Travelling by train after such a long gap seemed like an adventure and I leaped at the opportunity to visit the city of my alma mater and rediscover all the places with new eyes and newer outlook. Benaras, or Varanasi as it’s called by tourists; I was going there after ten years, seven of which I had spent in the US of A, so obviously I was excited.
After the overnight journey, the train arrived at the station only half hour late and I was actually impressed at the train service. Over-enthused I got down and took the auto to the hotel that I had booked in advance. Having stayed at the same hotel years ago with my parents when I had come for my admission at the University, I was actually surprised at how little I remembered or how differently I remembered stuff.
After freshening up and unpacking, I decided to venture out although it was pretty hot outside. I didn’t care and with shades and a camera I set off on a rickshaw, first heading towards Gadulia. The heavy security was a surprise, but better safe than sorry, so I took it all in my stride and walked towards the Old Vishwanath Temple, passing all those saree and bangles stores, paan masala stalls, perfume or itar stalls. After offering some prayers and eating some Prasad I made way towards the Dashashwamedh Ghat, crossing the famous kachori gali with the mouth watering murrabas, papads, achars, lassis and what not. Those gullies of Benaras are famous for shops which sell anything to everything. Upon reaching the ghat, I was lucky to find a great spot to sit and watch the sunset while the priests did the Ganga Aarti. It was such a divine experience that even I lit a diya and set it afloat in the Holy Ganges. The whole river was lit up with diyas floating and swaying gently with the waves. As the chantings grew louder, bells tolled and the smell of incense wafted in the air, it felt like time stood still and everything was finally at peace.
The next day I started early with just tea for breakfast from room service. I was planning to see the rest of the four temples, Sankat Mochan, Durga Mandir, Manas Mandir and New Vishwanath Temple before lunch and I set off with a vengeance. First stop was Sankat Mochan, the famous Hanuman temple; the security was tight here as well, but I was getting used to it by now. After doing the puja, while I was doing the parikrama I started to remember all those times that I used to come there right before my exams.. seemed like an eternity ago and then again it felt like it was just yesterday. Durga Mandir and Manas Mandir were close to one another therefore I did the pujas quickly and was off to the University in the next rickshaw.
Entering the hallowed grounds of my University (BHU) I was surprised at how little it had changed from the outside and how crowded it actually felt from the inside with so many new buildings. The temple and its surroundings were the same, although I saw a few internet cafes which were non-existent during my student days. As I walked around taking pictures, I wished that I could rewind and redo my student days.. oh how different I would do everything… or maybe not.
Shopping & Restaurants
On the third day I decided to take the boat ride along the Ganges and do some shopping and eating locally. I started with a typical Benarasi breakfast of Kachauri-sabzi at Vishwanath Bhandar. Then had some Lassi at Lanka Chowk in the afternoon. After some shopping at the handicrafts store and masala chai at Assi Ghat, the boat ride with a bunch of tourists along and across the Holy Ganges was relaxing. Photo after photo and yet I couldn’t quite capture the spirit of Benaras as the sun set and I reached the banks to have dinner at the rooftop restaurant of Hotel Pradeep.
The last day in Varanasi, was spent at my Hotel Siddharth to do some packing and a short trip to the mall in Sigra. It’s unbelievable that this holy city has all the amenities of the metros, despite the problem of space, congestion and cows. Food is very cheap and eating out is relatively light on the wallets, with pure vegetarian fare served in most places. As I take the evening train out of Varanasi, I feel so connected, as if I never left, as if I will keep coming back, as if a part of me will always be there…. in the past, present and future.
Posted by vojha; V. Ojha is a guest author for JantaReview Blog. She resides in Michgan, USA.