Banaras through my eyes

One month prior to my visit, when I told one of my friends about my plans to visit Varanasi, he had a hearty laugh. “But why Banaras?”, he asked. ( Banaras is a former name of Varanasi.) “Are you a foreigner to visit this temple city or do you want to become a Baba(a saint)? There are better places to visit.”

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Traveling for me is a way of learning irrespective of good/bad experiences. I do not think much about what ifs and I am always ready to pack my bags when the opportunity comes knocking the door.

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A graffiti on one of the ghats in Banaras.

It all happened when I met my childhood friend after a long time. After all the empty talks and vain laughs over a few drinks, he told me that he is visiting Varanasi( it’s his native place) and asked me in a casual manner if I would be interested in joining him. Poor guy had not realized my madness until then. Though he was a little surprised that I actually made it, he was very happy to host me at his place and I was pampered too much by all his family members throughout my stay for which I am indebtedly grateful. It was love that made my journey successful above all the other experiences I had in Banaras.
But “Why Banaras?” This was a question I carried secretly throughout my journey. Does that question ring in your head too?
Here’s the answer-
Mornings in Banaras
Mornings in Banaras are a treat for one’s soul! A ball of molten gold rising above the horizon, temple bells ringing, Pundits reciting mantras paying obeisance to the holy Ganga, some taking dip in the river chanting lord’s name while others doing yoga on the river bank; tourists flocking around, clicking photographs, while some taking boat rides and the morning prayer at Assi Ghat collectively radiates such positive vibes, which I feel, is always important to start the day.

Raj ghat- VBaranasi
The mornings will take your breath away!
Arti at Assi ghat
Morning Aarti at Assi Ghat.

Morning at Manikarnika Ghat.

Morning in Varanasi

Morning in varanasi
Peace amidst all the chaos
Although the ghats of Banaras are a sight of chaos throughout the day, there is a sense of peace that wander around the ghats. I always used to find myself a little bit away from the crowd and I could hear the bells ringing, chants and sound of motor boats from a distant; rhythmically arranging themselves, slowly fading away with the mesmerizing view of Ganges.

Kedar ghat
A peaceful afternoon at Kedar Ghat.

Assi ghat- Varanasi

Siberian cranes- Varanasi
Even Siberian Cranes come here to seek the blessings of the holy land.

Varanasi
Sarnath, a Buddhist pilgrimage is also one such peaceful sight. It is at Sarnath where Lord Buddha passed his learnings to his 5 disciples after He got enlightened.

Mulagandha Kuti Vihar- Sarnath
Mulagandha Kuti Vihar-Sarnath
Painting on the temple wall
Painting on the temple wall depicting the life of Buddha.
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The first sermon delivered by Buddha.
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This bell rings once in the evening and the sound is said to be heard up to 6kms.
Chaukhandi Stupa
Dhammek Stupa
Chinese Buddhist temple-Sarnath
Chinese Buddhist temple.

Unity in diversity
Despite the cold war between the Hindus and Muslims, the normal life runs quite smoothly here with temple and mosque close to each other( Gyan Vapi mosque and Kashi Vishwanath Temple). The credit goes to the security near Vishwanath temple who helps in maintaining the discipline. The foreigners seem to gel up well with sadhus and aghoris although they look like crooks to me and I never dared to talk to them.

Aghoris in Banaras
Learning the art of meditation from the yogis.
Yoga in banaras
Foreigners doing Surya Namaskar on the bank of Ganges.

Sadhu baba in Banaras
The acceptance of the ultimate truth: Death
Banaras is one of the rare places where death is celebrated rather than being mourned. On an average, 200- 300 bodies are cremated daily at Manikarnika Ghat. It is believed that the bodies cremated here receive moksha ( freedom from the cycle of birth and death).

Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi
Manikarnika Ghat.

I remember my first experience of being at Manikarnika Ghat. Burning bodies openly, at first, was a taboo for me. The smell of ghee ( clarified butter ) used in the burning process with smoke polluting the air and the sound of head crackling like crackers completely stunned me! The ashes of the cremated bodies came pouring down from the air falling on my body. It ridiculed me, then made me quite and calm. I began contemplating my life. After all, this is the truth and no one can run away from it- Death.

Manikarnika Ghat
How badly I want to understand life! How badly I want to overcome sorrows, sufferings and become ever joyful and free!

Taking dip in the holy Ganges
I would generally start my day by taking a dip in the holy water of Ganges. A bath in Ganges, with the chants all around and watching the sunrise, was the most delightful and spiritual experience I ever had. Given the foodie and lazy person that I am, a heavy breakfast following the bath and a nap after that made me utmost happy.

Prayer in Varanasi
Some wash their body; while some cleanse their soul!
Bathing in Ganga
I was caught in a frame by my friend while praying.
Boat ride in Banaras
The boat ride takes you through all the ghats of Banaras.

Houses, Streets, and Food
After bathing in the Ganges, the appetizing aroma of freshly made samosa and kachori attracted me to devour on the various delicacies of Banaras. Being a Mumbaikar, where street food is the cheapest way to fill the stomach, I am myself a die-hard fan of street food. If you are a street food lover, Banaras will never disappoint your taste buds. Aloo Tikki, samosa chaat, gol gappe, kachori chaat are to name a few. Lassi, paan, thandai can make the best dessert.

