Vibrant Varanasi

15th Aug 2019
Photo of Vibrant Varanasi by Titli Ghosh
Day 1

Varanasi was on my bucket list for ages. I had heard of the famed Ganga Aarti from a few friends who had been there and was thus determined to make it to the holy city someday. I finally got an opportunity to visit the place over the Independence Day weekend this year, and I must say that I was floored. The sights and sounds of the city create a sensory overload of sorts and overwhelm everyone who visits it.

Day 1: An introduction to the culinary delights and an evening at Assi Ghat

My trip to Varanasi began with an early morning flight from Bangalore on Independence Day. I landed at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport at around 11 am and was hit by the marked humidity. An hour's ride took me to Zostel, where I was supposed to put up for the next few days. A friend of mine from Delhi accompanied me on this trip, and the city amazed us with what it had in store for us for the next 3 days.

We began exploring the city and its culinary options from Day 1. A stroll down the Chauraha (towards Dashashwamedh Ghat) took us to two iconic chaat corners. One was Deena Chaat Bhandar, where we had our fill of tamaatar chaat, dahi samosa chaat, khasta kachori chaat, and a host of other delights. The other was Kaashi Chaat Bhandar, where we had kulfi and some more chaat.

While we did walk to the Dashashwamedh Ghat, we were overwhelmed by the swelling Independence Day (which also coincided with Rakhi) crowd and decided to head towards Assi Ghat instead.

Assi Ghat had sparse crowd and a host of "posh" eateries. We had heard about Pizzeria, so we ended up spending our evening gorging on pizza and sipping cold coffee while watching the evening Aarti from the open-air seating area.

Day 2

Day 2: The morning boat ride, BHU, and the Ganga Aarti

Our second day in the city began with the sunrise at Dashashwamedh Ghat and the boat ride. The boat ride was a tad bit expensive but was worth every penny. We covered some of the most famous ghats, including Manikarnika (the burning ghat), Assi (again), and Harishchandra (another burning ghat) ghats.

Following the boat ride and some awesome clicks of the city, we had a sumptuous breakfast consisting of kachori and sabzi.

We then hired an auto that took us to BHU, or the Banaras Hindu University. The campus seemed like a mini town, with its very own version of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. We visited the temple and loved the cleanliness it showcased

On our way back, we visited the Sankat Mochan Temple and stopped by at the famed Pahalwan Lassi shop. There were two identical shops with the same name, adjacent to each other, and it is believed there are a few more, with each claiming they are the original Pahalwan Lassi. I could only manage to drink half of the rabri lassi that was offered, as I was already full, having had a ghee-laced malpua and a few barfis at Sankat Mochan Temple.

We then headed to the markets inside Vishwanath Gali. I loved the Varanasi version of the Matryoshka dolls that were available there and bought a few. The shops also had a great collection of Banarasi dupattas, with intricate designs. I bought a few of them too.

The evening was spent at Dashashwamedh, watching the spectacle called the Ganga Aarti. We were lucky to get seats at one of the rooftop seating areas at the ghat, where they charged us 200 bucks per seat.

The Aarti is definitely a bucket-list item. Right from the introductory chants, to the synchronous movements of the priests and the lively crowd, the Aarti was a complete delight. Though there was no rain, the humidity took its toll on our energy levels, and we called it a day.

Day 3

Day 3: Kachori Gali, Vishwanath Mandir, and Sarnath

The third and the last day of our Varanasi trip began with a stroll down the Kachori Gali at as early as 7 am. With most shops being closed (for some unknown reason) and some shops just opening their shutters, we were blessed to find a kachori shop that was serving hot kachoris. A kind soul there guided us to Ram Bhandar (through dangerously narrow lanes), where we had a sumptuous breakfast replete with more kachoris, dhokla, and jalebis.

After breakfast, we made our way towards the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. We had avoided the temple earlier because of the legendary crowd that is associated with it. We, however, were lucky to find the temple relatively empty, though we did not opt for a "darshan," as we were faced with a serpentine queue by the time we made our way inside the temple complex.

We had a quick lunch at Zostel and headed towards Sarnath, a Buddhist pilgrimage site situated a mere 10 km away from Varanasi. Sarnath is where Lord Buddha had first delivered his sermon to five disciples.

We visited the Japanese Temple in Sarnath, followed by the excavation site (which houses remnants of the Ashoka Pillar and the Dhamek Stupa) and the Sarnath Museum (which houses the original Lion Capital).

Unfortunately, we were too drained to explore more of Sarnath and decided to re-energize ourselves with a sumptuous lunch at Vaishali Restaurant instead.

The day, though hectic, proved to be fruitful. The evening was spent at the Girjaghar Chauraha, where we gorged on some flavourful Banarasi paan and some jalebi with rabri.

Our journey was far from being complete, because Varanasi is a remarkable treat to the senses that cannot be explored completely even if one tries to do so for centuries. However, having made the most of an extended weekend, that too, without the rains bothering us, I was not complaining. We were perhaps God's chosen ones, because it rained cats and dogs the day after our trip ended. Though I had an early morning flight the next day, and was thus saved from the lashing rains, my friend (who had a late night train to Delhi the next day) was caught in it. Although both of us ended up safely back at our respective homes, as a result of our risky trip to the city that often ends up being flooded in the monsoons, I would recommend Varanasi in the winters.