Varanasi (the city that gets it name from Varuna and Assi Rivers) is enchantingly enigmatic as it is famous. If you have had enough days of quietude, solitude and solo traveling, the best place to head to is Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. I bet, you will love the clutter, clamor and color chaos of its cosmopolitan spirit. Famous as the land of education and now as a spiritual destination, there is something mysterious and special about this city and thus it attracts people from all over the world. A lot has changed about the city over decades but it still remains to be older than its legends. While there may be many breath-taking landscapes, developed countries, meccas of tourist attractions, epitome of religious significance in the world, there has never been a city so famously known as the last stop before nirvana. Varanasi aka Kashi gets its fame from the fact that it is one of the oldest living cities in the world and for years people have chosen it as their last resort to attain salvation.
No doubt, the city is believed to be sanctified by the penance of sages and has lived through several stories of Gods and Goddesses, the mystery around its eternal flame at Dashashwamedh Ghat, the burning pyres, the stories of instant moksha and the statement in Puranas about dying in this holy city always makes me go puzzled, nervous, curious and numb. Every time I visit the city of Banaras, it makes me introspective. I find it hard to walk through its streets and the ghats without being awestruck at the ironies of life that co-exist and thrive in the narrow lanes. And the most bewildering aspect of the city is that death is not mourned but celebrated here. People stare at it without a blink and submit to it happily.
Here is an account of one mystical morning spent at the Varanasi Ghats!
I hear you when you say that waking up before the sunrise can be challenging. I also hear you when you say that the ghats are crowded and chaotic. But I still insist that you must make this sacrifice. You will get rewarded with spectacular views of the rising sun and the morning glories and you will return with no regrets.
Subah-E-Banaras is a latest attraction to the list of things-to-do in the city. This morning activity begins with a ‘Ganga Aarti’ at 5 a.m. at the famous Assi Ghat. After the prayers, there are arrangements for musical performances. A special area is allocated for morning yagyas or special prayers on request. The morning ragas of Shehnai and Mangalacharan played in the background are soothing to the mind and body. One can also learn yoga and Vedic lessons during this hour. It is the most apt time to witness the sunrise. I would suggest sit for the Aarti first and then take a boat ride.
Having visited the city four times earlier, this was my first time on a morning boat ride and I absolutely loved it. While the sun was in its mighty glory, the light whistles of the wind and the soft gurgles of the river played music in the background. The atmosphere was picturesque. To my ignorance, I had always had a different perception of the ghats in my earlier visits. However, this time I have come back better informed. I was told that almost all the princely states of India had a temple to themselves on the ghat. Each ghat has a unique name, a story behind it and a prominent architecture too, that hints about the time and period when it was built. The passing temples, heritage properties, sacred old schools, burning pyres and the belief of attaining moksha was overwhelming. By the time I was done traversing from one end to another, the cultural and religious significance of the city had already grown on me.
We were a group of 15 travel writers from different cities and countries. No doubt, it was hard for each one of us to wake up early but it was totally worth it for those amazing experiences of witnessing all those fascinating, colorful rituals and the beautiful sunrise. The ride started on a very tranquil note until the pilgrims and locals became active for the day. As the sun became resplendent, people began with their morning dips. And soon life around the banks began to flourish in its true colors. Life is at every inch is truly spectacular there. And of all the things, the most memorable sights are made by its people who are busy in various activities like taking bath, washing clothes, sitting, reading newspaper, chatting candidly, performing prayers or cremating their family members. From the ancient sadhu in his yogic avatar to a young boy lost in trance, one can spot people of all ages.
In our everyday routine, we often forget to appreciate what we already have. Once in a while it is important to wake up early to look into the sunrise and a beautiful morning as this. As far as the city of Varanasi is considered, it is not just about Hindu pilgrims, 2000 temples, 84 ghats but it is about For hundreds of years, the river Ganges has been considered holy and sanctifying while the ghats have built on a repository of unique Banarasi cultural elements. Since I hail from the state of Uttar Pradesh and Lucknow has been my city for thirteen years of my life, tales of Varanasi are not new to me. But as a traveler and a writer both, it was only this time that I actually craved to look into its mysteries deeper and deeper. This time I had a chance to spend good five days but somehow it din’t feel enough because we had to look into many aspects of the city. I must go back again to learn more.
Last but not the least, I also had a realization that if we want we can happily co-exist in less. We still don’t know what is sufficient for our happiness. We are greedy. We keep fighting for acquiring more and more. While the truth is that when we go back to the final abode, we hardly take back anything. On the lighter note, one of the best lessons of human co-existence and harmony in small space can be learnt at the Varanasi ghats.
I am just back from Uttar Pradesh and have come back with many stories in my satchel. Thank you for reading this one ! Keep following for more. You may also read my travel updates on twitter.