Kachori chaat
If you are visiting Banaras in winter ( the most favorable time to visit), Malaiyo is a must try. It is a seasonal dessert available only in winters and is made from milk and dew drops.

Malaiyo
The streets here are very narrow, crowded and filled with food stalls and various shops. Taking a stroll in narrow lanes is fun in itself. You never know when a bull enters the lane and you have to stick to the walls to save yourself from a possible attack. Or a sudden honk of a bike behind you may want you to hurry up or make way for them. And in this very narrow street, if a cow feels to sit and relax, she sits there without a care in this world.

Streets of Banaras

Streets of Banaras

Streets of Banaras

Streets of Banaras
Pretty door with intricate carvings.
Streets of Banaras
Way to Manikarnika Ghat.
Houses in Banaras
Buildings here either share the common wall or are very close to each other. Looks like a perfect mess.
Roofs of houses
Since the houses here are congested, the roofs have a grill that allows the sunlight to enter the house. Fantastic way of adaptation.
View from terrace
View from the terrace of my friend’s house.

Myths, Religion, History, and Beliefs
Banaras is so ancient that every ghat, temple, street have a story to tell. I came across many mythological and historical stories about the temples and ghats as narrated to me by my friend and also lent an ear to guide’s narration to their tourist clients while wandering on the ghats.
Also Read: Mythological importance of Kheerganga
Mythological importance of Gokarna, Murudeshwar

The importance of Manikarnika Ghat

Temple at Manikarnika ghat
This leaning temple has many controversial stories. It is said to be the abode of Lord Shiva and is partially submerged in water most time of the year. Opposite to the temple is a secret tunnel that reaches the temple through which Maa Parvati used to visit Shiva. Many say the temple is protected by snakes.
Tulsi ghat
Tulsidas wrote Ramcharitramanas here.

Banaras cannot be viewed from the Hindu’s religious point of view solely. It is a place of many religions welcoming all the people from around the world from the time unknown. Great saints have blessed this place by living here, spreading the word of peace and harmony, irrespective of the religion. Saint Kabir, born in Banaras in the 15th century was one such true saint who never believed in religion and has written many poems and songs which even now inspires to rise above all hatred.
People of Banaras
People here are jovial in nature. They laugh wholeheartedly and generally find an excuse to talk, almost about anything. They can make you feel like they know you right from your birth. They are accustomed to watching the dead and hence are generally fearless. They live to the fullest with whatever they have and hardly differentiate between the good, bad, right or wrong and just do it from the bottom of their heart. Many people here don’t even care to know about the outer world. They know that people who even tour the world, come here to be cremated and so they are proud to be born in this holy land.

Wedding in Banaras
A wedding ceremony that I attended. People’s smile here is larger than the life!

Banaras- A Spiritual place
A land of Lord Shiva! They say that the Lord resides here in every being, even in the smallest particle. And it is indeed reflected in the nature of the people here. Just like the people, Lord himself never distinguishes between the good and bad and accepts everyone as they are. Hence, here resides aghoris and saints; thieves and the humble ones.
Read: An adventurous journey to Shiva’s abode: Bhimashankar

dashashwamedh ghat
Dashashwamedh Ghat.
Manikarnika Ghat
The question of truth!

Banaras is a reflection of the ultimate truth of the society- be it good or evil. And what else can be purer than the truth itself! Apart from being Hindu’s important pilgrim place, it is a place that thrives on love, compassion, and creation where various kinds of arts and crafts are born and passed on from generation to generation. It is hence the place of spiritual upliftment of all religions.

Banaras Hindu University
One of the most renowned universities in India- Banaras Hindu University

Author: Hariom PrabhakarSingh

A Software Engineer by profession, finding solace in travel and writing.

5 thoughts

  1. Benaras is in my list – Lord Shiva’s place. Can’t tell you how drawn I am to this place after reading the few spiritual books that I have read. The picture of Manikarnika Ghat is intriguing. Loved the picture of the sadhu. Don’t see a picture of Kashi Vishwanath temple, did I miss it? You are so lucky to have been hosted by a friend, that’s the best way to get a feel of any city, especially ones like Benaras which are steeped in ancient tales and legends.

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    1. Benaras is intriguing. Whenever someone asks me about the place, its v difficult to describe. One can only experience it. I fell in love with the place more after reading the book- Autobiography of a Yogi. If you’re interested in spirituality, I would highly recommend the book.

      Clicking pictures of Kashi temple is banned, I tried clicking the picture from the terrace of my friend’s place, but to no avail.

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      1. I have absolutely read Autobiography of a Yogi and very much into spirituality which happened in the past year and there’s a very interesting story to how it begun😊
        I have been reading some other autobiographies as well. Have you read ‘If Truth be Told’ by Om Swami? Then ‘Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master’ by Sri M. If not, I would highly recommend. The latter I read very recently and it literally kept me up at night. 😀

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