How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Location: India

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

ek yaatraa - II

Day 1: Varanasi, 28 Dec. 2004, Tuesday

The Kashi Vishwanath Express ultimately reached Varanasi an hour and a half late, at 6.30am. Probably the fog was the reason, and we also did not mind it as by then the morning light had driven out the darkness of night.
So we were in Varanasi - the holiest of holy cities for Hindus. Our immediate concern was, of course, to get a hotel room. The autorickshaw-wallah, after one disappointment, deposited us at Hotel Gautam at Ramkatora Crossing. The hotel was a good one and we freshened up and geared for the day's touring. The TV showed news of the tsunami tragedy and that devastating event was our grim companion through the trip. The auto-wallah who brought us to the hotel was also to be our companion in touring Varanasi and Sarnath.

The ghats on the Ganga
So after a typical North Indian breakfast of aaloo paratha and puuri-sabzi*, we were off in a narrow autorickshaw to take in the sights of Varanasi. As we progressed, the roads narrowed to streets and the streets to mere alleys of which the auto occupied the entire width. Here we stopped and walked down the alley and down a series of steps to Kedar ghat. The first glimpse of the Ganga we had was, well, not quite breathtaking. The expanse of the great river (around half a kilometre) was wonderful to look at, but the water was polluted and black. The water also seemed very still, not flowing.
But the Ganga is the Ganga and we decided to take a row-boat trip on it, which would take us to the Kashi Vishwanath temple and show us the various ghats. The boatman was a young man who was knowledgeable and good-natured. He first rowed upstream and then downstream to show us the various ghats on the river. Some of the ghats that I remember now are: Munsi ghat (named after Munshi Premchand), Dashashwamedh ghat (where the Ganga aarti happens in the evening), Ahilya ghat (built by the Holkars of Gwalior), one ghat built by a Rajput king, one ghat which was frequented by Bengalis, one frequented by South Indians, etc. Thus we saw the high religious importance of Varanasi in the whole of India. The various communities in India had constructed their own ghats on the Ganga at this place.

The boatman, meanwhile, talked about the city's three names - Kashi (used most by South Indians), Banaras (according to the boatman, used most by Muslims in the textile trade) and Varanasi (used most by North Indian Hindus). The name 'Varanasi' originated from the two extreme ghats - the Varuna ghat and the Asi ghat. The latter is where Tulsidas is said to have written the Ramcharitmanas.
The most famous ghat in Varanasi is the Manikarnika ghat - a 24-hour crematorium. The flames of funeral pyres never cease at this ghat as Hindus from all over India arrive here to consign the dead bodies of their near and dear ones to flames. As we passed it, we saw quite a few pyres burning there.

The boatman anchored the boat at the Lalita ghat, from where we were to visit the Kashi Vishwanath temple.


* Food might enjoy a regular presence in this account, because of the enjoyment I derive from it :)


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