Monday, February 29, 2016

Soul Searching In Varanasi


Varanasi is famous for her Ghats, paan, mighty Ganges, sari and holy pilgrimage sites- Kashi Vishwanath temple and Bhairava temple. The narrow lanes around the ghats of Varanasi made us feel like we were walking through a highly complicated maze. In the most unexpected corners, we saw centuries old temples that seem to have been engulfed by surrounding households and many a gem of eat outs. All lanes seem to look alike and are highly confusing but we never had to worry as smiling locals were always available to give us a detailed route map.


Varanasi, where the mornings begin with praying/salutation to the Sun and the day ends with the most magnanimous Ganga Aarti. This colorful city with its rituals, mantras, vedic chants makes one feel that this is the place to attain salvation. It is amazing to see a single platform offering a glimpse of various stages of Life. While on one side, the pundits are holding the naming ceremony or preparing for the first head shave of a new born, on the other ghat, there are preparations going on to cremate the body of a departed soul.



This place teaches you a lot about Life, Indian rituals and a connect with your spiritual side happens even without your knowledge. No wonder, people come down here once they have taken a call of disowning all worldly pleasures. But this place is not just for aged or religious. It attracts people who are soul searching, want to experience the roots of India, the traditions of Hinduism, the rituals and even those who want to learn more about our history and culture. That for sure is given, there is no way that this place does not leave a ever lasting impression on you.


On the other hand, people here know how to enjoy life as well. Their association with Bhaang, Paan, Lassi, colors and their love for food speaks volumes that you do not need fancy and expensive things to be able to enjoy life.


The best way to experience the beautiful ghats of Varanasi and fall in love with the many monuments is to explore them by foot. We were not really up for the much hyped boat tour as we wanted an up close personal feel of the Ghats. But let us caution you things are not all rosy, there are a few sections of the Ghat that are in absolute pathetic shape with a few stinking a lot due to human waste and garbage strewn around. However, the work around for this is to circumvent around the Ghat.


Ganga Aarti is performed everyday at the Dasaswamedha Ghat, the ritual starts at 7 pm and goes on for an hour. You are so engulfed by the Aarti that you start chanting the mantras along with the pundits and are more in a trance state with the awakening of your spiritual side. Ganga Aarti is performed by 7 pundits who perform synchronized Hindu rituals. In order to get better seats be there by 6:30 pm. The extreme corners of the ghat is the best place to view the aarti. To view the Ganga Aarti you will be offered a seat on a boat for a minimal price however, the view may not be great and will be obstructed as people sit on the platforms right in front of the pandits.


Be careful of your belongings as pickpockets prey on unsuspecting devotees and tourists. After the Aarti you maybe approached by pseudo pandits or babas who in the name of blessings will apply tilak on your forehead and then expect money in return. If you want to click pictures of sadhus or babas kindly ask for permission and pay a small tip.


Overlooking the Panchaganga ghat lies the Alamgiri Mosque. This mosque was built on an ancient Hindu temple destroyed by Aurangazeb. You can still see the walls that stand as remains of the Hindu temple and the mosque domes were built on these same walls. This is one of the most captivating monuments on the Ghats of Varanasi. One can see the minarets and domes from the banks of the Ganges.


Superstition plays a huge part in Hinduism and it is widely believed that if you let the ashes of the deceased soul in Ganga they will attain moksha or freedom from the cycle of re-birth. The Manikarnika Ghat which is one of the cremation ghats is a pretty sensitive and it is advised that you do not click pictures here as it might be insensitive and disrespectful towards the grieving family. 


One of the best ghats of Varanasi is Scindia Ghat, right next to Manikarnika, as we were very excited to see one stunning monument that is tilted as well as submerged in the Ganges. This 150 year old Shiva temple was built by a son for his mother and on the completion of the temple, he claimed he had repaid his debt to his mother for giving him life. However, the temple tilted right after completion and the locals say a debt to one's mother can never be repaid.


Another reason we fell in love with this ghat is for the divine lassi served in a tiny outlet "Blue Lassi Shop" right behind the ghat. We never knew lassi could be this excellent and awesome. Many varieties are offered by this 70 year old shop and we had a tough time choosing from their 5 page long menu. Their top seller seems to be Pomegranate lassi, we tried the 'Kesar Dry Fruit Lassi' and it was out of the world. In order to reach this treasured place they have strewn around bread crumbs in the form of small arrows painted on the walls directing you to the shop. If you want, carry a passport size photo as they have customers pinning up their photos on the walls of their shop with notes of appreciation.


Do watch-out for the Government authorized stores that sell "Bhang." If you are consuming it for the first time, please go in for really small quantity. Another place that caught our attention was Keshav Ruchika Byanjan Resturant aka KRB that serves incredibly good chaat. Do try the aloo tikki chat and pani puri, the place is super hygienic and clean. 


We checked into Hotel Broadway near Harichandra ghat. There are several plus points to stay in this hotel. Though the property is only 500mt from Harichandra ghat and it is not in a narrow lane. This mid range hotel has 24 hr power backup that operates all appliances including AC which is very important as Varanasi experiences frequent power cuts. They have super spacious rooms and lot of amenities including free WiFi. They were also generous enough to let us take a printout free of charge. The best aspect is their Aman restaurant that serves the best food in Varanasi at a very affordable cost.


Photo Blog Varanasi. 

15 comments:

  1. Beautiful photos! I have been to Varanasi when I was very young - would love to go back!

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  2. Good, detailed account of your visit to Varanasi! Loved your beautiful captures, have noted down the Blue Lassi Shop! Defiantly going try this place while in Varanasi! :)

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    1. Glad you liked the post :) have a good time there

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  3. Such a detailed post of Varanasi with some great pictures!
    Brilliant post.

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  4. A very interesting Post.. Well presented!

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  5. Great post ...I wonder !! why we haven't been to Varanasi till now ? Would love to visit this place soon.:)

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    1. Thanks a bunch, we are sure you guys will fall in love with Varanasi. Plan a trip soon :)

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  7. Nice post! You can enjoy decent culture in Varanasi and gets the lots of joy with historical places, Ghats and Temples like Durga Temple, Jantar Mantar, Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Sankat Mochan Temple, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith, New Vishwanath Temple in the BHU campus, famous Ramnagar Fort, Riverside Ghats, Tulsi Manas and many more. And you can also experience the historical city's other famous spots . And you can easily hire car rental or Taxi Services in Varanasi. and ride entire the city.

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