Having become Time, itself, I destroy the world here, O Goddess! ~ Shiva, Padma Purana 1.33.14
Varanasi, this holiest of cities for those of the Hindu and Jain faiths, is just the kind of place where even a twenty-minute walk will lead you to a lifetime’s worth of travel experience as you uncover an unfathomably diverse range of sights and encounters around every corner.
Varanasi has been one of the most intriguing trips I have made. Never have I felt a city so full of going ons. Just inane, often crazy, some brilliant, another bizarre going ons. Just going on. Like Life. Just going on.
The first thing people tell you when they know you are visiting Varanasi is that it’s dirty, flighty, full of garbage and dead bodies floating in the Ganges. But the only reason we all travel is the uncanny ability of these places to throw surprises at us when we least expect. We are left with eyes wide open as we see what we never thought we would find. Sometimes one needs to let go and let the place take you by surprise in its stride.
Here is what I found out:
My first look at Varanasi was at the airport I landed into which was plush and well-equipped. As I collected my baggage and strolled out, I was greeted by the cabbie I had booked in advance. The drive to ghats from the airport is an hour long or so, and in between, one can stop for some awesome Lassi which Banaras is proud of. The city is connected well by trains and flights all over from India.
And there I was staring at River Ganges on a hot March afternoon. The river flowed in still and calm, and as I saw it flowing, felt the same calmness in my head. I was suddenly so much in awe of the entire scene I saw. As I sat in my boat to reach the hotel, I bowed down my head to Mother Ganges and slid my hand by the boat to take in some water from her. I forgot the hot scorching sun for that moment and was mesmerised by the age-old ghats floating beside, and I knew that in the next two days, I will be discovering this 3000-year-old magical city. Known as Lord Shiva’s abode and the city he built for his wife Parvati, the place had so much of history associated with it. And it was clean and pristine.
I was put up in this 200-year-old heritage property (Guleri Khoti), which was converted into a luxury hotel. It had an age-old world charm to the same and has well curated beautiful rooms which face the Ganges. The only way to reach the place is by a boat which the hotel arranges for. You can, however, walk by the ghats in the city any time of the day.
I ventured out in the evening and my first stop was the famous Manikarnika Ghat. Manikarnika or The Burning Ghats is just one of the many ghats of Varanasi. It is the main ghat where bodies are burnt. You see piles of wood stacked up by the banks which are used to light the pyres. And one sees never-ending bodies been bought here day and night.
On that day as I sat there looking at the pyres burning, I promised to be better and kinder, since the scenes of burning ghats to my left reminded me that the time to be better and kinder is running out.
Varanasi has many facades to it and it was not just the Ganges. The food, the people, the Ganga aarti, the age-old 88 ghats there. I soaked in the place with all this, walked those Banares gullies with cows at every turn and colourful doors to beautiful homes. In the two days I was there, I loved each bit of my experience. Be it the ‘Banarasi Brocade Saree Shopping’ where I was helped by strangers on the road to find the perfect saree followed by a ‘Tonga’ ride in the city in the evening where the tongas are still pulled in by humans. I also got lost on those roads but obviously found my way back too.
I will follow my series on Varanasi with more posts on each of this.
As you leave this city, you yearn to definitely get back soon. The effect of the place will remain with you for days to come, and one takes time to recover from the magic.
It forces you to see beyond the obvious. Varanasi removes the foils and fixtures that clog our mind. It opens the soul for one to see deep inside. But it’s not for everyone, it’s for the pupil to be compatible, the guru in Varanasi is open source.