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Varanasi
The City of Light
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Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities in the world has always been a fascination for me. Originally named Kashi, meaning the city of Sacred light, the city was later known as Benaras. 

There is a subtle grace to this city, which I felt arose from its unique blend of physical, metaphysical and supernatural elements. There are as many as 80 plus Ghats here and each one is for a different purpose. Some are related to a particular deity, some are for religious rituals while others are simply to bathe. There are also a few Ghats that are privately held. Our tour was scheduled in November as we were told that October to March is the best time to visit Varanasi, the earthly abode of Lord Shiva.

To discover Varanasi, which in itself is a museum of architectural designs, I chose a cycle- rickshaw instead of an auto-rickshaw. The sculptures & wooden figurines on building awnings, like the one here may be a few hundred years old and have many stories to tell!  

Vehicular traffic is not allowed at the roads leading to Dashashwamedh and other Ghats for most part of the day. Around the Ghats, walking may often be the fastest mode of commuting as traffic jams are common.

The Ganga Arathi, a religious ritual performed on the river banks every evening is a must see. There is truly a unique relationship between the river Ganga, the Ghats and the City, which is the actual essence of Varanasi. Here in Varanasi, death is not considered the end but a new beginning..

Here one comes across saffron clad sadhus meditating with rudraksh malas in hand, priests chanting holy mantras, Brahmins sitting under palm leaves, tourists soaking in the entire atmosphere, children playing cricket or flying kites..

There are scores of sacred cows roaming around and it is supposed to be a good omen, if one comes into your shop and settles down! Consider it as part of your good karma that the cow chooses your textile shop to spend the day in, chewing cud. It’s business as usual :)

There are small lanes everywhere lined with tiny shops selling almost everything from puja items to Darjeeling tea.  We spent time walking along the unending lanes, stopped by a random tea stall for some masala tea which was served in an impossibly chipped, but clean glass!!  

The mornings are breath-taking. I suggest that you opt for a morning boat ride on the Ganges, watch the rays of the dawn shimmering across the Ganges, bathing the temple shrines and the high-banks in a golden hue.  Listen to soul stirring hymns and mantras in the background - the fragrance of incense wafting in the air.  

Varanasi has always been renowned for music, arts, crafts and education. The Benares Hindu University here is one of the biggest Universities in Asia. In fact, Ayurveda is said to have originated here. The art of silk weaving - some of the finest silks (Banarasi Silk Sarees) as well as gold and silver brocades are made here.

Varanasi is networked with numerous Gali’s (lanes). Most of them are very narrow and to me all of them looked the same.. I can assure you that you can be completely lost in less than two minutes into one of these colorful, vibrant and thriving lanes.. So keep your GPS handy or hire a local guide from the hotel.

Two things to bring back from Varanasi are the Gajak (a dry sweet, made of sesame/til seeds) and the Achaar (pickle). The Gajak tasted really nice and we regretted having bought just one box.

On the last day at Varanasi, we had a day tour planned for Sarnath which was about 10 km away from Varanasi. This is the location where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon after his enlightenment.  

After four days at Varanasi, the dream was coming to an end… We departed on an overnight train to our next destination, the Temple town of Khajuraho.



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