Kashi, Banaras, Varanasi – names could change but the essence of this devout land does not. I had little idea about the beauty of this place until I finally visited it. The old lanes of Benaras, the flight of stairs at ‘Dashashwamedh’ ghat, and the sun rising and setting into the Ganges is a sight to reminisce about. If we look at historical sources, we’ll see that the most primitive evidence known to archaeologists suggests that settlement around Varanasi in the Ganga valley began in the 11th or 12th century BC. This place is amongst the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities and one can easily get to it by taking direct flights from New Delhi. What makes Varanasi a place like no other, are its Ghats (banks). They are the oldest and the most sublime of all ghats on the river Ganga which flows through many States of India.
On my visit to this pious city, I happened to be at one of these ghats at 3.50 am, admiring the tranquil and serene surroundings. The river was quiet and so were the usually buzzing bazaars (markets) on the ghats. The sky started changing colors at 4 am and the view was such that it gives me goosebumps even while writing about it! You have to trust me when I say that I wished I had a camera in my eyes to capture everything that I was witnessing! I did not even feel like blinking my eyes for a fraction of a second because come on, I wouldn’t have missed the everchanging sky and its reflection on the Ganges for even a minute.
The ghats were glimmering in all their glory due to the morning sun and it was all so bewitching. I was just returning from the 3 am ‘Mangala Aarti‘ in Kashi Vishwanath Temple and in spite of feeling quite drowsy, oddly enough I was full of immense vigor just by observing the people around me; praying and taking a holy dip in the Ganga with the utmost amount of faith.
If you want to witness the spectacular beauty of Varanasi, go boating in the river and witness the sunrise from a boat, and do not forget to thank me later! I still have this clear memory of tourists flocking around the ghats at dawn; sunlight falling on the fleet of boats all along the river, children gathering at the Chet Singh Ghat for their early morning swimming lessons, and the monumental Ramnagar Fort looming high on the other side of the Tulsi ghat. Apart from washing bodies and sins, the river Ganga also takes care of the dirty laundry of the city.
Numerous invaders came, ruled, and left because none could comprehend the spiritual force of this city. The all-knowing Gangacontinues to flow gracefully along the awe-inspiring ghats as it has been doing since the beginning of time.
The splendid Ganga Aarti performed on two of these ghats is something that keeps pulling me back to this ancient land.
How mesmerizing the effect can be judged by the fact that pilgrims cover the entire area on the ghats as well as the boats on the Ganges; all this in spite of the deadly humidity and heat. The much talked about Banarasi Paan (prepared with betel leaves and areca nut) surely did justice to my taste buds and the Thandai was another star attraction for me.
I yearn to go back to Varanasi and sit on one of the ghats at sunrise and once again experience transcendental bliss. Once again, I want to get lost in the hoary days, once again I want to wrap a gamucha around my neck and devour the banarasi paan, once again I want to see large number of ‘aghoris‘ smoking away to glory, once again I want to see the lustrous, the shimmering light of faith…Once again!