This is one of the oldest cities on earth, serving as the ultimate pilgrimage site for Hindus for the last three millennia. Also known as Benaras, the city was given its name from two streams, the Varuna on the north of the city, and the Assi, a small trickle on the South. By the old legend, the Varuna and Assi rivers originated from the body of the primordial person the long time ago. The Hindus also call it Kashi, that means the City of Light, and it is considered as one of the seven Sacred Cities of Hinduism. The word Kashi has being originated from the word “has,” that defines to shine.
To be in Varanasi is in itself an experience, and for some, a place of self-rediscovery.
I had the great pleasure of visiting Varanasi. Following an overnight journey from Delhi, we arrived in Varanasi, and then got a motor rickshaw to take us into the heart of the city. There, within the labyrinth of alleyways, we booked into a guest house within walking distance of the Ganges river. There we stayed for three days and two nights, exploring and discovering a few days in the life by the banks of the holiest river in Hinduism.
The city is built on a curve on the west bank of the Ganges river. Along this side of the river are close to one hundred ghats – staircase going down to the water’s edge. This is where you can look at the everyday life of Varanasi, with everything from laundry to cremation being carried out.
As the first rays of sun illuminate the ghats, I watched as thousands of devotees descend into the Ganges for a ceremonial dip. There are worship ceremonies – pujas – being performed twice a day, at dawn and dusk. These are all great places to take photos, and while I try to describe all this in words, the best way is to view these in person.
A city is a bustling place during the day. At any one time, people were worshipping, bathing in the ghats, shopping, anything but staying indoors. I am often amazed how there could be so many people everywhere – don’t they have day jobs to go to?
To properly discover Varanasi, one needs to explore the often claustrophobic labyrinths. They are located on the western bank of the ghats, from the main Dasashwamedh Ghat northwards. Within the alleyways – which you could quickly lose your way if you aren’t careful – the walls are cool, shielding you from the blazing sun of the main roads and the riverbank. The main roads, by contrast, are dusty and sticky and are not the most comfortable place to be on hot afternoons. There are occasions when you find yourself in an abruptly quiet alley.
If you wish to explore the alleys, it’s best that you start by orienting yourself to the nearest restaurant. There are a couple of good ones catering to foreign tourists by the ghat, where you can get a good view of the Ganges. That way, once you’re done exploring the alleys, you can retire there for a glass of mint tea. If you prefer water, always choose bottled drinking water from familiar brands – if I am not mistaken, Pepsi sells bottled water in India too.
One thing which is very apparent to me in Varanasi, and so much the better that I couldn’t show it to you in my photographs, is the smell. Everywhere you go, you can detect the stench, of rotten fruits and vegetables, urine and dung. As you negotiate the alleys, you have to keep your eyes on the ground, lest you step on something nasty.
There are vendors at every corner; often they occupied niches and alcoves almost dug straight out of the wall. They cater mostly to the domestic clientele, selling stuff like betel nuts and spices. For foreign visitors, they offer great photo opportunities. I have to remark though, that these vendors are photographed probably a dozen times a day, every day, and often they ignore the yet-another camera-trotting tourist.
In this article, I show just a sample of what you could expect to see in this beautiful city and give you the idea to visit Varanasi.
About the Author: Carol James is an EssayLab writer and senior editor. She has MA degree in social sciences and is an excellent specialist in this field. Moreover, Carol writes articles, reviews on the different actual subjects. So, if you have any questions regarding the writing, feel free to ask her!