CHRONICLES OF THE ANCIENT CITY:BENARAS

Team Grasshopper 03-07-2024 10:28 AM My India


Vidushi Mishra

“Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

-Mark Twain 

 Kashi was the mystical city and the source of all the devotion I had seen in people so I was thrilled to know that I'd be taking a trip to this city with my father


THE START OF THE JOURNEY

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We had planned it for months, I was to return home from college and the same night we had to leave by train to Benaras. The plan was a little hectic considering I didn’t get time to rest from my journey from college, but I was too excited to feel exhausted. I was a little nervous about the fact that we had to take the night train since those always, from when I was a kid, were somehow uneasy for me but I tried my best to comfort myself thinking that it was just a 7 to 8-hour trip and I could somehow manage it. Well, boy was I wrong because the journey by train was nothing short of restless but thankfully I had packed a book for reading, earphones and a phone on full battery to get through it and I did get through it. The next morning around 7 a.m. the train reached Benaras station. The station was in a state of hustle and bustle and was thriving with the life and chaos of travellers, vendors and coolies. It was hectic but somehow it felt quite welcoming. The weather was warm there, and the auto-rickshaw bhaiyas were swarming around my father and me when we came outside the station to get a ride to the hotel but we preferred taking a cab since we had too much luggage with that, we were off to the hotel. We had pre-booked the hotel online so when we reached we just had to check in and get to the room but when we opened the door to our allotted room it was nothing like how we expected it to be, neither did it match the online photos the hotel had posted on the website. The room looked rather shabby and dirty, my father immediately requested a change of rooms and we were offered a room that did not have the view like our previous room but it sure was an upgrade from the last room if not equal to what was on the website and we took it gratefully and started freshening up. By the time I freshened up, my father had unpacked the aloo kachoris, my mother had packed for breakfast so that we didn’t have to wander around for our first meal in the unknown city and as we decided on a plan for how we wanted to go around visiting some of the must-visit places, we thought it out carefully, since we had way too little time and way too much to do.


EXPLORING THE CITY

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First things first, we decided going to the Vishwanath temple the same day might not be the best decision and our first stop became the famous Sankat Mochan temple of Lord Hanuman 


 It was a very peaceful place that my father and I enjoyed, and after that, we decided our next stop to be the Ganges ghat for Ganga aarti, we decided to stop our rickshaw which had been our constant mode of transportation in the crowded streets of Benaras, and travel a distance of approximately 1 km by foot to the Ganga ghat so that we could experience the streets of Banaras properly. The streets were full of vendors shouting and promoting their products trying to lure in the tourists. Foreigners were clicking pictures while other tourists were just busy shopping but most of the crowd was headed towards the ghat since it was time for the Ganga aarti to start. Since we still had an hour, we decided to jet straight forward towards the ghat and look around the market while returning so we did. We reached the ghat on time and decided to take a boat ride to see all the ghats and end it with seeing Ganga Aarti from the boat. So my father started bargaining with one of the many boat vendors for the best ticket price for the two and after a little banter they mutually settled on a price and we started going towards the boat we were to ride on, that's when I saw a cotton candy vendor and decided to buy two. Just as I was buying I saw a kid about 10 years old eyeing me as I opened my first candy so I decided to offer him the second packet which he hesitated in taking first but after getting a look of approval from his father who was selling tea there, he took it.


 It was time to board the boat and so I and my father jumped over several boats and thus started our ghat boat ride. The boat was motor-powered so the boat guy was just busy explaining to us the significance of different ghats, my favourite one has to be the Manikarnika ghat, the ghat where all the funerals are held since it felt so peaceful. It took us about 30 minutes to see all the ghats by boat ride and then all the boats started getting around the Dashashwamegh ghat where the main puja and aarti for Ganga is held so our boatsman all started finding a space for the same. Once we were all parked in the water with a prime seat it took about a 10-minute wait and then started the legendary Ganga aarti which I had heard so much about. It truly was a spectacle to see with the bells ringing and the mantras being chanted by thousands of people and I knew why it was one of the top things to do in Benaras. After the aarti was complete, we started getting off the boat and heading off to the market area while the market was crowded we found this famous kachori shop that my father insisted we try so we ordered 2 thalis of kachori and waited for our order. 


The shop wasn’t very luxurious or restaurant setting but it was still full of hustle and bustle. As me and my father were discussing all this we got our dinner served and I think it's not even an exaggeration to say that it was one of the best katchori and sabji I had and the same emotion was felt by my father as well. To this day I don’t know if it was the hunger of skipping lunch or the magic of Benaras food, it truly felt like the food couldn’t have been better even if I went to Michelin-star restaurants. After we had that mindblowing dinner my father went to pay and was shocked to see that even after taking extra kachoris and mineral water bottles our entire total only came out to be Rs 150 which was nothing in comparison to the price of food we were used to in Delhi. 


Then since there was still time because we had our dinner early, we decided to go visit the famous Bhairo temple in Benaras. We were lucky enough that when we reached the temple we were just in time to attend the bhairo aarti which again was a very electrifying experience. After returning from the temple me and my father decided to walk to our hotel, enjoy kulhad milk and observe the beautiful city. Benaras felt like a breath of fresh air while remaining strongly rooted in its tradition. People here hadn’t changed in an insensitive way, the way you see most people in metro cities, it's like people there had time for each other, like no work was too important that a morning chai with loved ones should be missed where everything started not on the first ring of the alarm but with the holy mantras of the God.


VISIT TO VISHWANATH TEMPLE

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The next morning we visited the famous Vishwanath temple, the security was tight and the line was never ending but at last, it was all worth it when we saw the temple because it was huge but still had a sense of ancientness in it even though it was a new construction. Once we did our darshan there it was already time for breakfast so we decided to get brunch and then catch our train we went to another Katchori shop for that and the warmness with which they served is something I will carry forever with me.


THE RUSH FOR TRAIN

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Due to all this, we got a bit late in catching the auto-rickshaw to get to the train station since we had our luggage and we had to catch the train in the afternoon in an hour to be precise so our auto driver started driving fast but soon we got stuck in the traffic and we were getting anxious as we had just 30 mins left but thankfully, the auto driver knew a way from the alleys and once we reached there my father even paid him extra and we started running with our luggage with only 5mins to spare and by the time we reached the platform it was just two minutes left and we got in because under a minute of us getting in the automated doors closed and we made it to our seat and slept the rest of journey of tired from the trip but knowing that I will return to the city because of all the unforgettable memories and peace it had given me.


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