Who said pilgrimages were only for the old and religious people? And who said pilgrimages are not fun and exciting? If that were true, then I wonder why visitors from across the world crowd at the Ganges at Banaras, all year round.
Even if you are not a religious person I do urge you to visit Banaras once in your lifetime. If not for religious purposes, then simply to admire and feel the beauty and history of Banaras. It has its own character and setting which you need to feel by yourself. An entity by itself set apart from time and space. People throng at Banaras also known as Varanasi to visit the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple, the holiest of the Shiva temples and one of the Jyotirlingas. It has been destroyed and re-constructed a number of times in history. The last structure was demolished by Aurangzeb.
Another famous temple of historical and religious importance is the Kaal Bhairav temple that is located nearby the Vishwanath temple. Avoid visiting them on a Monday. The best time to visit is in the afternoons when the crowd is dull. After visiting the temples you can explore the local market.
The Godowlia market is a fun place to visit. The minute you step inside the market an innocent looking- paan eating person will suddenly appear in front of you from nowhere and ask you if you were by any chance looking out for famous Banarasi saris. If you delay in responding you will be rushed into a nearby store where that innocent looking – paan eating person will leave you in the custody of the store owner and resume his search for another passerby. You need to have the knack to negotiate and arrive at the right price of your purchases or else you might end up paying far more than the actual price. I suggest you first explore the entire market, decide on what you really need to buy and from which store and then go for the kill.
The market is also famous for some mouthwatering chaats and sweet meats. You should definitely try out the samosa and kachori chaats. Banaras is also famous for litti chokha, a specialty of this region. Don’t even dream of missing out on the sweet lassi.
You will enjoy the local travel in the battery driven tum-tum. Yet, again you need to negotiate on the rates for the rides.
BHU – The Banaras Hindu University has an enormous campus housing several beautiful colleges for various streams. It is so majestic and beautiful, one would hold pride to pass out from this university. The Birla Temple of Banaras is situated just outside the campus of the University. The atmosphere outside the campus, of the students mixed with the vendors selling various eatables and gift articles add to the liveliness.
Those keen on checking out how the Banaras silk saris are woven can visit nearby silk factories where you can see the work in progress. A silk sari with the intricate design on an average takes 30 days for weaving the golden design on it.
P.S: Select a hotel near the Ghats. Why? You get to enjoy the Ghats as and when you like. Be the morning walks along the serene banks of the Ganges inhaling the fresh cool air, or doing yoga, or simply meditating which is an ideal place and backdrop. You can also enjoy evening boat rides. The Sunrise and sunsets at the Ghats are mesmerizing, a treat to the soul and the cameras. The Ghats are simply charming and look beautiful and various times of the day. Staying in the city will never give you the feel of Banaras, nor will you ever truly experience the true element of it. Not to forget the evening Ganga Aarti, which is an experience in itself. I enjoyed it twice during my stay there. Once on a boat ride from the holy waters at the Dhashashwamedh Ghat and the second time while seated among other devotees on the Assi Ghat. And both experiences left me spell bound.
The farther you travel the more closer you come to yourself. I experienced this at Sarnath. Sarnath is not a place, but an experience. A feeling, a Discovery of yourself. A journey within yourself. A peaceful mind and you will feel his presence there, in every tree, in every stupa, in every flower. He is still there guiding us. I wonder if one day I will get to realize at least a little bit of his divine knowledge.
Just close to the Sarnath museum is the sarnath excavations. Don’t miss the beautiful tall statue of the Buddha near the museum.
The Ramnagar Fort is located near the Sarnath museum and is a must visit.
Once you are done with the fort and you are tired and need a refreshment, just turn around the corner to Shiv Prasaad lassi bhandar who offers the most deadly combination of lassi with rabadi which you cannot miss for anything.
Maliyo is another delicacy made out of milk cream only during the winters and topped with dry fruits which you should definitely try.
If you have the time in your travel agenda, make a trip to Allahabad that is just 120 km, a three hour ride by road from Banaras. Prayag – Triveni Sangam is the place where the Kumbh Mela is held. This divine meeting point of the rivers Yamuna and Ganga and the hidden Saraswati is a sight to be seen. Beautiful Siberian birds migrate to the banks of the Ganges during winter which add to the beauty of the river.
Allahabad is also famous for Anand Bhavan, the birthplace of Indira Gandhi, a true leader and a woman of steel. Visiting the Anand Bhavan will give you a glimpse into their lives, the history of our freedom struggle and the contributions of the great leaders to achieve it.
The journey to Allahabad by road is enjoyable, but do start early. And if you plan to do the boat ride to the Sangam you need another hour or so to spare for it.
P.S: You will need your negotiating skills here as well for the boat ride.
I am sure Banaras will leave a mark on your soul and make a difference in you as a person. And if you are lucky like me and visit during winters, one fine morning you might experience a chilled 12 degree foggy, romantic morning 🙂
Regarding the author – Swarupa Chavan is an award winning published author. Other than writing she loves to travel in her spare time. Exploring new places and experiencing their culture is her passion.
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