How many of you have actually visited Varanasi or Kashi? Well, don’t give me those stares now. I know that most of the people visit this city only for doing the last rites. The continuous burning of bodies near the Ghats are proof of that. But, to tell you the truth, the city is much more than just the cremations and a place for attaining Moksha. You would have probably seen the city in various movies like Raanjhana, Water, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag etc. Recently, the city has also become famous because of our hot-shot Prime Minister who contested the elections from here.
Well, Varanasi has a special significance for me. Most of my childhood memories are associated with this city. My grandmother used to stay in a Mutt in Hanuman Ghat and we used to visit her during most of our holidays. In fact, after giving my board exams, I and my brother were packed off to Kashi to stay with my Paati. And, guess what, I received my board exam results too over telegram from Appa!!! Staying in Kashi did not improve my marks though. 🙂 🙂
Needless to say, there was hardly any source of entertainment over there. No television and no friends, the only source of entertainment for us was to sit over the banks of the river Ganges. Even during that time, we always used to feel intrigued about how so many foreigners flocked the place. They would be dressed in colourful Indian attire and roam around freely as if they had been staying there for ages. Our Paati would wake us up at 3am in the morning and we would go through the various narrow alleys to have an early morning darshan of Lord Vishwanath. I doubt if any other child would have had such a religious bent of mind during their childhood. 🙂 Well, the place had its own charm and in spite of being deprived of all sorts of entertainment, we used to still enjoy the long walks through the galis.
Varanasi is quite sacred among Hindus and a lot of people visit the place as a part of their pilgrimage. It is believed that people attain Moksha if they die there or are cremated there. In fact, you can see pyres being lit throughout the day and night in Harishchandra Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat. Yes, it is a city where life and death run in parallel. Even though some people find the city to be quite filthy and dirty, I love its unique mysticism. There is some kind of spirituality there which is quite appealing.
But, since my marriage, I had not visited the city as there was no need to spend summer vacations and other vacations there.. 🙂 After my Paati died last year, I have seen the city so many times in my dreams. And, there was some kind of pull. So, this time, when we had a long stay in Delhi, we decided to visit Varanasi. My husband had heard so much about this place and had never visited it. Also, after learning that his favourite politician fought the elections from there, his curiosity to check out Kashi had increased even more.. ;-).. So much was our determination to visit the city that we booked tickets on Tatkal in sleeper class when our wait-listed tickets in AC coach did not get confirmed. The train which we had boarded must have been one of the oldest trains in our country.. It was beyond stinking and the berths were in a really bad shape.. Thankfully, we did not fall down while sleeping.. 🙂 (That was my biggest fear) Somehow the kids coped up, without complaining much. For them, travel of any kind is always welcome.
Thankfully, hubby dear had booked us in a good hotel so the kids were really excited once we reached there. After getting settled in the hotel, we decided to visit the temples. The kids were not too keen about the temples and Gautam’s only concern was to have food.. 🙂
We took an auto and went till a point and from there we had to take a cycle-rickshaw till another point. Then, there was about a 1 km trek through the galis to Kashi Vishwanath temple. The interesting part about the alleys and small galis of Kashi is that one really has to meander through them along with cows and various other people.
The kids found this trek quite adventurous as it was a different kind of experience for them. Having led shielded lives in metropolitan cities, such a rickety city was like an adventure in itself. The day being Monday, there was a long queue in the Shiva temple. And, when we were inside the sanctum sanctorum, people were literally falling over the Shiva Linga. Surely, the God must have been feeling suffocated with all the fan following.. Somehow, we managed to have our darshan of Lord Vishwanath and Annapoorni and we felt blessed.
I also took the kids and husband to the home where my Paati used to stay. They were appalled to see the small house and the pathetic condition of it. I think it is sometimes essential to give the kids some exposure to ground reality. They could not believe that I and my brother used to stay in such a house, which lacked most of the basic amenities. Showing them such places helps them in valuing what we have now. 🙂
Then, we went on a boat ride from Kedar Ghat till Manikarnika Ghat. Our boat-wallah narrated the story behind each and every Ghat. (The famous ghats over here are the Kedar Ghat, Dashashwamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Varuna Ghat, Assi Ghat. )You won’t believe, the majority of the boats were filled with foreigners who had stopped their boats near these 2 Ghats where the cremations were happening. For them, the burning of corpses must have been a unique sight and a rare experience.
After the boat ride, we sat through the Ganga Aarti on Dashashwamedh Ghat, which was perfectly synchronized and performed by 5 handsome pujaris. 🙂 (Yeah, they were actually looking smart with crisp kurtas, dhotis and long flowing hair!!!)
With so much of religious overdose, Gautam went on a strike saying he did not want to visit any more temples. 🙂 So, we concluded our Varanasi sightseeing and went on a trip to Sarnath the next day. Sarnath is associated with Gautam Budha and it is believed that Lord Budha gave his first sermons in Sarnath. The place is beautiful with a lot of Stupas, temples and ruins and surely, all the people who are fond of Archaeology and history would enjoy spending time over there.
This is how we spent 2 of our days. The kids were ecstatic about coming back to the metropolitan city and we were happy to have had such spiritual encounters. The place is a must-visit for people who enjoy rich and heavenly lassi. 🙂 (Yes, one cannot afford to miss them, especially when it is served in khullads). Also, if you don’t mind walking along with the cows, dogs and burning of corpses, this city will provide you with an enriching experience. You could also buy the famous Banarasi silk sarees over there.