Varanasi and the Ganga aarti were on my bucket list for a couple of years now. I am so glad I ticked it off with a trip to India’s spiritual capital last week. The early morning Mangal aarti at the Shri Kashi Viswanath temple, the leisurely boat ride on the Ganges that evoked so many emotions and the celebration and thanksgiving to Ma Ganga with the Ganga aarti have to be seen and experienced in one’s lifetime.
As we went down the river in the motor boat, I took in as much as I could of all the sights and sounds—the numerous ghats and temples lining one side of the river, the borders of the village on the other side with the evening sun blinding us till it descended low enough, bodies being consigned to flames, people taking a dip in the holy Ganges and the boats occasionally bumping into each other.
Looking at nature and the elements—the sky, the river, the sun and the leaping flames, one truth came home—life is impermanent and regardless of the losses of our dear ones, it flows on like the river. Our boatman became our tourist guide and shared a fund of stories about each of the Ghats along the Ganges. The cab driver told us the the name Varanasi, is derived from Varuna and Assi—the two rivers that flow along in this area.
Among the oldest cities in the world, Varanasi has retained its character. Narrow gullies within gullies dotted with little temples, two-wheelers and cycles plying impatiently, old style houses with very decorative doorways, a variety of street food (notably jilebis, samosas, aloo tikki, chai and lassi) and friendly people (our cab driver Manoj insisted that we have dinner with him one day and turned out to be a very gracious host)—these are the things I remember about Varanasi.
While the roads are pathetic and road rules are broken with impunity (might is right on the streets in Varanasi) with clouds of dust getting kicked up every now and then, the state is happily backward. Yet I loved Varanasi the way it is. It was also heartwarming to see Benarasi weavers hard at work turning out the most exquisite pieces for measly amounts every month.
Four days in Varanasi wasn’t just enough. I definitely see myself going back on a more leisurely visit to roam around the streets to shoot and capture the beauty of those ancient buildings before they crumble or go under the hammer and generally soak in that ambience. As for the Ganga we all know that she will go on forever.
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