The darkness before dawn was stark and distinct.There was screaming silence all around, other than the rhythmic sound of morning aarti. As I settled down on the edge of the boat, I panned around. The vaguely visible Ghats were wrapped in a curtain of mist. The calmness of the River Ganga had a soothing effect with the tweeting sound of the morning birds, making it really worthwhile. The rising sun quietly announced a new day, a flock of seagulls wandering around the boats, and Ghats were slowly getting busy with the arrival of devotees. The sound of water was musical. It was nothing less than a mystical drama unfolding in front of my eyes.
I never imagined that the oldest living city; Varanasi, could have such an impeccable effect on people till I boarded the boat to observe life around the Ghats. The water beyond horizon, endless boats of various sizes and shapes, morning Puja and bath, burning dead bodies, relatives waiting patiently for their turn to perform the rituals, and sadhus doing their daily duties.
There was stillness and chaos at the same time. You need a long pause to register the happenings on the shore. The layers of emotions suddenly erupted like a volcano. It made me numb afterwards.
This is what Varanasi does to you. It charms you without your knowledge, also introduces you to the harsh reality of Life and Death at ease.
Varanasi just can’t be another religious city in India, rather it’s an emotion.
Located on the bank of holy River Ganga, Varanasi is an ancient continually inhabited city in the world. Also known as Benaras, the oldest name of the city is Kashi. The early history claims that Varanasi was the seat of Aryan religion and philosophy, with people settling in the middle Ganges valley around 2,000 BCE. It was also a commercial and industrial center, popular for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture.In 6th century BCE, Buddhism started flourishing nearby Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon. In the 11th century, Varanasi started facing a lot of destruction of its Hindu temples during Muslim rule, though the city was revived once the Maratha rulers took over the reign of the city, by constructing new temples and shrines. It was during the British Raj, Varanasi became an independent kingdom and later was declared “a new Indian state”, with Ramnagar as its headquarters. In 1947, after independence, the Varanasi became apart of the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Though this ancient city requires at least a week to explore, but if you are spending only a day, here is what you can do in 24 hours in Varanasi.
Attend Morning Aarti at Assi Ghat
If you are in Varanasi, attending the Subah-e-Banaras is the must do thing at Assi Ghat, located at the southern-most part of Varanasi. You can’t ask for a more perfect morning than this. The sound of blowing conch shell in perfect sync, rising smoke and illuminating diyas, orchestrated well by the morning prayer, the visuals of the morning aarti performed by the priests, create the most divine atmosphere just before dawn at Assi ghat.
The magic of the morning aarti draws a lot of tourists as well as the locals early in the morning to Assi Ghat. The aura it creates is truly surreal. Though you will find lesser crowds in the morning than at the evening Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat, but I prefer the Subah-e-Banaras over the other, only because it is less crowded and chaotic and you can actually soak in the atmosphere easily.
Take a Boat Ride
It was the most beautiful experience I had in Varanasi. The boat ride along the Ghats of the ancient sacred city, with the rising sun and flocking seagulls made it worthwhile that morning. Observing life on the shore can be an overwhelming experience. It creates a sense of calmness amidst the chaos. Watching the bright sunrise, rising above the mist, announcing a new day, along with the sound of water, was a surreal experience. It is undoubtedly a must have experience for everyone who wish to visit Kashi.
From one Ghat to another, the changing scenes, like people taking holy dip, sadhus performing the morning rituals, tourists enjoying the boat ride to watching burning dead bodies, Varanasi presents numerous worlds all at one go.
I truly believe that the morning boat ride is just an introduction to the city for people who have just arrived in the mystical land.
Stroll in the Tiny alleyways
Strolling in the tiny maze like alleyways in Varanasi is something you can’t skip if you want to observe the lifestyle of the people living near the Ghats for centuries. It allows you to live a few moments like a local. It gives you an opportunity to see life in those lanes up close. Whether it is seeing the morning puja rituals in homes, people eating Banarasi paan, breakfast joints in those corners, elderly people enjoying their time at leisure or people taking dead bodies to Manikarna Ghats, there is a lot you can soak in, just by walking in those tiny lanes. You will always find people there, irrespective of the time.
