Banaras (now known as Varanasi) as a city, although a little congested, is quite mystical. I visited the city in February, 2017 and was quite charmed by its beauty. Here is why…
The city supposedly has 88 ghats (an area with steps which lead to a river bank) all situated next to each other on the banks of the river Ganga. Each one of them has a history and mythical tales related to it.
My parents and I reached Banaras on a Friday afternoon and then visited the Dashashwamedha Ghat (the main ghat in Banaras) to experience the evening aarti. Though the aarti usually starts at around 6.45 every evening (it also depends on the time of sunset), one should ideally reach there at least half an hour earlier to ensure a comfortable spot to get a closer view of the mesmerizing aarti. You can also opt for a boat ride half an hour before the rituals start to get a glimpse of the neighboring ghats and to witness the aarti (which usually lasts for around 45 minutes) from the boat. The view is exhilarating. We were so charmed by the evening aarti that we decided to attend the morning (before sunrise) aarti too the very next day. And I’m so glad we decided to do so. The ghat got its name ‘Assi’ (as in the number 80 in Hindi) as it is the 80th ghat in Banaras. When we reached at 5 in the morning, we saw a smaller crowd (in comparison to the evening aarti crowd) and we were mighty pleased. We got the best views and could move around easily to click pictures.
What we did next was the highlight of the trip – we decided to go for a boat ride! We settled for a one hour ride starting from Assi Ghat to Dashashwamedha Ghat. On our way there we crossed many other ghats. Our boatman was quite chatty and shared with us a lot of information. We crossed the Chet Singh Ghat which looked like a fort. It looked quite different from the other ghats we crossed. We could see the sunrise from the boat and the view was heavenly!
After the boat ride we got down at the Dashashwamedha Ghat and headed for the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The narrow lanes at the Ghat led us to the temple. The darshan took us around 40 minutes as there were quite a few devotees waiting for their turn. We went back to our hotel to catch up on some sleep after a consuming morning.
Now that we were done with the major sight-seeing (we also visited Sarnath and Banaras Hindu University the next day), it was time for shopping for the much-popular Banarasi sarees and duppattas. While we did a lot of window shopping in the main market areas, our driver took us to this industrial area where there were many wholesalers selling Banarasi duppattas and sarees where there was a lot more variety and cheaper options. You may want to bargain at some of these places. I also checked with the shopkeepers if we can visit the factory, and much to my delight, we were taken to one of them! Artisans sat there patiently working on the sarees.
After the half day indulgence in shopping we left for Delhi!
Suddymoody quick facts:
- Banarasi sarees are obviously made in Banaras. Banarasi sarees are made with a lot of silk and heaps of skill. But these days you can also find Banarasi embroidery on other fabrics too. It’s about the style of weaving. So don’t be surprised next time if the shopkeeper shows off an Organza Banarasi saari.
- Depending on the intricacy, one Banarasi saari may take an artisan almost 15 days to a month at least to complete.
- A Bengali bride generally wears a red/maroon Banarasi saari on the day of the wedding.
- You will find that a lot of people in Banaras are Bengalis or can speak Bengali. Supposedly the city is also known as a mini-Bengal.
- Masaan – a Bollywood movie (released in 2015) which received international appreciation too was based and shot in Banaras. The movie captures the city’s essence beautifully.
- Do try the street food and famous Banarasi paan.
- Banaras has also been a home to many widows who have been abandoned by their families. They come to the Holy city to attain moksha (or because they have nowhere else to go). Most of them are left to beg for their daily food.