The quest for serenity is something that never ends. But you can find it in parts, to recharge your soul, to keep moving. A soul soothing trip can be one option. For that matter a short, sweet and simple trip to Banaras, the city of light is the most trusted of all packages.
As old as Jerusalem, Athens and Peking, the sacred city of Banaras gives a glimpse of spiritual and historical resonance. Busy life on the ghats, exuberance of the festivals, walls and stones of the old houses and temples take you on a different plane. The mobility and stillness, co-existence of life and death inspires you and tells you that you are alive.
Here are five places in the town that you must visit at least once.
1) Dashaswamedh Ghat (Don’t stop here, walk either left or right): It is the busiest and the most prominent ghat in Varanasi. Daily bathers climb the steps of the ghat and begin their pilgrimage after taking a dip in Ganga. It is a place to sit and observe. Witness rituals, rites and customs. See the river getting polluted and cleaned too. After snacking on a few peanuts and having a couple of kulhads of chai, you can take a walk either towards left or right and see the life unfolding from 84 odd ghats. But do come at this place in evening to see the majestic Ganga Aarti.
2) Lalita Ghat: Take a walk towards the left from Dashaswamedh Ghat and you will reach Lalita Ghat after 3-4 ghats. This is the place from where you enter Nepali temple, built by Rajendra Shah, the King of Nepal in 1843. Enter the temple premises upstairs from a small doorway opened from ghat and when you look towards the river, the city from there, you will feel the bliss. The setting sun looks beautiful from here. The activities on other ghats – preparation of Ganga Aarti and lights seem immortal from this height and distance. Besides, the wooden architecture of the temple is also very unique. The erotic display of love and geomagnetic architectural frame on all four gateways and doors is also a must see.
3) Manikarnika: A place where death is auspicious and life is fruitful – Manikarnika mostly associated with its cremation ground is a well known pilgrimage of Hindus. Even if you are not religious, the ancient ghat which carries the load of funeral pyres, temples, a pond and routine activities is a bliss to watch.
4) Assi: Assi is not just a ghat. It is a lifestyle hub. A place which is interested in news of all kinds. You can easily hear people talking about constitution, laws, political scenario, political love affairs, Bollywood rumours and recently written books and scripts. All these are discussed while shopping vegetables, drinking chai and sitting on the ghats while soaking up the Sun. The participants of these group discussions are mostly students, professors, painters, writers and poets. They never mind one more participant in the discussion.
5) Sarnath: This part of Varanasi is little Tibet. You will realise how the city slowly sheds its Hinduism tag and transforms into the land of Buddhist monks. This is how the city is. It belongs to all, not just one particular religion. It is liberal. Once in Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon, you must see Dhamek Stupa, Mulgandha Kuti Vihar and Sarnath museum. It is a place where silence is beautiful.
Although the crisp of kulhad chai is available everywhere in the earthly city, the best chai of the town is available at Raju’s just outside Chittaranjan Park near Dashaswamedh ghat. The uniqueness of Raju’s chai is its preparation inspired from the time of Englishmen in town.
What to read
Banaras- City of Lights by Diana L.Eck
Kashi ka Assi – by Prof Kashinath Singh
Labeling a particular place as best would be wrong. City has awesome tastebuds. FYI please taste Mallaiyo (available only in winters), rabdi, golgappe, launglata (a sweet), jalebi and kachauri (in morning).
Things you must do
# Experience sunrise. The golden glow on the ghats is incredible.
# Take a boat ride and know the ghats standing the fury of the river since hundreds of years. You can talk a walk too.
# See Manikarnika, the busiest cremation ground of the world. See nearby temples and the co-existence of death and life.
# Sit at any secluded ghat and contemplate the river. Soak up some Sun and life.
# Take a walk in serpentine lanes. See wall paintings, architecture and the relics and murals on the doors and walls of temples and houses in the lanes.
# Have thandai. The best thandai in town are sold at prominent Godowlia crossing and Thathery Bazar.
# Must relish rabdi and lassi from Chowk area of the town.
# See the Ganga Aarti at Dashaswamedh ghat in the evening.
Things you must not do
# Don’t use poly-bags, soaps and plastics on ghats and river. These are banned. No one will be policing around, but please avoid for the sake of the river.
# Don’t get misled by fake tourist guide. In case you need help, always feel free to ask from shopkeepers, boatmen and tourist information centre.
# Don’t click pictures of funeral pyre and people at Manikarnika ghat. You can click pictures elsewhere, people are very camera friendly.
# Avoid boats, if you want to go from one place to another. Always prefer walking.
# Don’t board motor boats.