Banaras is a place where the dead and living coexist. Hindu Mythology places this ancient city at the extreme of the metaphysical, supernatural and spiritual elements. I still hear echoes of how my grandfather’s best friend who was also a nosy neighbour, would forever want to take a dip in the Holy Ganges believing Kashi Vishwanath was a gateway to heaven.
Now that you have reached Banaras sleeping on the trains on even if you have driven down, there is a lot you can do in this mystical city. Starting from the walks in the fairway narrow alleys, right to the ritual of the Puja every day, everything, just everything, has that element of mystery to it. Let’s begin the quest and take a virtual tour of Banaras, a city in love with Shiva and his consort.
With steps layering up and down on the banks of River Ganga, devotees in thousands throng around every day, waiting to be blessed by this One Drop Of Holy Water. Then there are the other sorts, who sit on the banks all day basking in the sun and criticizing the others. Even better are the fake holy men who could make a snake gobble up money in cash and then pretend as if the snake deity accepted the cash deposit that you made in return for your wishes being answered. Whatever be the reason, the banks of Ganga exude sheer simplicity and beauty which no word can define. One of the prime reasons that make Banaras a house for tourists is the Ghats. Now that we have eaten good food and loitered around, let’s have a look at one of the 84 Ghats which is the most mesmerizing, both in its history and unappalled beauty.
Legend speaks of a sacrifice of ten horses made by Lord Brahma before Lord Shiva could return from banishment. And this is the same Ghat which had utmost importance in the Shiva trilogy. The sheer description of Shiva climbing the stairs towards this Ghat still makes me want to read it again and again. Visit this Ghat in the evening and see a river glow with the uncountable diyas that float on it after the Aarti.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple:
Built by Maharani Ahiliya Devi of Indore, the towers of the temple are plated by 1000kg of gold which at that time was donated by Raja Ranjit Singh. This temple signifies the consummation of the masculine and feminine forms of life, which in turn lead to a balance in all things. Something very similar to the Chinese concept of yin and yang! Worship Shiva here, in its phallic form, and you would return back enlightened.
Shop for silk:
Who does not like Silk flowing away in the breeze? If you are in Banaras, you are in the hub for the best silk woven. The Banarsi Silk is distinguished by its classic weave and design. Then there are families that pass on the Banarsi Weeding trousseau as a lineage, just like you pass down gold and gems to your generations. A visit to the Chowk, Gyan Vapi, Vishwanath Gali and Thateri Bazaar would leave you fascinated with brassware, copper ware and traditional silk fabrics. A traveler’s shopping heaven, shop for all!
A last breath of salvation at the Manikarna Ghat is well deserved for. So death here is almost a beauty to watch. Also known as the ‘mahashamshaan’ or the “Great Cemetery”, this place has a sacred fire that has been burning since time immemorial. The dead body cremated here, in accordance to the Hindu rituals, would attain moksha and be relived from the cycle of birth and death.
Chant NMRK at Sarnath:
It is not just Hinduism that has mentioned the importance of Banaras, Buddhism has been equally in sync with it. As Sarnath, a little place off the main city is where the Dhameka Stupa is situated. It is believed that Lord Buddha delivered one of his initial sermons right at this spot. Time to chant Nam-Myoho-Rengey-Khyo with all the concentration you can bundle up. If it’s not here it’s nowhere!
An Unusual Museum:
A sandstone fort, the royal abode of the King of Varanasi, has a built in museum which showcases the rich Royal Heritage. It is times like this, when technology seems meaningless and you want to be reborn this moment, as a royal Prince, accessorized from head to toe, with ten people waiting to catch the glass you would flip after you sip water. Exhibits at the RamNagar fort include royal cars, antique clocks, palkis(palanquins), works of ivory and ammunition.
Become A Yogi:
Procrastination is a silent killer. Yes! Please stop procrastinating to believe that. And of the numerous times, when you set your alarm clocks to wake you up in the morning, you were not able to open the lazy eyes. Greet the sun at dawn by, beautifully completing a Surya Namaskar. So this is the perfect start. A hub of philosophy and spirituality, Banaras is the learning center for Yoga and its forms. Enroll now and learn it once and for all.
A University of Legends:
Banaras is also a hub for foreign students who come here to attain high levels of intellect on their choice of Subjects. Ranked one of the best Universities in the world, the Banaras Hindu University is a tough standard to maintain. Asia’s largest residential university, it accommodates around 20,000 students in one batch. A motto of “knowledge inspires immortality” is a statement enough to understand the seriousness of academics here. Well worth a visit, do take a walk here, a stroll maybe, that is if studying scares you bad!
Relish Your Food:
And the best reason that makes Banaras the most wonderful destination, for people like me, is the food. The entire city is filled up with places to eat, eat just about anything, traditional, international and fusion cuisines. I once heard someone say that they were offered the traditional Motichur Laddo (Indian Sweet) dipped in the Jal Jeera (hot and spicy digestive drink). Now that must have been some fusion!
At least one boat ride is important. Undoubtedly you can see the Ghats best on foot, but to see the whole stretch at dusk and dawn, in symmetry, from a distance is a magical sight. Everything on the banks of Ganga is very different. There are variations in colour, the scheme, the purpose and the crowds at each and every Ghat, yet a cumulative picture when seen from a distance, is so breathtakingly symmetrical.