Once in a while you come across a place that touches your soul in such a way that you find your home there. Being a Kolkata girl, I grew up with enough love and empathy from the city itself, so, it never appeared to me that any other city has the chance of charming me. But, the city of Shiv, decided to prove otherwise.
When I got down at the spacious Varanasi station amidst waves of people, I had no clue of what to expect. Our lodge belonging to Canara Bank was near the famous Dasaswamedh Ghat and so we were in search of Rickshaws to take us there.
Unaware that the mid week of August was the peak time for all the dedicated Shiva devotees to greet the Lord, we planned the visit. As a result of which the Rickshawalas informed about the restrictions applied on vehicles.
However, this unawareness actually helped us to get a glimpse of the livelier Benaras!
A Bit About Benares:
Benares, Banaras, Kashi or Varanasi, no matter how you pronounce or what you wish to call it, the city indeed has a temperament of its own. The fact that our very own Ganga flows through city, lends it the sacred fervour.
The city of Light (enlightenment, I would insist), Kashi has ‘Idhar Varuna, Udhar Assi’ and so it is tagged as Varanasi. One of our Totowala uttered this phrase to tell us how the tributaries of Ganga played key role in naming ceremony of the city.
It is also known as ‘Anandavan’ because of the sheer pleasure one witnesses while staying in the place. It has been known as a holy city where the ailing people visit in order to breathe the last hoping that they would be going straight to heaven. You might feel strange of.the happiness in a city which one visits in anticipation to death, it might appear sadistic as well
But the truth is, Benaras with its 88 ghats reveals the essence or spirit of life and death being the ultimate truth, is hard to deny. So, one who wishes to taste the essence (Ras) needs to visit Benares.
- Jolting away from the city:
The very first places that we visited were away from city. We booked a car comfortable enough to accommodate six people excluding the driver and off we went to visit the Vindhya Vasini Temple. The temple was structured from a hill and hence required a bit of trekking to reach the final point. The road towards the temple was filled with shops selling coconuts, sweets, colourful chunars ( scarves), vermillion etc. All those that were to be offered to the goddess to make the puja successful. Well, to be honest, the busyness, the colours, the combined fragrance of flowers, incense sticks, sweets etc. Were mesmerising but the place was very crowded. The driver shared a local story about the place to make the journey more memorable. The Vindhya hill became quite proud and arrogant because of her increasing stature. A hermit came who was suppossedly her Guru and the hill bent down to touch the feet as a form of respect. The hill froze like that and if you stare from a distance, you will witness the structure- the result of overt-arrogance.
Then we drove towards Mirzapur to visit the Chunar Fort, a majestic structure standing tall bearing all the glorious and not so glorious past incidents. The driver acted as a guide and accompanied us to narrate the stories that the fort walls hid. One part of the fort is still open for the visitors where one can stay to spend the night. You can peek into the jail of the fortress and also look at the platform where the accused were hanged and subsequently thrown into the water.
While admiring the beauty of the brick-structure and listening to the historical tales, you would get goosebumps. The underground jails with only a ventilator like opening for breathing and throwing food, the shadowy shrine- temple, the (Bawdi) well with staircase connected to the adjacent Ganga etc. All would invoke in you a certain overwhelming emotion.
The fort is indeed a witness to the fancies and frenzies of many emperors. And, even if you aren’t much excited about the long-gone days, then the picturesque landscape would offer you food for thought.
- Halting at the Holy Stops
Each and every alley of Benaras will startle you with a temple or two. So We devoted the next day to visit the popular temples and take the blessings of the deities. We booked an auto and the auto-wala was well-versed with the roads which helped us to cover quite a few important location in one go. We went to KalBhairav temple, the supposed guardian of the city. Then we visited the striking red Durga Mata Mandir, then the SankatMochan Mandir where Hanuman is worshipped. We also visited a temple built in the memory of Tulsidas who penned down Ramcharitamanas and there we got to see the replica of the story. Checking a few other temples, we went to Ramnagar Fort.
The Fort of Ramnagar deserves one visit simply because it helps one grasp the olden times through the antique collection. Starting from palanquins to guns, from clothes to other items of fancies, all have been preserved for tourists. A stroll through the fort will give you chance to imagine how the then life was. The temple inside the fort overlooking the Ganges, the ruins as well as the renovations, all add up to the charm of the place.
- The Seats of Learning
If you have been to Benaras and all the temple visit have feasted on your energy, then you must visit Sarnath. The peace and serenity of the place will offer you a different kind of solace. This is the first place where Buddha started his teaching and so, it is special in its presence and beauty. You will come across various types of Stupas, Statues of Buddha, the Bodhi tree, Jain temples and also Buddhist temples with Burmese or Mizorami inclination.
The Benares Hindu University is also worthy of a visit. The vast campus with separate buildings for different departments and scattered temples will give you ample place to explore within and without.
- The Main Attraction
Of all the attractions mentioned, the temple of Viswanath has a special place. The Lord of the lords is remembered by the devotees throughout the day and with such devotion and dedication that it will move you. The road towards the Temple is also lined with shops which gives the city an ever busy attitude.
If Shiv deserves a mention, so does the ever-flowing vivacious Ganga. The Arati that is performed on the main Ghats at the evening time is a phenomenon in itself. The chant of the mantras, the synchronised swaying motion of the purohits, the colour and texture of flowers, the chime of the bells and instruments, the flickering flames, the calm Ganga and the countless bowed heads. This sight is bound to invoke a sprint of spirituality even in the soul of an atheist. The devotion is so pure that the 45 minutes pass away in a whisk!
Things to do:
Benaras is one crazy city, an epitome of contradictions. Here, life and death reside together and are celebrated with equal enthusiasm. This city with its dirty streets, continuous squabble is chaos personified. Yet there is a comforting calmness amidst all confusion.
You can do so many things that you won’t be bored. Shopping is a must as the items in sale are quite cheap. The city is known for its sarees, for the artwork, for the material, for the authenticity.
Admiring the beauty of the ghats and the city from the boat ride in Ganges is a different experience altogether. The mild sound of the gentle waves, the endless stretch of water, the ever burning pyre in Manikarnika ghat and the stories of the boatmen will stun you for sure.
The Benarasi Pan has a fan following of its own. But in order to enjoy that you need to first feed yourself enough. Starting from the tea and ending with a desert, the foodie in you will also be satisfied.
The costing will depend totally on your preferences. But, the food rates are quite reasonable. You will get all your favorite fast foods, the South Indian dishes, the North Indian items, the Bengali cuisine with ample paneer, rabri, lassi, dahi and peras.
My personal recommendation would be to taste the lassi in Ramnagar as that is heavenly.
Refuge for Recharging
You will find 5star hotels, ancient buildings as lodges as well as maths where you can stay without spending a penny or paisa. Therefore, depending on your budget, you will be able to easily find a room if it isn’t the peak season. The city is quite safe as many people choose this place for their solo trip.
One trip to Benares changed my perspective and made me fall in love with the city. I appreciated the monkeys and buffaloes who accompanied me throughout the tour. I was in awe of the reckless driving in the city avoiding frequent collision. I was touched by the city and its people’s hospitality and warmth.
Hence, if you have a holiday to spare and you wish to make some otherworldly memories, then do give Benaras a try. There are multiple flavours to savour!
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