Though I had visited lots of places in India now, but first I am going to take you to Varanasi for many reasons, first its an oldest inhabitant city in the world. The city which was found by Lord Rudra / Shiva. The city which was once witnessed Kabir daas innocence and Gautam Buddha with his first Sermons.
Much is been written for Varanasi and not much introduction is needed for this city. I will be focusing about my experiences and the photographs I clicked there.
First thing First, Since its an oldest city of the world, expect lot of crowd here. Traffic is difficult to get manage here. Though after the recent government under guidance honorable Prime minister Shri Narendra Modi (who is also MP of this city), much things are changed. Ghats(river side) are cleaner than earlier and lot of progress is done from past 2 years. Still lot more to happen.
If you are traveling by your own car, expect traffic on National highway also (either from Kolkata side or from Allahabad side) as it is in construction process, roads are getting broad, many flyovers are into making to pass all small villages which are near the road side. I am hoping things will get change a lot in next 2-3 years.
What one should not do if traveling alone in this city...
1. Weed – Since it’s a city of Lord Shiva, Weed and all sorts are natural dopes are easily available here. Do not try this until you are in group or you are super adventurous. However, my personal advice is not to have it at all, whether you are with group or travelling alone. Also please note that it is not legally allowed to have it and it also injurious to your health. If you traveling single in this city, never ever try it. When alone never give any positive signal to unknown fellow who claim that he will guide you and make everything available to you.
2. If you are traveling alone with your own car (which I did) do not take your 4 wheel to Ghats sides like Assi ghat and Dashashwamedha Ghat. These are the oldest part of the city. You are going to stuck in traffic and rarely you get any parking there. I too got stuck here and to get a parking, I had to stay in local hotel in this area and the parking I got was somewhere I never dream to park. I was constantly worried for my car.
3. Better to book hotel, prior to your visit. I personally had a bad experience while searching the hotel near the Ghats. I was been rejected since I was traveling Single and i was almost missed the Ganga aarti due to this.
What one should do in Varanasi -
1. Talking about where to go in Varanasi. First thing First. Watch Ganga Aarti in evening. One of the wonderful activity going on here from Ages. It is said that this Aarti (prayer to river Ganga) was started by King Dashrath (father of lord Rama). Now a days, they had made 2 points of Ganga Aarti. First point is same with 5 priests (the oldest known) and the other point is with 7 priest, started in 1980s. 2 points are made because so many people come to watch it daily. Yes Both are at the same Dashashwamedha Ghat. There is no fees to watch Ganga Aarti. You can watch Aarti from both Gath (from the ground) and from the standing boats on the river. Boat may charge you with Rs. 20-50/- per head. To get the nearest place to watch Aarti is like first come first basis. However, at the end you can donate to the NGO running this Ganga Aarti continuously 365 days a year.
Ganga Aarti start around 6 pm and its better to reach around 5 pm to get the nearest place to sit or if you want to click some good photographs, come around 4.30 pm.
(Everyday Ghats were cleaned up for Ganga Aarti)
(After Cleaning the Ghat, staging is done for priest to perform the prayers)
(During Ganga Aarti, Priests among all other people offering their prayers)
2. Second important thing at Dashashwamedha Ghat is Vishwanath temple. Ask anybody there for Vishwanath Gali and you will reach there. Temple normally opens at 4 am and remain open till 11 pm. There is no fees for its entry.
3. If you want to explore Ghats, there is no use of taking local guides which are roaming around there on ghats or roads. While walking in the narrow pathways of Varanasi, keep your eyes open for Monkeys too. Yes there are lot of monkeys in this place. Which are actually master in stealing anything hanging around you. They can even bite you if you resist. Be careful.
(The Prince looking from his Royal window for best opportunity :D)
4. Visit the old Narrow paths of Varanasi. These narrow paths seems endless with numerous turns and twist. Old houses, small markets in there, coffee shops etc. As a traveler you will surely love it.
(Narrow streets of Varanasi. Father helping his son to ride a bicycle)
(Small markets of these streets and there are numerous of them like this)
(Old buildings and some unknown stories behind them)
5. Do not sleep in morning here or you will miss something great. Rise early and reach to Dashashwamedha ghat before sunrise. Witness beautiful sunrise from here. You can have a boat ride in morning. Boat price can vary depending upon how you want to go. I taken a personal boat which charged me around 800/- and took me from Dashashwamedha ghat to almost 2 km towards Assi Ghat and then back to Manikarnika Ghat and again to Dashashwamedha Ghat. If you going in group, you can get in Rs. 100/-300/- per head. Bargain well here. Lots of boats are available.
(Morning Ganga Aarti)
(Enjoy the morning boat ride)
(Yes Morning at Varanasi Ghats are too early. Normal routine work for Priests and devotees)
(Take a bath in most sacred river of India - Maa Ganga)
6. What is real truth of Life. Some will say “Death” is the real truth. Yes it is one of the real truth of Life. I am saying one of the real truth as life cannot be contained in single dimesion. If you too agree, then visit Manikarnika Ghat. It is said who dies in Varanasi, straight go to God’s abode. In India, devotees of Shiva desire to die in Varanasi. Manikarnika Ghat is for all the ones who died in Varanasi. Dead bodies get burn here, with all the auspicious Vedic mantras chanted by priests.
(A View of Manikarnika Ghat from the boat)
(Manikarnika Ghat. Photo credits Shubham Keshari)
7. Best time to visit Varanasi I personally feel is from November to March. When little bit of winters start here. You can also visit Varanasi at dev depawali (oct. / Nov.). In Dev depawali, all ghats of Varanasi (around 80+) were lit with thousands of earth lamps. And at Maha-shivratri when Naga babas also visit here (around feb. / March). But remember and be sure there will be a large crowd on these days.
if you love to click photographs, you can also come in January when Fog engulf northern India and you can get some timeless photos of devotees here.
(Spotted a Naga baba)
(Varanasi Ghats in Winters - Photo credits Shubham Keshari)
8. Apart from all this, just 10-15 km from the main city you can visit Sarnath, where Gautam Buddha given his first sermons, but I will talk about this later.
If you really love to visit historical places. Visit Varanasi.
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