Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together” –Mark Twain
Varanasi. Benaras. Kashi. Avimukta. Rudravasa. Mahashamshana… as they call it.
I have been so dismissive of chaos and clutter in the past. But the art of finding peace irrespective of it, is what Varanasi taught me. The place is nothing like anything I’ve seen before. As Mark Twain said, Benaras is older than history. Thus, it demands the heart and time to understand that enigma.
30 days and I can’t wait to let the world know about the chaotically tranquil time I’ve spent in the oldest city of the world, doing and repeating my handpicked favorites there.
So here’s a collective of my (almost) everyday’s beloved things to do in Varanasi.
- Sunrise boat tour: My day started as early as 5.30 a.m, chasing the winter sun by the Ganges. The morning boat tour from Desashwamedh Ghat is one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in Varanasi. What a beautiful thing it is, watching the sun rise as the Har Har Gange chants echo in synchrony of the waves and hundreds of Siberian birds fly along to give you company.
- Food trails: I can go on and on over the local delicacies of Varanasi and it would still not be enough. Click here to know why.
- Photowalking around the streets: Varanasi is a photographer’s paradise. How do you not capture the old school essence of this city? So that’s exactly how my most part of daytime was spent. Walkin-n-clickin!
Pro Tip: Go to Godowliya, the old city’s main hub. The place is a reflection of anything and everything Varanasi is defined for.
- Temple tours: On other days, I would take a tuk-tuk tour around the temples in the city, listen to the folklore legends and spend the day wandering and wondering about it’s divinity. Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Annapurna Temple, Mrityunjay Mahadev temple, Tulsi manas and Kal bhairav temple are some of the important religious sites here.
- Or Visit Sarnath. It takes a whole day.
- Go shopping: Get yourself some Varanasi souvenirs such as Banarasi sarees, Bangles, stone inlay works, shawls,ornate jewels, postcards and so on.
Pro tip: The Sarai Mohana (weaver’s village) is well known for its silk weaving as most of the locals here are indulged in silk weaving. The Banarasi sarees made by these waivers are among the finest saris in India.
- Walk through the Ghats: The 30 minutes walk from Assi Ghat till Manikarnika Ghat (or beyond) is one of the most interesting pathways I’ve ever walked on. Each Ghat has it’s history and purpose. Also, the hustle of one ghat in contrast to the peace in another, the tiny tots flying kites, the meditating saints, celebration of life, mourning of the dead and a million such stories that pass by every second will leave your mind in awe. Mornings and evenings are the best time to explore them.
Pro tip: I made sure I reach Assi Ghat (southern most ghat) by 4.30pm because I absolutely loved spending some lone time in this not-so-crowded ghat. So here’s what you can do:
-Take a boat ride (Rs 20) to cross the river in order to watch the most beautiful sunset against the ghats.
-Sit, relax, read a book may be.
–Watch the less commercialized Ganga Aarti here (most preferably in the morning).
– Have a cup of lemon tea. Or in my case, multiple cups.
- The Ganga Aarti: Every evening by 6.30 pm , I reach Desashwamedh Ghat without fail. I grab a front seat so I have an uninterrupted view of the most awaited hour of my day. The Ganga Aarti is not just legendary for its divinity; it’s scintillating and made of all things beautiful and thus makes up to my must MUST thing to experience every evening.
WHERE DID I STAY?
And yet again, I had a great time. Located in a typical Banarasi galli, Zostel is just a few minutes walk away from the main ghat. Apart from an amazing stay, I met incredible people from around the globe, made friends of a lifetime and lived Varanasi like a local. Look for yourself!
Varanasi has to be my most impulsive decision ever. Somehow something just clicked and I was there, constantly being lost and found in its gallis and ghats. I guess its all about taking a chance dipped in a bucket full of faith and giving it all time it deserves.