They say expect less and you shall be forever grateful.
Wise words these and they certainly ring true about my trip to the holy city of Benaras.
Now, my conscious association with this magical city and its people is only a few years old ever since my engagement but there is an underlying inert connection that unfolds as you unravel the growing years of your better half.
My initiation to the city was during the relatively tepid morning hours perfumed by the freshness of the cold morning air. That impression was soon overwhelmed by the raucous cacophony of honking and screaming on the streets. In a strange way it was a familiarizing aspect as it reminded me of the childhood holidays spent in Raipur. The reception we received was really endearing and heart warming and convinced me that it was going to be a memorable trip.
Benaras is a land of temples, ghats, chaats and mithaais. We quickly set out to explore all these facets as much as we could. We were in haste, with hardly any time to waste. The main streets of the city didn't inspire much enthusiasm in me. The traffic was horrific and chaotic even for someone bred in the cauldrons of Calcutta and Mumbai. Realisation soon dawned that this was not the way to enjoy the holy land. It takes some getting used to the narrow lanes of Benaras, but once you submit yourself to its meandering and befuddling ways, it embraces you with open arms and mesmerizes you with its labyrinthine formations. You start enjoying the jaunts through its nooks and crannies. There's something intriguing about the tiny lanes and bylanes of Benaras where you are often jostling for space with lazy cows and restless dogs. The eternal charm of its 'galiyaan' surreptitiously envelops you before you consciously realize it. The age-old stone pavements are reminiscent of the old towns of Europe. It also serves you well to recognise that these walkways are actually the quickest and most convenient way around the old town.
Within these myriad lanes are ensconced temples of all shapes, sizes and beliefs. Word is that for every God and Goddess worshipped in India, there is a temple in Benaras, and it doesn't seem too far from the truth when you come across the multitude of magnificent temples steeped in history and wrapped up in a time warp. Time stands still at these temples and you feel a surreal closeness to the Almighty irrespective of your personal disposition. We visited more temples in those 3 days than most people would in a year. The imposing stone edifice of the revered Kashi Vishwanath temple leaves you spellbound with a feeling of awe and humility. All these temples are notable for their power to elicit divine sentiments. You soon realize that this is indeed a blessed land. From Sankat Mochan to Bhaironath, every temple has its individual aura which pulls devotees from across seas as well.
The time spent at home was memorable for the genuine love and care shown by one and all. Each day was dedicated to a special mithaai dipped in the sweetness of Benaras, what have you with Malaiyyo, Gilori, Kheerkadam and that's just scratching the surface. However, the gourmet wonders of Benaras have to be rounded off by chewing on the succulent Benarasi Paan which is famed to have the potency to unlock all the trapped musings of the brain, and remember, one is never enough.
We spent the last morning in the best possible manner by jumping onto a small boat which skirted all the famous ghats along the Ganges. There was a story to know and a tale to be told about so many of the ghats, besides the picturesque setting and fresh whiff of the morning river breeze.
That evening we walked to the famous Dashashvamedh Ghat, pit-stopping for a much anticipated Lassi break on the way. It's a testament to the international popularity of the town that this nondescript joint in the middle of the bustling market area had an overpowering Korean patronage writ large on its walls.
Once we got to the Ghat, it was time to bow before the ethereal aura of the Ganga Aarti, which was being conducted in harmonious synchronisation by young and enthusiastic Pujaris. The evening breeze of the river lent a soothing feel after an enervating 3 days and calmed the mind and soul.
In the process of discovering Bhawna's childhood memories, I felt like I was discovering more about her, in ever such little measures. Her unabated joy and the reminiscent thrill of her growing up years was very much visible. I was feeling happy for her and enjoying her little jogs through memory lane. Somewhere the bond between us grew stronger on this remarkable trip. Hope the bond grows to be as pure as the river Ganga and as innocent as Lord Shiva, whose divinity is espoused by the Holy City of Benaras.