Making it to the 'Land of Nirvana' is the best thing that I have achieved so far this year. The significance of Varanasi lies in the faith of the people. It is believed that those who die in Kashi will achieve salvation or 'Moksh'. It is one of the world's oldest continually inhabited cities and is considered one of the holiest in Hinduism. The city is crowded by an overwhelming number of Hindu devotees irrespective of the time of the year.
Like everyone else, I couldn't help but agree that Varanasi is magical, a sense of tranquillity in chaos - but not for the faint-hearted. Intimate rituals of life and death take place in public and the sights, sound, and smell on the Ghats, not to mention constant attention from touts, can be overpowering.
This place didn't just turn out to be my favorite stop but also where I made some great friends. We bonded beautifully over shared memories during the days that we spend together before parting ways with the promise of a lifetime friendship warming our hearts. Walking down the Ghats and alleyways or just watching the sunrise from a boat are unforgettable memories that I would love to experience on repeat.
Thanks to my friend for his recommendation, booking my stay at Stops Hostel had me going on a roller coaster ride of emotions during the days that followed. When I reached the hostel it was half past one in the morning which was obviously too early to check in at a hostel but owing to my lack of sleep I decided to go for it. To my utter surprise, the hostel was open 24X7. First thing first, I decided to take care of my sleep-deprived self and shake off all the tiredness from being on the bus.
This hostel had an enormous lot to offer. The hostel organizes walk tours to help tourists explore the intricacies of Varanasi. These walks provide a new dimension for a traveler to unravel and experience the nooks and corners of this mighty city. I have listed a few of these tours below;
The Temple Tour: Vishwanath temple, Sankatmochan temple, Durgakund temple, Bharat Mata temple and much more. Each temple has its own story which is beautifully narrated by the locals. The Ghats Tour: Perhaps Varanasi showcases the most iconic sight of the bank of the River Ganges. The reason, the Ghats of course. Dashashwamedh Ghat and Saamne Ghat are significant landmarks that are covered in this tour. And there is also Manikarnika Ghat which is famous for cremation activities. Yes, it's true! A trip to Varanasi would be in vain if you don't visit the Ghats. The Food Tour: Every place falls on its food to seek glory. The food of Varanasi doesn't disappoint. Lassi's, meat and definitely, the 'paan' stands in the forefront of Varanasi's cuisine. The Bazaar Walk: The marketplaces here are a shopper's paradise. The products are cheap and useful. You can pick a few souvenirs here before you head home.
Below is a brief description of my days in Varanasi:
Day 1: After having freshened up and having my lunch, I joined the 'Ghat Tour'. On the way, I got with a few other backpackers who joined this walk. It's a must tour, I must say. I learned that there are about 40 Ghats along the banks of the River Ganges. Each and every one of them has a fascinating history with some of these being as old as 200 years.
We were taken to the Manikarnika Ghat (Cremation Ghat) on a boat. Here, we witnessed some ongoing rituals. For someone who is seeing this for the first time, it can be quite intense. We were narrated the fable of how Lord Shiva lost his valuables here and went on to curse this Ghat and hence the name Manikarnika. Here not more than a glance is spared for the bodies that keep in a constant procession to the accompaniment of chants of "Ram naam satya ha"
Around 6 pm, we were taken to watch the 'Maha Aarti'. It is interesting to know that personalities like Barrack Obama, Bob Marley, and many others had also come all the way here to witness this. It is truly a sight to behold.
We still had the evening to ourselves and a fellow mate suggested that we go to a classical music concert at the International Music center. Going back to the hostel didn't feel very appealing and hence I ended up doing something which I wouldn't have in general. It was a delight to watch the maestros create an intoxicating environment with their Tabla, Sitar and Sidh Veena playing in perfect sync. We grabbed our dinner at the famous Kerala Café after which we walked back to our hostel.
Day 2: In spite of being sleep deprived, we decided to wake up at 4 in the morning for the early morning boat ride to watch the sunrise. Waking up that early after so many years (I don't even wake up that early during my semester exams) was one hell of a daunting task. But it sure was worth it. We took a power nap upon reaching our hostel to be up in time for the complimentary breakfast which we couldn't afford to miss. Around lunchtime, we were all craving for meat and ended up in a fine multi-cuisine restaurant to satiate our famished stomachs.
During our boat tours, we were joined by a kid who was pretty great at sketching and he would always sketch random stuff on one of our fellow backpacker's iPhone. So, we thought of gifting him a drawing book, crayons and sketch pens. Our boatman, Babu, was touched by our gesture and offered to take us for a free boat ride so we can catch a glimpse of the captivatingly beautiful sunset. I could feel my soul being filled with positive vibes and happy moments as my eyes drank on the intoxicating scene in front of me.
Later in the evening, we visited the famous Blue Lassi shop. However, having learned my lesson from my past experiences with bhang lassi, I steered clear of it. But my mates went ahead with it and I am just glad that it didn't take a heavy toll on any of them.
We spent the rest of the night by chilling on the rooftop and playing cards. Our gig was going strong and we couldn't help but admit that it had been ages since we laughed that hard.
Day 3: This day happened only because I extended my stay and I did have reasons for it. Street shopping and food hopping were still the remaining tasks that I had yet not completed. We spent the day in the Chowk Market. They did more shopping than I did and for obvious reasons. Later in the afternoon, we found ourselves convinced that we deserved another chicken meal with the extras on our platter. By evening, we all had made our individual reservations to wander off to our next and separate destinations. It was one of the hardest goodbyes for me! Nevertheless, the time had come to bid farewell and I left with a sense of warmth in my heart. I was glad that I came here.
I hope you all visit Varanasi, too. I would love to know about your experiences and do let me know if my blog proves to be of any help.