Benaras has much to offer for any visitor. The delectable food, the mesmerizing temples, the varied options for local shopping, the ‘nukkad’ filled with locals and their daily banter and so much more. But there’s something in common about them all. They all thrive in the narrow alleys of Banaras. Let’s take a stroll through them and know more…
WORDS BY- AMOG
Varanasi or Banaras has fascinated travellers and tourists from around the world for a long time now. This ancient city is believed to be one of the holiest places on the planet and nearly everything you see, hear, smell, and taste here is, in some way, very intriguing. Almost like you are stuck in a time warp.
This beautiful place is the perfect celebration of life. Here, life and death are both seen co-existing in harmony. People come to take holy dips in the Ganges, to wash away their sins and pray to the River Goddess. And some come to live the last days of their life, waiting to pass away in this holy land. They believe it redeems them from the cycle of rebirth. Moving away from this cycle of life and death, this city is also a place where you could be enjoying mouth-watering street delicacies, the chants coming from a temple or would have to duck to let a funeral procession pass through.
The holy Ganges supplies Banaras with a spiritual charm with numerous boat rides at its many ghats during dawn, and is perhaps one of the best things to do there. Walk through the lanes and alleys to reach the ghats is a journey in itself. At most of these ghats, boatmen will be ready to take you on a short or long trip on the Ganges or help you cross the river. The ride along Ganges River is few of the experiences of this beautiful, holy city that you shall cherish for a lifetime. It takes one through different Ghats and former Princely Palaces situated close to the banks of Ganges, giving a panoramic view of this River and the region.
The best time to enjoy boat ride of the Ganges River is dawn or dusk. One can start the day with a boat ride along the edge of the city or end it with the sun setting, enjoying the visual spectacle that is the evening aarti.
The city has more than 84 Ghats with stairs leading to the waters. Locals and tourists alike can been seen taking a dip almost any time of the day. People chant prayers and mantras to appease the River Goddess.
In the holy land of the Gods, the temples of Benaras are supposed to offer a direct rendezvous with the Gods. This ancient city has a temple tucked into every nook and corner. The architecture is marvelous and the ambience is soul cleansing. The most popular of the temples here is the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Encased in two gold domes the temple was built in 1780 by Queen Ahilyabai Holker of Indore. A Jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva known as the Vishwanath is enshrined in here. Other popular temples are the 18th-century Durga Temple, Annapurna Temple, Ankatha Temple, Kalbhairav Temple, Mritunjay Mahadev Temple, Tulsi Manas, Sankatmochan, Bharat Mata Temple, etc. So in a way it lives up to it’s name of being a holy city.
The alleys are small and plentiful. And here’s where you truly start exploring the city. You will find several ethnic jewellery stores along one galli and lot of street food vendors in the other. Each galli hosts multiple shops, paan shops and street culture. You’ll probably get lost but eventually they lead to the main road and you can start all over again.
There are places where people come to learn music or practice yoga. Some travellers even choose to stay on for months and try to practice their craft. Shopping here is a bit different. You can actually buy tiny vessels to large jugs of holy water from the Ganges here. But what people really travel from far and wide for are the Banarasi sarees. These silk sarees are world famous for their quality and colours.
Each one more beautiful and colourful than the one before. Even if you’re not shopping for one, you will not miss these shops selling them. The shopkeepers are warm and welcome you with a hot cup of tea even if you’re just window-shopping.
The best time to visit is just after the monsoons or during winter. The boat rides on the Ganga, visiting the different
temples and exploring the vibrant city is simply pleasant and worth investing in. And around this time, a lot of tourists enjoy witnessing some of India’s best festivals and celebrations. Many come finding peace, many come looking for a holiday but as one goes about strolling through the gallis of Banaras, they back finding some more than what they came looking for.