Last year Feb 2021 was the first time that I visited Varanasi for the first time. It had been on my bucket list for years but was not happening among my work, climbing and other holidays. It was a teaser in 2021 and this year Feb 2022 I was more than keen to head out before travel was banned again. So, by far it has become one of my favourite places to keep exploring. Travelled solo to seek the spiritual experience.
After boarding the first flight from Delhi, I was witness to the early morning activities as I stayed at the ghats, namely the Daswamedh ghat. The chaos, madness and colour were like stepping back in time. It can be pretty overwhelming for the first time visitor but if you go with the flow, you will be transported to India’s oldest city Benares along the famous river Ganges in the state of Uttar Pradesh. What I had read was far less than what I found out later. Varanasi is the oldest of the seven Hindu cities where Hindus go and pray, wash away their sins and honour the departed on the bank of the Ganges. Dying and leaving your soul here is seen as auspicious as it is supposed to end the cycle of rebirth.
The best time to visit is from November to March where the temperature is in the 20s Celsius even though the afternoons are extremely sultry and unbearable.
While it was crowdy and dusty, it was also alive with the energy of life going by. From the ringing of early morning aartis to women sitting in the steps preparing food, the galis of Varanasi are worth seeing. There was a temple in each home and people welcome you with open arms. The real test is when you see the bodies being cremated and it hits the core of your soul about the cycle of life. The pyres are burning 24 hours a day. I sat in the boat looking at the sight and was choked with emotion .
The shops are plentiful with food stalls, clothes, banarasi paan and bhang as are the various temples worth a visit. Banarasi sarees are a must buy if you can find the real weavers.
Kashi Viswanath leaves you spellbound as flocks of devotees at every hour of the day throng the temple along with Kaal Bhairav and Shakti Peeth.
The ghats of Varanasi is what took my breath away starting with Dashashwamedh Ghat where the mighty Agni pooja ceremony takes place and the splendour of Evening Arti.
The manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats are where the hindus creamate their dead and the burning pyres go on 24 hours a day.
I had the fortune of taking the sunrise and sunset boat rides along the ganges where Varanasi is bursting with early rays of the sun and amazing hues at sunset. Experiencing Varansi as a local is a boon if you enlist the help of a local and that will give you the real insight.
This amazing city of chaotic bustle is also incidentally one of the most peaceful places I found to dedicate to meditation on the ghats. Not only is the land of Lord Shiv the ultimate pilgrimage but it is believed that to die in this city, one can achieve salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The holy river Ganges has the power to wash away your sins too. One of the other well-known place of Buddha is Sarnath where he preached his first sermon after enlightenment. And another, is pilgrimage for Jains, a birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar.
So much to do in a few days that learning never stops and the sound of mantras and bells reminds you of a world far away from the chaos we live in.