Placed in the easternmost part of Uttar Pradesh where Ganga is on its way to Kolkatta, situated at the banks of holy and most scared River Ganga is the city of Banaras, popularly known as Varanasi or Kashi . City is well known for its religious and spiritual base . It is a age old city believed to exits even before the Vedas were written.
It is the city where very less has been done for its modernization.( I m pretty sure its face ll never change and nor the gapeople) . As soon as u enter Banaras u r faced with lot of Dust and traffic jams, as the city is under construction of couple of bridges and underpasses . No greener places, neither big wide fancy roads nor any clean open areas. Like any small town in India narrow roads , shops on both sides of roads small drains flowing underneath them.
Perfectly and precisely described by Dr Kashinath in his book “ Kashi ka Assi”. I feel very fortunate to encounter this book from a Book shop on Railway Platform ( Book lovers cannot ignore these shops ). They have books for everyone. It is a great book to know abt the social life of Banaras.
I was happy that my husband choose a Marwari Dharmshala( Japuria) over any star hotel .Rooms were more spacious with all modern amenties. It is placed in the heart of the city ,Gadowlia , close to Baba Vishwanth Mandir and Dashashavmedh Ghat . It is said Lord Brahma offered 10 thousand Ashvamedh Yagya s on this Ghat. At the Dharmshala food is not offered in rooms , u have to climb upto third floor near the kitchen to have it. There is a rectangular dining room 10X6 near the kitchen , very clean and properly lit. No buffet or table chair setup , u hav to sit on the floor , before u a small table is placed over which Thali is served with 5 kind of vegetables , a sweet dish , rice ,papad ki churri and rotis straight from the home made furnace( chulhaa). They also offer green chutney and some extra salt. My moong dal never tasted so gud . No onion , garlic , not any special masalas used but food tastes awesome.I was really relaxed that my stomach wont hurt having this simple homecooked food during our stay. Evening… v went to the ghat, took a boat ride from where v could have a view of Ganga Aarti performed on the Dashashavnmedh Ghat which was enchanting.
In the morning , day starts with chai in kullad on streets and Ram bhandar kachori with aloo choley subzi and jalebi. After which ur hunger and taste buds feel relaxed for few hours .As it is a pilgrimage place many people and institutions offer free meal during the day. During the day v visited some temples which were closeby and rested at Dharmshala. Conveyance here is easily available.
In the afternoon delicacies at Kashi Chat Bhandar like tamatar ki chat, palak ki chat , golgappas r enough to relish u .Not spicy at all. All masalas perfectly balanced .It is a very small shop where people lined up to hav a chance to sit and eat. Sweets shops r another delight like Malai poori and many more . In the evening again simple dinner at Japuria was very satisfying. Again no naan or maida roti, only hot wheat rotis with other dishes. Never had such a simple day .
Next few days v went all over Banaras and nearby areas visiting many temples Bhairav temple, hanuman temple, durga devi , temple , tulsi manas mandir and many more.
The other day v went to the famous Baba Vishwanath Mandir at 4 am in the morning. In the middle of the narrow streets there are even narrow paths of reach the temple . Being part of Mangala Aarti was again a different experience. We were almost 30 people inside the temple and the entrance doors were closed for any more people. As it is a high security and sensitive zone so many policeman were all around us .
As in most Hindu Temples there is courtyard inside temple area and at the centre of it is mandap where the main shivlinga is placed slightly below the ground surface. V offered our prayers and watched priests performing the rituals of Mangala Aarti. After the formal rituals they let u sit inside the temple area around ttill 5 am when the main doors opens again for next lot of devotees. Outside this was Annapurna devi Temple . They say no one at banaras sleeps hungry. Annapurna devi takes care to feed them. When the day broke out, v again went towards the ghats . Took a boat ride and went to the other side. . Unlike haridwar where both sides of river is inhabited, Banaras city and ghats r on one side of the river . Other side, opposite us is only the skyline , some sand ( reytti) as they call it, which is land where water is shallow.
During rainy season it is again covered with ganges water. Morning breeze was very soothing and the sailing boat along it lifts away lot of thoughts and takes away all the rotten material from the mind and heart which had accumulated over the years. Watching ghats from the boat, on ur left side it was manikarnika ghat where the rituals for dead r performed 24/7. Heaps of woods and other combustion materials was placed all over the ghat. Right side it was harishchandra ghat and further ahead was Assi Ghat. The famous Mohaala Assi.
“Aisa koi saga nahi jisko thaga nahi ” . Assi Ghat is famous and centre for all kind of social and notorious activities at Banaras. Life of people here revolves around many chai and chat shops . During most parts of the day they go around these chai shops , from one chai stall to another and again to another. They can sit here for hours talking abt anything in the world from poetry ,film, polictics , politicians, weather forcasting ya kuch bhi. Local language spoken here has its own charm. Using many abusive words in a single sentence is a trend .
It sounds and feel like people in US who never care abt anything in the world and like to discuss only abt football, rugby effectively doing nothing.
Other day v visited Banaras Hindu University. Famous BHU campus. The whole area was full of big trees and bushes. Some vehicles r allowed inside the campus. It comprises all faculties medical college and hospital, engineering faculties, music dept ,arts ,commerce and all others. Separate building structures for all of them. What attracted me was the high rise temple inside the BHU campus. It is built with large open spaces and gardens. It is a two-floor Vishwanath temple very spacious. Outside which many eatery and book shops r lined up . Masala dosa, Idli vada, snacks samosa kachori, cold coffee etc. I was so surprised to see this setup which I never saw anywhere earlier.Till date my state universitys didn’t offered anything like this. I came to know there are many café s inside the campus . Student unions and elections are not allowed here. This whole land was donated by the king of Ramnagar district to Madan Mohan Malviya to set up this University.
Banaras is a city of people who r food lovers and free wanderers. Sitting on ghats doesn’t cost u a penny. Watching Morning ,evening Ganga Aarti, its skyline near ghats and people around it , sitting here for hours is free . If hungry chats offered here cost 30/- rs . Which is delicious ! not spicy like in rajasthan. I really wanted my child to see something other than those shopping malls in our big citiies( where life is all about show business and money ) or those stereotype hotels . People here r dressed simply. They don’t care abt how u luk, how u dress ,what is ur social status, hows ur family whether u hav family or not. They r free from all vanity s . It seems like nothing matters at all here. All has been melted down in Ganga. U r free and pure again inside. Immortal!! U realize ur existence is trivial and ordinary.