“Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and
looks twice as old as all of them put together” – Mark Twain
Varanasi (also called Benaras or Kashi), the holiest of the Hindu pilgrimages, the microcosm of Hinduism, is a city of traditional classical culture that is glorified by myth and legend and sanctified by religion. The divinity of “Kashi” and the quest to attain eternal oneness of the body and soul, has attracted worshippers and pilgrims to this holy land from time immemorial. Known for the numerous ghats facing the mighty river Ganges shining in the golden hues of the sun, art and music, Varanasi offers an unforgettable experience to every pilgrim or traveller. The shrines and temples along the Ganges, bathing in rich tradition of India, basking in the glory of Indian culture, re-vibrates of the hymn and incense from the prayers of kin that elevates the mortal soul to the next cycle of life. This is the story of my journey to Varanasi – The city of Light, trying to contemplate on the meaning of life.
Ok, fine. I’m not here to meditate on my destiny, I’m just a traveller with a passion to explore the rich cultures and tradition of Varanasi. First of all, let me tell you that Varanasi was not in my initial travel plan. It was a quick decision we made in Ragir (Ya, yesterday) to visit Varanasi as well. Luckily we did get a Tatkal ticket in Budhpoornima Express and to our great relief, we did get our sleeper berths as well.
We arrived Varanasi by around 11 am since the train was late by 2.5 hours. So, we thought we’d start off with the most famous temple of India – The Shri Kashi Vishwanatha Temple. It is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva (The destroyer) and it is located in the middle of the city. The most notable part about visiting this temple is that, the security around it is so tight that I’d say, there’s atleast a battalion of soldiers stationed there. Now, the reason for this is quite obvious as there exist a Babri Masjid (Mosque) very next to the temple. I must admit, even though India is a secular country, not everyone understands the meaning of secularism. The air around the temple and mosque is quite tense, and we could literally feel it. After nearly 30 mins on queue, I finally had the darshan of the Shiva Linga or the deity of the temple. No pun intended, but to see the advertisements of banks about online poojas and payments inside the temple was disheartening. Technologically advanced that spirituality and religion is just a mouse-click away!!
After visiting the temple, we set of to the Ghats. Varanasi is very famous for the Ghats and high banks around the river Ganges. There are nearly 80 Ghats and each have its own name and uniqueness. The smell of incense fills the air and the hymns purify your souls. We could see countless people performing poojas. We could see marriage ceremonies, people bathing in the river to purify themselves of their sins, the black smoke that rises of the funeral piers – They reminded us of the cycle of life. This is where it starts and ends for them. If you are searching for eternal oneness with your spirit, you’d be one of the thousands who come to Benaras for meditation. So, we started out with the Dashashwamedh Ghat, one of the 80 Ghats, somewhere to the middle, I guess. We were lucky to have Abhisekh, a classmate of mine in IIT Kanpur as our guide. After some 30 minutes of negotiation we got ourselves a boat that agreed to take us to Assi Ghat, the 80th Ghat. The trip took nearly 1 hour and trust me, it was a remarkable experience. We were rowing along the shore of Ganges amazed at the beauty and spirit of Varanasi.
We then went to the Benaras Hindu University, one of the largest Universities in the world. Located at the heart of Varanasi, this temple of high learning has helped a lot in the all round development of the nation. We visited the Vishwanath temple inside the University campus and it was a really huge temple. Built in 1965, the Marble and concrete temple is a fine example of the modern temple architecture. The campus of the university reminded me of the IIT campus, but the buildings were older and beautiful. The campus is nearly twice the size of IIT Kanpur.
And before we left, we bought some sweets from Varanasi (They are really famous). Varanasi is also known for Banaras silk. After a good dinner, we boarded a UPSRTC bus and we were off to Kanpur. Don’t be alarmed if your bus jumps to the wrong side of a 4 lane highway and still keeps up 70-80 kmph. You’re driver just wants to avoid the queue at toll booth; Don’t forget – Time is money!
This concludes my 3 day trip to Bodhgaya, Rajgir and Varanasi – through the cradle of two great religions – seeking enlightenment and spiritual oneness. Now, I’m not gonna answer the question as to whether I attained enlightenment or the oneness. The total expenditure was Rs.2200 or $41 per head. And here is the tour map as I promised. And this is Ashwin, Me and Rashid – The Trio
PS : End of Bihar – Varanasi trip