The spiritual capital of India – Banaras
Where is Banaras or Varanasi?
Sight for many Bollywood & Hollywood movies, Banaras is the oldest and holy city of India also known as Kashi. This city is located in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and is considered to be the land of lord Shiva (A Hindu god). Regarded as the spiritual capital of India, the city draws Hindu pilgrims who bathe in the Ganges River’s sacred waters and it’s also believed if someone spends the last days of their being here they attain nirvana.
At the much awaited festival of Janmashtami which also embarks the beginning of festivals in India especially those celebrated in the northern region, the pandals are decorated by the locals with the statue of lord Krishna ( A Hindu god).
How to reach Varanasi?
The station of Varanasi built in 1872 much before the Indian independence, the station has an old world charm in its architecture even though it’s been reconstructed couple of times.
Varanasi is now well connected with all major airports in India and also has good train connectivity with almost all stations. Varanasi can also be reached by road but the roads in this part of India are not too great to travel.
Once you step outside the station, you would find many tuk tuk’s to take you to your hotel.
There are in total hundred ghats connected with each other and named after various gods or legends of Indian mythology. The best way to see all these ghats is to hire a boat which would take you from the beginning to the end of the ghats. All the boat riders are highly informed about the city to give old information about the city & its ghats. You would find many young kids here riding boats, selling artifacts at the local shops or working at local restaurant to meet their necessities instead of attending schools but don’t be surprised when you hear couple of them speaking Spanish, French and English frequently.
Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats – These two ghats are dedicated for cremation rituals.People from all over north and east India come here to cremate their loved ones while the hymns and mantras are recited by the pandits (The local religious man or priests) during the cremation ritual to free the dead souls from the vicious circle of life and death and attain moksh (Salvation).
Ashwamedh ghat where the ceremony of frog marriage takes place during the month of June. Pandits holding one frog each, clad with flowers while they perform their rituals in order to get the frogs married. After the rituals the frogs are left in the holy waters of river Ganga. This practice is to please the god of rain for him to shower rains on the holy city to relieve the locals from high rising temperatures.
Ghats of Banaras seem magical especially leading from something as I mentioned above.
The Ganga Ghats at Banaras. Pics courtesy : Travel India Guide
Dashashwamedh ghat close to which is located the famous Vishwanath temple, this temple is important for all Hindus staying all over India and is visited by close to 35000 pilgrims every day. The temple is devoted to lord Shiva and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas (Jyotirlinga is a devotional object representing the supreme god Shiva) and has total of three domes out of which two are made of pure gold and one is gold plated. The temple was demolished by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who constructed a mosque in place of the temple and finally in 1780, the temple was again reconstructed by a Maratha ruling princess. At present the temple and the mosque share a common wall without any unrest among the people of both Hindu and Islam religion.
An image showing the unity in diversity of India.The Vishwanath Temple with Gyanvapi mosque in background. Pic courtesy: Ghumakkar
Dashashwamedh Ghat – Ganga Aarti, a spiritual ritual performed every evening at the banks of Ganges here. One needs to reserve a place to enjoy the best view while the aarti takes place. As the time passed, the day light drowned with the sun in the holy water of Ganges and soon I could see thousands of diyas ( Diya is an oil lamp made from clay with a cotton wick dipped in oil and is lit on various religious occasions in India as is considered sacred ) flowing over the water adding to its holiness, each diya flowed by individuals here had a different wish to make as its believed the wishes do come true while one perform this ritual here.
The loud sound of the Shankha (a conch shell of religious importance in Hinduism used as a trumpet to begin the religious ceremonies) and the bright high lights of aarti gave me goosebumps. This was not a view this was a lifetime experience which was magical. My eyes were stuck on the gleams of aarti and my ears could only hear the pandits singing the aarti cohesively and my mind was blank completely devoid of any mental activities, may be this is meditation. The aarti continued for an hour and I was just solidifying at my place and I don’t really remember where I slept that night. That was a miraculous experience, one of the best of my life and may be the one, I could return again to always.
Ganga Aarti at the ghats of holy river Ganga at Banaras. Pic Courtesy: Gets holidays
11kms away from the ghats towards Ramnagar city at the outskirts of Varanasi. This place is known for its historic Ramnagar fort which was once home for the king of Banaras famously known as Kashi Naresh. The fort can also be accessed by a boat which is a journey of an hour from main city.
The Ramnagar fort, view from the riverfront.
The fort is massive influenced by Mughal architecture and was built in 17 th Century using sandstone however today most of it is converted into museum. The fort museum displays the vintage cars and palanquins which were used by the royal family then along with old photographs of the family themselves. The Fort encompasses an old tunnel with stairs leading you to the terrace and main facade of the fort overlooking the Ganges. Walking through the tunnel definitely made me feel like a warrior moving through the secret passage of the fort.
Not to Miss the rabri served in a Kulad on the famous streets of Banaras”
The beautiful boats sailing through the holy waters & showing the tourists the legends of this spiritual city of India.