It was my last evening in Varanasi. I sat by Assi ghat and stared in oblivion as the sun set, Ganga flowed, sadhus and pilgrims sauntered, and the chaat trolley did brisk business. I did notice him from a distance for a minuscule of a second but I looked away and stared again at the Ganga. He walked up the steps and stood next to me. "Would you be kind enough to buy me a plate of chaat?", he muttered with a weak smile. I immediately shook my head, said a 'No' and looked away; not before having a glimpse of that weak smile again which had further broadened. "No problem", he said as he tried to look away in the same direction that I stared at. He took a few steps away from me and stood there as I discerned him. Immaculately dressed, he did not seem anywhere close to the sadhus who ask for alms in Varanasi. Surprisingly, he did not ask any other person the question that was put forward to me. Not sure what was running in his mind, but the thought that why he picked me from the whole crowd was disturbing. In a matter of seconds I walked up to him and said "let's eat". Am not sure if he did muster up that smile again as I did not have the courage to look at his face. We held plates of aloo tikkis and sat away from each other. I noticed him silently gobble them away. He did have one more plate before coming up to say thank you. All that I could return was a weak smile.
Varanasi offers such quirky and intriguing surprises for its visitors through its people, ghats, gallis (alleyways) and much more apart from the popular list of things to do. Varanasi is an emotion. It is a feeling that gets into your veins once you you step on it and without your knowledge runs through you and refuses to disembark even after leaving the city. That emotion only pulls you back to Varanasi, back to its ghats, alleys, sadhus, temples and Ganga.
|Semi submerged temple|
|A ride on the Ganga|
Also referred to as Benares and Kashi, Varanasi gets its name from the rivers Varuna and Assi, both tributaries of Ganga. Believed to be oldest continuously habituated place on the planet, Varanasi has innumerable temples and is considered one of the holiest cities in India. Life in this city revolves around the ghats, the alleys and temple surroundings. It is a delightful experience to walk through its ghats through the day (there are more than 80 ghats). A lively long stretch with smiling strangers, meditating and smoking sadhus, priests awaiting customers under their wooden umbrellas, people performing rituals, tea stalls and numerous hawkers. Though Kashi Vishwanath is the most revered temple here, there are many more temples and numerous tiny shrines by the ghats. Enjoy a cup of hot tea by the ghats and see the world go by.
|Kedar ghat with a colourful South Indian temple|
|A beautiful structure on Munshi ghat|
|The crowded Prayag ghat|
|Another gorgeous structure|
|While two of them pondered over something, the third sadhu was lost in his thoughts|
|All set for a smoke|
|Some music in the evening by a group of Koreans|
|Rituals for the departed souls|
|There is no dearth of shrines on the ghats|
Despite the fact that Dashashwamedh ghat and Manikarnika ghat remains the most popular ones, every other ghat too has a charm of its own. Dashashwamedh ghat is known for its Ganga arthi which happens everyday in the evening, when the whole ghat turns into a place of lights, cymbals, flowers, camphor and much more. Though crowded, its a wonderful experience. While Dashashwamedh is all about lights and vibrancy, Manikarnika ghat is all about death and melancholy. This ghat is basically a cremation ground where unending numbers of wrapped up bodies arrive, are laid on the pyre and burnt. The huge ghat talks of emanating flames and departing souls.
|Ganga Aarthi at Dashashwamedh ghat|
|Smoke and flames at Manikarnika ghat|
River Ganga is synonymous with Varanasi and its people. As every ghat walks down to the river, Ganga multi tasks herself to the requirement of the people. People perform their morning rituals, float offerings, go about their daily chores by its bank. As it flows away in serenity, it truly turns out to be the life of Varanasi. There are numerous boats that are lined up by its bank. A boat ride early in the morning is an ideal way to explore the river, see the mist engulfed ghats, feed the gulls and listen to temple bells as the city awakens to another day.
|Daily chores and morning prayers by the Ganga|
|Feed the birds and see the ghats from a different angle during the boat ride|
With water on one side, the ghats are lined with dilapidated structures, numerous shrines and many long unending alleys on the other. These alleys are another intriguing part of Varanasi. It meanders its way past shops, houses, beautiful doors, art work on walls and reaches out to more alleyways and the main road. More smiling strangers greet you as you walk through them. Every corner has an interesting frame to be captured. I was quite fortunate to witness a wedding while sauntering through these gallis.
|The alleys have numerous shops|
Varanasi isn't a place where you go sight seeing and tick everything in your to- do list. Everything is spread before you; all that you need are senses to soak in the experience and cherish the moments.