Visit Weaver Colony
Banarasi silk sari is a part of the rich cultural heritage of Vanarasi. It is widely famous across the world and one of the prize possessions of this ancient city. It was during the Mughal period, that the craftsmen migrated here from Persia. The intricate details, eye-arresting motifs and the designs of the silk saris of Varanasi are something you can’t take your eyes off. So, whenever you are in Varanasi, a visit to the weaver colony in the heart of the city is highly recommended if you wish to see the making process. I visited one such colony named Pilikothi (Weaver District) during my last visit to the ancient city. The rhythmic sound of the hand looms dominated the alleyways when I was meandering through. The small windows and dim lights around gave me a sense of the lifestyle of those weavers who were busy weaving the famous silk saris of Varanasi. The Muslim dominated colony was my introduction to the weaving community who have been doing this for generations. Visiting this colony made me realize what goes into making one sari and how much hard work is required to make that one masterpiece.Though I was told that there are only a few artisans who use hand looms these days as the traditional looms have been replaced by machines.
Visit Ghats and Temples of Varanasi
Varanasi has more than 87 Ghats on the bank of River Ganga and each Ghat has its own significance when it comes to spirituality and faith. Walking from one Ghat to another, watching the life around it, is one of the most satisfying experiences in the holy city. The morning view of the River Ganga from any of the Ghats is simply alluring. Among all the Ghats, the most popular is Dashashwamedh Ghat. This Ghat is located near Vishwanath Temple, which makes it one of the busiest Ghats for the devotees. You can also visit the Marnikarna Ghat, which is the sacred Ghat for the departed souls as it is believed that the dead bodies cremated at this Ghat get salvation.
Manikarnika Ghat is also known as the Burning Ghat. Apart from these two Ghats, you should also explore Ghats like Assi, Darabhanga, Harishchandra, Rajendraprasad, Scindia ghat, etc. When it comes to visiting temples in Varanasi, there are numerous ones.
But the ones which are not to be missed are the Vishwanath Temple, Annapurna Temple, Durga Kund Temple, Sankat Mochan Temple and Bharat Mata Temple, to name a few.
Don’t Miss the Evening Ganga Aarti
The Ganga aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat is undoubtedly one of the main attractions of Varanasi for tourists. It is a visual delight and a treat to your senses. As I sat on the boat to attend the Ganga aarti, the Ghats of Kashi painted a completely new Varanasi for me. It was calm. The empty Ghats and silently flowing River Ganga, were enchanting.
The silence around the Ghats compared to the frenzied scene during daytime was a total contrast. I felt as if it was celebrating peace and breathing life after an overwhelming day. But the moment where we were approaching the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the sound of Ganga Aarti and the overtly populated scenery was jaw-dropping. The massive crowd at the Ghat and the people on the boats were a sight to behold. The kind of devotion and the excitement to attend the Ganga Aarti was something which needs to be seen and experienced.
Our boat was way behind hundreds of boats. So, though I didn’t get a closer view of the aarti, but the feeling of being there and attending the Ganga Aarti was quite satisfactory.
Relish Street Food in Varanasi
In Varanasi, don’t forget to sample some of the best street food delicacies, which have its distinct taste and flavor. I had a great time having breakfast from the famous joint named Sri Ram Bhandar. The Puri and Jalebi are the must have there if you are around that place. Also, don’t miss the Lassi in Varanasi. If you are someone who relishes chaats, a visit to Kashi Chaat Bhandar is a must, whenever you are in this energetic city next time. Don’t forget to try the famous Banarasi Paan in Varanasi.
I was invited on a Press Trip by the
Lonely Planet Magazine India and Uttar Pradesh Tourism
The reproduction of any of the content, including the photographs without prior consent/permission of the writer, is strictly prohibited and a violation of the same will attract legal action.
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