Varanasi – The luminous city, referred to as Kashi in the Rigveda, is one of the oldest living cities of the world. The city unchanged with time and is as old as time itself. The city Lord Shiva fell in love with. The city famous or its alleys and ghats. The city which has longest living history of art, architecture, culture and rituals. The city where one confronts the rituals of both life and death.
Considered to be one of the seven holy cities (Sapta Puri) that confer moksha, people come here to die and set themselves free from the cycle of reincarnation.
And here I was, at Varanasi airport, just about to enter this indiscreet and unapologetically chaotic city in an hours’ time. But first of all, I had to dodge those touts outside the airport that were all over me like a bad rash, compelling to hire a taxi. I simply nodded in negative with a smile and opted for a auto-rikshaw. I paid INR400 till hostel. I was expecting the weather of Varanasi to be pleasant but it was sweltering at 1330 hrs.
TIP 1- Bargain and finalize a price before you board a vehicle (unless you are on a splurging spree) or else you might end up paying whatever amount the driver asks for, which could be much higher than the actual rate.
I had made a mental checklist of the places to visit and things to do while in Varanasi but there wasn’t any set itinerary. Here goes my checklist:
The Ganga Aarti at Dasawamedh Ghat
Exploring the ghats
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Chunar and Ramnagar Forts
The weavers of the famous Banaras Silk
The Alamgir Mosque
A quick visit to Dr. Ustaad Bismillah Khan’s home
And indeed….Try the food of Banaras
I succeeded in striking out the entire checklist except for the forts. Two and half days were not sufficient enough. An addition of 24 hours more would have been better. Well, I now have a reason to re-visit Varanasi once again.
I reached hostel around 1430 hrs. My priority was the Ganga Aarti at Dasaswamedh Ghat that evening. I started for the ghat at 1630hrs from my hostel. The best way to explore Varanasi is on feet. On my way, I stopped outside a sweet shop where the halwai continued churning milk in a large cooking pot. The Rabri (thickened sweetened milk with layers of cream) was in the making and it would have taken another half an hour for the milk to attain the desired consistency. It already looked yum.
He also asked me to peep into the bhang shop next to his and informed that they supplied bhang to the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple every day.
The shopkeeper at the bhang shop recommended to try the bhang mixed with lassi. I passed the thought of having bhang on the very first day of my arrival. Firstly, I was absolutely drained and secondly, I did not wish to mess up with my itinerary as I only had 48 hours to spend in the city and hence did not intend to spend it sleeping hungover.
After walking for couple of minutes, someone approached me saying he would help in showing me around in his auto-riksha. I simply nodded in negative again. I remembered the scenario at the airport earlier that day and just kept walking. After walking alongside me for few seconds, he went ahead to woo someone else.
TIP 2 – Do not get into any sort of arguments with the touts because there are plenty. You cannot argue with every one of them. The best way to ignore them is to simply say no, wave off with your hand and keep walking
There I walked into the chaos of the colourful city and could instantly sense its mystical essence. I was surrounded by people all around, calling out each other, rushing to grab a seat at a place that would give them the best view of the ceremony, the boat owners trying to woo people to sit on the boats placed right in-front of the ghat. The charge for sitting on the deck is INR200. If you opt to sit on one of the smaller boats right in-front of the ghat, the charge is INR100 and the boats placed for sideview charge INR20. I was lucky to arrive early enough to grab a place that best suited me to take pictures of the entire aarti.
TIP 3 – If you arrive early at the ghats, you can end up getting a good place to view the entire aarti without paying a penny.
While I was roaming around clicking pictures, I noticed many small vendors selling flowers and small baskets of diyas that people would float on the river as their offerings. I started clicking pictures of the diyas when suddenly the vendor asked me to purchase one. I said I didn’t need one but asked the price of one lamp for my information. He said one diya would cost INR50. I smiled and sat down at a wooden plank nearby. He kept on reducing the price and came down to INR10 but when I said I did not need one he went berserk. I simply could not understand the reason behind his behaviour. When asked the same to a boy sitting nearby, he said the vendor was yet to make his bohni (first sale for the day) and I was the first person to ask the price of the lamp. Since I refused, they considered it to be a bad luck for their business for rest of the day. I simply paid for the lamp and floated it on the river.
TIP 4 – People in Varanasi are very particular about their beliefs. Do not ask price of any commodity during the opening hours of business unless you sincerely intend to buy something.
The Ganga aarti, a tradition that has been continuing since thousands of years, renders one speechless and in awe of the all positive energies that seem to be surrounding you during the entire process that extends for around an hour. The Vedic chantings, the prayer songs, the fire and smoke from the camphor, dhoops and incense sticks, the sounds of the conch shell together make a divine mix of both spirituality and beauty.
I walk back to my hostel in reverie.
I headed straight to the hostel and dozed off since I was dog-tired. Next day was scheduled for the sunrise boat ride and Sarnath. I had to wake up early and be present at the reception by 0500hrs.
Keep visiting this space for more pictures and stories about the city of ghats. Coming up next- The Sunrise And Sarnath
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