Varanasi in India is not just one of the oldest cities in the world; it is one of the few standing testaments of a culture, its past and its influence on a country’s collective conscience. It is the place of gods, but it is also the land of the deceased whose ashes are merged with the holy waters of Ganga; the same water in which millions take a bath to redeem themselves of their sins. To understand the land of paradoxes that India is, Varanasi can be just the right beginning. And if there’s a place on the earth that questions your beliefs and asks more questions than it answers, it is Varanasi.
Allow us to bring you the top 5 experiences that you must have in this wonderful city located on the bank of river Ganga:
Ride a boat in River Ganges
Rives Ganges, locally called ‘Ganga’, is considered the holiest of all rivers in India. An eponymous goddess is believed to reside in the waters of this river, and a morning ride through it will show you how Ganga is not just a river, but a belief in India. Afloat your boat, you will see thousands of devotees indulged in early morning prayers on the popular ‘ghats’ of Ganga. The goose bump-inducing sound of their chants echo throughout the city, and the smoke from their ‘aartis’ render the atmosphere mystical. As the sun rises over your boat, you find it difficult to believe that the vision you just saw belonged to this world. If there was a place on earth that can change an atheist into a believer, it has to be this!
Exploring the ancient temples of Varanasi
There’s no city in India that has higher religious significance than Varanasi. Believed to be the land of gods, Varanasi boasts temples as old as the civilisation itself. The epicentre of Hindu mythology, spending a day admiring the architecture, and being a part of an energy these temples are charged with is going to be one of the most soul-stirring experiences of your life. Some of the temples that you must visit during your Varanasi trip are the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Durga Temple, Annapurna Temple, Ankatha Temple, Kalbhairav Temple, Mritunjay Mahadev Temple. Each of these temples is dedicated to a different God and has a historical significance to the Hindu religion.
Attending the evening ‘Aarti’ at a ghat
It’s one thing to hear the sounds of prayers from a boat, another to be with the devotees and being a part of the ‘maha aarti’. As the fragrance of flowers and the incense used for prayer fills your nostrils, and the vibrations from a group prayer reach your mind, you are transposed into a surreal world. The brass lamps lighting the surroundings as the sun sets, and the other rituals that are associated with the aarti leaves visitors marvelling at the diversity of the world and leaves them pondering over the important questions of religion and spirituality.
Meeting the Weavers of Varanasi in Sarai Mohana
The weavers of Sarai Mohana are renowned for their intricate silk weaving throughout the world. Most of the delicate designs produced by them on silk fabric are hand-weaved, and each ‘saree’ or ‘dupatta’ they work on remains unique because of the exquisite handwork. One Varanasi saree is an articulate intermingling of gold and silver brocade or zari, fine silk, and embroidery, and takes at least 15 days to weave which is why it is one of the most sought after sarees in India. Visit Sarai Mohan to see the weavers at their artful work, and take home a part of Varanasi from your India holiday.
Eat a Hearty Varanasi Meal
Varanasi is as popular for its food as it is for its spirituality, sarees and saints. Famous for its mouth-watering chaat, the quaint local markets of Varanasi ooze with the fragrance of freshly-prepared litti chokhas, kachoris and tikkis. Varanasi presents a plenty of dessert options including Jalebis, Varanasi Kalakand and Rabri. Varanasi is particularly famous for its paan which is made from beetle nut leaves and served with a selection of condiments. A trip through the narrow lanes of Varanasi will also be a gastronomical journey for your taste buds that will be overwhelmed with all the flavours of Varanasi.