Varanasi Diaries

Benaras, the spiritual city, the cultural abode, the seat of the Dharamachakra and the four lioned Ashokan pillar and the land of sweet obsessions, should be a must visit place on a traveller’s bucket list. I never intended to visit Benaras because I had a common misconception that it was a too religion driven place, but trust me, there is more to this metropolitan city than temples.

Yes, you can spot a temple after every 500m – small, medium or large. But the composite culture of this place is one of a kind. This is the same place where the Japanese have built their Buddhist temples and Pt. Bismillah Khan played his Shehnai to glory. This is the same place where the very famous fabric of our country – the Benarasi silk has been woven by people from myriad backgrounds and the Paan has passed on to the whole country. The prestigious Benaras Hindu University is here only and one of the oldest temples of India – the Kashi Vishwanath stands mighty here. This is the oldest city of India and is one of the prominent places where the Ganges passes, so why not pack your bags for this place on your next visit?

Best time to travel: October to April as the scorching heat in north India and the monsoons wreak havoc here in the remaining months.

Places to visit:

Ksheer Sagar:  This city is famous for its sweets. And Ksheer Sagar does not disappoint you when it comes to the different varieties of sweets that it has to offer. It is a heaven for a person who is obsessed with sweets. So I had Chamcham, Kheer kadam, Malpua sandwich and Chaine ke Bade.
We all must have eaten malpua but this place devised a new way to serve this age old delicacy in the form of a sandwich.
Moving onto this amazing sweet, Chaine ke bade. They were just like the Dahi bada that we all had once but the surprise was that these badas were sweet.

Assi ghat: If you love sunrises, then relish the one here. The orange ball of fire rising over the Ganges is a sight you will cherish for your whole life. Since the past two years, Ganga aarti has been performed every day on this ghat and luckily when I went there, Mani from A.R. Rehman’s musical troupe gave an enchanting performance. You can walk to the other ghats along the river and savour a boatride. Since this is a spiritual city, the citizens rise early to perform their Yoga and meditation activities on the ghats.

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Dhashwamedha Ghat: A boat ride just before the evening aarti is highly recommended. There are around 87 ghats along the Ganges and the boatman takes you to all of them and recounts the historical anecdotes associated with them. The most interesting one is associated with the Harishchandra Ghat. The boatride is followed by the beautiful spectacle of the Ganga aarti, where the pundits perform aarti using different paraphernalia. Sitting on the boat is akin to watching poetry in motion – an enchanting and divine experience.

Sarnath: History buffs, this is the place for you. The Dhamek stupa where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon should not be missed. In the earlier times, there was a Buddhist Vihara here and you can see the remnants. The fact that this whole complex is more than a thousand years old showcases the engineering feat of those times.

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The Sarnath museum should also be on your go to list as here lies the majestic Ashoka Pillar. We all must have seen images of this edict in our books but to savour it standing there in all its glory is a completely different experience, one that cannot be fathomed while sitting in our classrooms and reading about it. The Dharma Chakra which graces our National Flag is also present in this museum. The museum also houses the excavations from different periods. Majority of these excavations belong to the Gupta period, which was a golden age for the ancient Indian culture. Walking through this museum is like going  through the fading yellow pages of a book that was read ages ago.

Adjacent to the Sarnath complex, are some Japanese Buddhist temples which are peaceful and offer you a whole gamut of cultural experiences.

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Ramnagar Fort: Situated 14 kilometres from the city, the fort exudes grandeur. It is a standing reminder of the long forgotten era, the time in which the fort was flooding with riches and wealth. The museum in the fort houses American vintage cars, medieval costumes, palanquins, armoury filled with swords and old guns. However, the present condition of this once magnificent fort on the banks of the Ganges is deplorable. It has not been well maintained and you can spot the usual paan stains.

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