Day 2 is a rainy day in Varanasi, and we sit down for breakfast, hoping that it will soon be bright and sunny and we will be able to venture out to do some more exploring. Two hours gone and it still hasn’t stopped pouring so we decide to be a bit bold and step out. It is almost lunch time now, so never mind the muck and dirt and water logging, when you are on a holiday, you gotta do what you gotta do!
We are on our way to the Chowk for some shopping, and as we get into the narrow lane that leads us there, it is so mucky that it becomes impossible to walk, so we have no option but to do a course correction. We decide to head to the Kashi Vishwanath temple – dedicated to Lord Shiva and arguably one of the most famous temples for Hindus, a visit here is supposed to free the true devotees from the cycle of death and sansaar (worldly pleasures) .The temple is near Dashashwamedh Ghat, and is approached by a narrow winding gali (lane), very similar to the one I saw the day before. But this seems to be one of the more “religious galis” since the shops are mostly selling mithai (sweets) and offerings for puja. We reach the temple and are asked to deposit our bags, phones and cameras outside (no pictures allowed inside).
As I enter the temple, there are so many doors and passages, and I am completely confused as to where to go. I also see monkeys, a lot of monkeys and a lot of people. The crowd can get overwhelming – people jostling and pushing and a lot of chaos. So you do need to keep a watch or ask someone for direction. Also, the monkeys will sneak up from behind and snatch the flowers or Prasad from your basket.
I have never been particularly religious, especially not the temple visiting and puja kind. But visits such as these have always affected me. It is fascinating to observe the faith and passion with which people come and visit Kashi Vishwanath – it is almost surreal, not something one can define really, it is an inexplicable feeling, of awe almost, and stays with you till much after.
We also visited the Annapurna temple which is in the vicinity. As we collect our belongings, the shopkeeper tells us that we should be happy that “there weren’t too many people inside the temple because of the rain” – I guess life is really all about perspectives 😉
Entry for foreigners happens at a different gate, so please ask around on where exactly you need to go – the locals and shop keepers will be fairly helpful in guiding you.
We decide to go to Dashashwamedh ghat and have a snack before the evening aarti starts at 6:30 pm. If you walk along the Ghat on either side, and climb up any of the lanes, you are bound to run into many small cafes. We sit in one of these, and over hot cups of chai, lemon honey tea, vegetable and onion pakoras and Nutella crepes, and we warm ourselves. It is still raining non-stop but we decide to stick around for the aarti, as we are told that come rain, hail or sunshine, the aarti in Varanasi never stops.
We walk up to Dashashwamedh ghat and the aarti is already on in full swing. You can watch it from the Ghat itself or from a boat on Ganges. We had to skip the boat ride because of the weather but if you walk up the steps, you can get a very good view of the proceedings. As I looked around for a good spot, I could see hundreds of people, in the boats, as well as on the steps, as far as my line of sight. Five decorated pandals are created for the pandits (priests), there is non-stop chanting and ringing of bells, with the aarti blaring out of loudspeakers. The entire show is well orchestrated, almost Bollywood-esque. However, if it is your first trip to India or if you haven’t seen the aarti even once before (at Varanasi, Rishikesh or Haridwar) I would still recommend doing this for its sheer grandeur and beauty.
Don’t be surprised if post the aarti, priests come to you with prasad and ask for money. I think most people feel compelled to offer some money in such situations but let me assure you that a polite refusal will work well.
We reach our hotel, all drenched and tired, change into dry clothes, go the bar, have dinner and relax – and it was still raining!
What I missed on Day 2
Hanging around on the Ghats – I would have loved to sit on the steps, read a book or have a hot cup of chai, if the weather had been kinder. You can get to any ghat and hop around from one to the other on foot.
Boat ride – Catch the sunrise or sunset from the boat, you can even get some of the cafes to pack a picnic basket for you. Check out – http://bakerybreadbrown.blogspot.in/p/blog-page_9.html
Assi Ghat – heard a lot about Haifa and Aum cafe here, couldn’t visit 😦
Manikarnirka Ghat is the main “burning ghat” used for cremation. The experience of watching the funeral proceedings is extremely moving and disturbing for most people and you should venture here only if you have the appetite for it.
This is our last day, and the big item on our agenda is a visit to Sarnath, one of the 4 most important sites for Buddhists. About an hour’s drive from Varanasi, it was at Sarnath that Buddha’s first teachings to his 5 disciples began after he attained enlightenment. The most compelling structure here is the Dhamekha stupa (originally built by Ashoka), which is the exact spot where Buddha taught his first teachings. As you walk around the huge garden, you will see the many ruins, as well as the deer park. The monastery as well as the Sarnath museum are also within walking distance. You might not enjoy Sarnath if you are not into history, architecture or Buddhism, in which case you should probably give this a miss.
I would love to hear your comments on my post or your own experiences of Varanasi.