Varanasi – Ancient. Mystic. Enchanting
Varanasi or Benaras, as is more popularly known will take you back in time. The old tumbledown city is ancient as ancient can be. Some people say that perhaps, it is one of the oldest cities that came into existence as a part of human civilization. Located in the state of Uttar Pradesh and one of the major districts, the city was built on the banks of the river Ganga. Varanasi is considered as the holiest city of Hindustan and is definitely the spiritual capital of India. We are not particularly religious by nature, but the city is stooped into so much history, folk tales, mythology and mysticism that a travel and story lover would naturally be drawn to that place.
Well, on that note let us start our journey. We went to Benaras from Kolkata by train and reached there at evening. Our train was late by 3 hours so we could not make the most of that day. After reaching, we boarded the Uttar Pradesh Tourism lodge. And then walked along the ghats of Ganga. Every evening, the ghats witness Sandhya Arati, commencing at 6 PM, which is spectacular to watch. The chants, hymns, bells, huge pradips all combine together to make a kaleidoscopic surrounding which will remain etched in your minds forever. We walked along the ghats for a long time, soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying it every bit. The whole affair is very visually appealing.
Next day, the whole troupe went for Mandir Darshan. There are innumerable Mandirs in the Holy city and Kashi Vishwanath Temple is amongst the biggest of them all. Varanasi is dedicated to the God Shiva hence Kashinath also has other religious and mythological value. Varanasi is also called as Kashi by the locals, who think it as the city to attain salvation from their sins. Photography is prohibited both inside and outside the Mandirs hence no pictures could be taken.
After mandir darshan, we went to a place called Lolarkh kund. It is considered to be one of the holiest of Kunds. This kund is dedicated to Surya, the God of Sun and many devotees take a dip there to wash away their sins and attain salvation. Lolarkh Sashti is celebrated on the banks of that kund every monsoon. On that day, there was voting held in UP and thus nothing much could be done. We came back and started circulating the ghats. The most famous ones are obviously Dashashwamedha and Manikarnika.
The ghats of Varanasi are world renowned and they date back centuries. The main and the oldest ghat is Dashashwamedha and here you will often find the Aghori monks or Shaiva Sadhus smeared in ashes standing out in the crowd. The Manikarnika Ghat is the Mahasmasana and the primary Ghat for Hindu Cremation. It is a belief that only when your ashes are given away on this ghat, would you achieve your freedom in the other world and start your journey for the next birth. Thus many old people spend the last of their days in Kashi, in hopes of being salvaged and carrying on their eternal journey forward. It has also been observed that the burning ghats of Marnikarnika are never put out of their fires. The ghats must always be burning with a cremation. Manikarnika Ghat is also one of the Shakti Peethas and there are many mythological stories which have shaped the history of this ghat.
On the third day, we visited Sitamarhi where we first visited the humongous Lord Hanuman statue which was still under construction then. It is the tallest Hanuman Statue in India. It is the birthplace of Sita and a temple is dedicated to Sita in Punaura Dham. We also visited the Vindhyachal Forest from there.
While returning from Sitamarhi, we went to Allahabad as well to visit Triveni Sangam. It is the confluence of three rivers and is considered sacred for Hindus.
On our last day of the trip, we woke up very early and went for migratory bird watching on Assi Ghat. Waves and Waves of birds, squawking and flying over the river is a delightful sight to behold. From there we went to Chunar Fort. It is a historic place with many events dating back to the Mughal era. It is also known as the Chandrakanta Chunargarh fort. This brought an end to our short yet memorable trip to Varanasi, the city of Ghats.
Varanasi for us was an enchanting tour which made us realize that perhaps the world will grow in technology with supersonic speed and yet nothing will affect in Varanasi. The traditions, the mythology, the mysticism are so deep-rooted that it is quite impossible to uproot them. Not only is Varanasi the holiest of the of all the Sapta Puris, but also an important seat of cultural heritage. It houses one of the oldest world-renowned universities, the Benaras Hindu University. The Banaras Gharana form of the Hindustani Classical music was also developed here.
Do we recommend a trip to Varanasi or not? Yes!. For the sheer history will leave you enthralled. There is so much to know, to see to believe. In this world of apps and smartphones, Varanasi will reinforce your faith in some old age values for sure!