Whilst exploring the labyrinth of alleys, delve into your spirituality, encounter the sadhus (holy men) and bump into cows. Sit beside the Ganges and experience the rich Indian culture altogether. The city makes you get involved deeply with its origin and instant. Hence you just not visit Varanasi - you summon it - this is an account on how to best experience a few days in the womb of India’s spiritual capital (though it's quite impossible to feel the warmth that city possess in few days).
A little history
Varanasi was also known as Kashi or Benaras, situated in Uttar Pradesh of north India, is the oldest inhabited city in the globe. Every year millions of people visit the place as tourists or pilgrims. It's a major religious hub in India and is the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism and played an important role in the development of Buddhism.
Why people visit Varanasi?
Lying on the banks of river Ganga, this place has its own divinity. The whole city was built as a temple and it's said by some Hindu legends that Lord Shiva himself unleashed the river from the knot of his hair. It is believed that taking a dip in the holy water of Ganges will immune all your sins and dying here means the deceased can achieve moksha (liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth). Well, this is just a few of the reason for the city being the holiest. Other than these reasons, people tend to visit Varanasi for witnessing the great spiritual culture and religious ambience.
My experience at Varanasi
It was my first time in the city and I had a diverse feeling about it. At one side there’s a herd of cows blocking the road, the other side, sadhus (holy men) were sitting in a group, chit-chatting and probably on the third and fourth sides, I saw some other vibrant scenes.
I stayed in a hotel which is located in the city’s hub and nearest to the most famous Dashashwamedh Ghat & Vishwanath temple. On the very first day of my trip like any other person, I too went to worship Lord Shiva for which the city is known for. As told by my hotel receptionist, I woke up before the sun and hurried to the temple as I don't want to stand in a queue for hours. (TIP: Go early otherwise darshan of Viswanath will be a hectic thing as the sun rises high, the crowd grows). It’s very much the same inside the temple like any other holy temples in India. I did spend about 1.5 to 2 hrs exploring the architectures and the mystic vibes. On my way back, I had my breakfast IN MADHUR MILAN CAFE (recommended by Lonely planets). Later, in the evening, the weather was just perfect for a boat ride on the Ganges. It was the month of December so obviously, a cold breeze was blowing all the time. Nevertheless, I had the best time listening to the intriguing stories the helmsman had to say while taking me through 80 different ghats laid one after the other. And particularly one amongst them, Manikarnika Ghat, gave me goosebumps watching 14 pyres burning at a time and people surrounding them were celebrating the death.
The city gems
The next day was all about the city tour and the first stop was Durga Badi. It was a simple temple though very much awake. As the city is famous for its temples, the place we went to next was the temple of Hanuman and known as sankat mochan mandir. Apart from the majestic temples, the place is also famous for the Benaras Hindu University, which is claimed as the largest residential university in Asia. Once I entered the campus, I witnessed a whole new face of Kashi.
I personally love visiting museums as they are the best place to know the secrete stories a place possess. Ramnagar Fort was successful in hooking me up with its antiques and aura.
And the last stop for the day was Sarnath. The Dhamekh stupa is something which made me surprised with its gigantic structure. Buddist monks were chanting whilst doing parikrama (circumambulation of sacred places to imbibe their energy) and few people were meditating and I too joined them and sat there for a while.
By this, I came to the end of the day tour. Varanasi showed me different colours and a variety of flavours which will be cherished forever.
There is a lot more I want to talk about but alas! It will cross the word limits. An individual should for at least once in their lifetime visit Varanasi. There are things which one can never understand by just reading about the place; to experience its wonders and inner vibes you just need to be physically present there.