhythm. They looked powerful still the childlike charm did not recede from their faces. The surge reached its zenith when the conches in unison vibrated every soul and echoed to purify every fibre around.
2. Boat Ride and Ghats.
Occupied and mesmerised I took a night tour of the ghats. The boatman kept telling me engaging tales as I adjusted the scarf on my head and got captivated in the beauty of the night.
Your trip would never be complete unless you take a round trip to the ghats once at night and atleast one during the day.
3. Sun Rise
There is something about sunrise that enchants me. The dark sleepy city washed with the soft rays of the morning sun is worth experiencing. It was around 4.30 or 5.00 am when the boatman happily said he would take me to the other side of the river in order to take better shots. I readily complied. There were fewer people on the Dashaswamedh ghat and even fewer on the other side of the river.
I reached there before sunrise and waited to see a group of men taking a morning dip. The pandas (pandas some call them priests, some half priests and some ask to be aware calling them thugs.) set up their umbrellas for the long day at work and the boatmen accompanied early risers for a beautiful ride.
Just then the Sun showed its magnum presence and played with me by appearing little on the horizon. It was the best Sun rise I had seen in my life.
4. Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples. The main deity is known by the name Vishvanatha or Vishveshvara meaning Ruler of The Universe. I had booked the tickets online and got to attend the aarti, I did not carry my camera or other valuables in lack of proper lockers.
5. Holy bath in Ganga
We all know that King Bhagirath did penance to bring the Holy Ganga to earth in order to wash the ashes of his forefathers and free them from sin. His wish was granted, Ganga was released from the Heavens to earth. But the great speed with which Ganga descended to earth was capable destroying everything on its way. So, Lord Shiva, to save the world, caught Ganga on his long hair and released it with reduced speed.
Thus it is believed that taking a bath in this holy river washes away our sins. I am a believer but not of blind faith. A conversation between Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati on this is very interesting.
When on questioning will all who take bath get salvation, Lord Shiva laughed and transformed into a lepper with wife and she requested people to help her lepper husband take the holy bath. People walked away, ridiculed and passed lewd comments. Only one came forward greeted them, helped and left. It is that person who will get salvation as its the deeds that matter not the bath was blessed by Lord Shiva.
6. Meet the Sadhus
When we talk of pandas the Sadhus are not left far behind. You would see different types of them all across Kashi. Some will look at you with stunning red eyes with their silence while some may engage in small talk and a few may even have an amazing sense of humour. I could capture one with trendy headphones meditating too.
7. Food in Kashi
Kashi Chat Bhandar
Oh remember the handsome tall local I spoke to you about, it was his recommendation that I should try Kashi Chat Bhandar once during my trip. I being a big fan of street food this was a perfect place for me. Only when I visited the place I realised that it has awesome reviews on tripadvisor too! I ate the chats to my hearts content requesting them to make it spicy.
Ganga and Ganja and Banarasi Pan
No I didn’t try marijuana as such but you come to the land of Lord Shiv and not try the super cold and tasty bhang…that is injustice. I took a glass and emptied it in a go….Slurrrrppp!
I am a big fan of pan and Banarasi pan is Nirvana.
8. Banarasi Sarees
The sarees are among the finest sarees in India and are known for their gold and silver brocade or zari, fine silk and opulent embroidery. The sarees are made of finely woven silk and are decorated with intricate design, and, because of these engravings, are relatively heavy.
Their special characteristics are Mughal inspired designs such as intricate intertwining floral and foliate motifs, kalga and bel, a string of upright leaves called jhallar at the outer, edge of border is a characteristic of these sarees. Depending on the intricacies it may take from around 15 days to 6 months to weave a silk saree.
My last evening went by just sitting on the steps seeing the flock do their chores as the Holy Ganga flowed relentlessly taking in all the emotions of Love, devotion and Death that people came to her with.