Friday, April 17, 2015

Exploring the mystic city of VARANASI

I rose early in the morning to the sound of hymns. The same loudspeakers that sound nuisance in Delhi were a music to ears with soothing hymns playing in the backdrop of a beautiful morning.
Just a few souls were up and sitting along the Assi ghat waiting for the sun to rise from behind the horizon. We were all game for the boat ride along the ghats.

A Beautiful Morning At Assi Ghat
It was almost dark when we started the ride. Our boat man Raju was a quiet man from a village nearby. He has never been out of Varanasi and doesn't feel the need too. He is happy and contended by taking people on a ride and earning just enough to raise his family.

Morning Boat Ride Along The Ghats; Picture by Vinod Verma
Slowly the darkness was being taken over by the light of the day. The noise and hulchul along the ghats was increasing.  Crossing Dasaswamedh, Harish Chandra ghat, Scindhia ghat, Jain ghat, Hanuman ghat and many other big and small ghats We reached Manikarnika Ghat. Every ghat seemed to be different. While some are the burning ghats others are famous for their glorious architecture... Some ghats are considered to be very pious and many pilgrims can be seen taking bath while others are occupied by dhobis washing clothes. 

We were engrossed in watching and clicking life at the ghats when one of us almost shouted "There..!". On the other side was a small orange ball peeping from the horizon. It was just a bit of it that was visible initially. But slowly and gradually the deep orange ball of fire came out of the horizon and showed its full face. I was mesmerized by the sight. My trance was broken by the clicks of cameras. We could not get enough of it and our cameras were continuously clicking to capture this magic moment. It's these memories and moments that keep us going in the hustle bustle of the city life.

The Mesmerizing Sun Rise 

Life Along The Ghats
Varanasi, built along the length of the river Ganga is one of the oldest living city in the world. It's mysterious nature has always intrigued me. Life along the ghats is always full of stories. A man chanting on top of his voice and another one quietly playing Veena; dead body of a man lying unattended by the side of the burning ghat waiting for its turn while another family taking a holy dip; a foreigner happy couple all dressed in Indian costume and a young boy dressed as a sanyasi...
I wish I had enough time to sit and chat with them all to know what bought them to this mysterious city.

Evening aarti specially at Daswamedh ghat is something people highly recommend but to be honest I found it overrated and overdone. Loudspeakers were way too loud, pandits performing rituals were spotted using abusive language when they were not in their too bright satin saffron robes... they looked and behaved more like funny models than spiritual beings.
It was a treat though to watch diyas float on the ghat and to witness a beautiful day turning into a gorgeous night... It would have been a perfect spiritual setting provided the aarti was done by heart rather than to show off.
Next evening we attended the aarti rituals at Assi ghat. I found that simpler and from the heart.

The day was spent exploring the market, lanes and temples in the city. The attraction of the day was a visit to the weavers colony where we saw benarasi sarees being woven. We were told that a single saree takes from a month to 3 months depending upon the intricacy of the design. We were then taken to a showroom from where we bought some and felt we got good bargains. On asking weather he gets commission for taking us to the workshop and showroom, the autowala who took us there told us that he gets gifts from the owner on festivals and financial help whenever required. And best thing is that help is provided on non returnable basis. Good to know!

Visit to Varanasi is incomplete without buying a Banarsi Saree

Temples we visited include Sankat Mochan, Kashi Vishwanath and Durga. Though I am not a Temple person it's good to visit these historical places for the architecture and to see the faith of people. Beware of the pandas though who are there just to mint money.

Exploring the surround areas was equally enchanting. We visited Ramnagar fort (on boat from Assi ghat), Benaras Hindu University campus (an auto took us around the whole campus) and Sarnath (took a taxi) in following days.

Ramnagar Fort houses a museum, residential complex of the king and Ved Vyas temple. Many carved balconies, open courtyards & picturesque pavilions are part of this fort. Vidya Mandir Museum or Darbar Hall inside the fort gives the reflection of a court that once existed. Museum displays royal collection of a variety of old armory, swords, old guns, vintage cars, antique clocks, ivory work, medieval costumes, gold & silver royal palkis (Palanquins), silver elephant saddles carved out of silver, jewelry, furniture, costumes, etc.. It also has rare manuscripts, Mughal miniatures, which are the prized collection of this place.

Ramnagar Fort

Banaras Hindu University Campus Established in 1916 by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya is one of the largest residential universities in Asia, with over 20,000 students. The university's main campus spread over 1,300 acres (5.3 km2) was built on land donated by the Kashi Naresh, the hereditary ruler of Banaras.

Banaras Hindu University

Sarnath - Spiritual center of Buddhism where Buddha attained enlightenment and spoke the first sermon of what became Buddhism. We visited Chaukhandi StupaDhamek Stupa, Mulagandha Kuti Vihar and the archaeological Museum and excavated area.


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