Varanasi 

Dairy Entry

 
One doesn't need to study history to know that Varanasi is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on this planet. One just needs to be there - walk through the labyrinth of extremely narrow lanes and by lanes on the banks of Ganges (through which it is impossible for more than two people to pass without scratching their elbows against the walls), run your hands over the cold skin of one of the hundreds of cows, buffaloes and their calves that loiter aimlessly here and lastly, take a holy dip in the Ganges and gently open your eyes to look at the rising sun early in the morning.

Varanasi is probably one of those holy cities that look much older than the legends, traditions and customs it has bred. It neither has huge palatial temples nor remains dating back to three thousand years ago. And yet is considered holier than the holiest. It's thronged all through the year, by various types of tourists - some native, others foreign; some extremely devout and others merely curious. The growing population with an added influx of tourists have made the city look like a belly that has burst due to overeating. The Ganges generously fed by sewage canals and chemical wastes, the dirty streets smeared with the excreta of cattle, cats, dogs and sometimes even humans and above all the hunger and poverty staring straight at your face everywhere - all this leaves one with a strong feeling of disgust wondering if this is the place once called the   'abode of salvation'.

But strangely enough, a three day stay in Kashi made me drastically alter my views. It all started with a visit to a very small and rarely visited temple , where every visitor is supposed to offer tiny conch shells (Sozhi in Tamil) as offering to the goddess. We never miss this one as someone once told my parents that a trip to Varanasi is incomplete without visiting this place. This time, when i visited this temple, something written on the temple wall in Hindi caught my eye. It was a legend of how the temple came into existence. The goddess after bathing in Ganges, would be enraged if she was accidentally touched or seen by the unclean washer men or women. She would consider herself impure and go for a dip again. For this mistake of hers, she was cursed to take birth as a washer woman and live amidst them in this temple. The legend seemed quite appropriate for today's Varanasi. What if our minds could see beyond the dirt and filth? What can possibly pollute the soul untouched by all vagaries? How can the shallow physical reality hinder the soul's pursuit of salvation?

I was totally preoccupied with these thoughts, when i walked to the Ganges early the next day morning for a holy dip. As i casually plunged into the river, the chill of the water shocked my skin like electricity. The first forceful dip acclimatized my body and made me feel at home in the embrace of the flowing stream. As the rising sun filled the sky with orange, the air resonated with the faint sound of tabla beats, almost like emanating from the heavens. I could see a lone tabla player at a distance. As i walked towards him, after my bath, i saw a totally engrossed white caucasian man, playing the instrument with appreciable expertise. Kashi did seem a magical place, if a person born  in a foreign land, thousands of miles away could find peace here amidst all the crowd and chaos. 


Life moves at a remarkably slow pace here. I think its mostly because of the innumerable number of cows and buffaloes, ambling leisurely everywhere, forcing you to slow down as you walk past them. I'm sure, the benign expression on their faces has a balmy effect on people too. Well, a buffalo generally isn't always as welcoming as a cow, due to it's dark hairy body. But people here didn't seem to have such prejudices. Look at this bunch of happy kids examining with excitement the sounds from the belly of pregnant buffalo !

Itinerary

Day 1

Reached Varanasi in the afternoon by tain, Took a stroll along the Ghats.

Day 2

Local sightseeing in Varanasi and Sarnath (1 Hr, 15 KM), Witnessed the Ganga aarthi at Dasasvamedh Ghat in the evening.

Day 3

Traveled before sunrise to the Varahi temple in Tripura Bhairavi Ghat, Boat ride on Ganges, Visited the Vishvanath and Annapoorna temple in the afternoon.

Late night Train to Chennai.

Tips:

A Haven for travelers. Many small guesthouses near the Ghats offer decent budget accommodation. Food is no problem either. Do try roadside shops offering a wide variety of stuff from puris to idlis to rasagullas.

Avoid traveling around Diwali - extremely crowded then. Immediately after the monsoons is the best time as the Ganges flows with full majesty. 

 

 Album

 Ganges at dawn

2 week old calf

Burning corpse at Harishchandra Ghat

Ganga aarthi

Remains at Sarnath