Enters the train Howrah – Jodhpur Express at Howrah station. Clock struck 11:40 pm and the train started it’s journey. Our destination – Benaras / Varanasi / Kashi, India ( Kashi Tour | Benaras Tour | Varanasi Tour ). Crossing parts of Bengal (Asansol), Bihar(Gaya), we entered Uttar Pradesh, the state to which Varanasi belongs! We boarded off the train at around 10:20 am at Mughalsarai, the nearest railway station to Varanasi. The tour was my first visit to Varanasi and we stayed there at my kin’s place, who is a Professor at the Benaras Hindu University.
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Kashi Tour | Benaras Tour | Varanasi Tour
The house was too beautiful with wonderful varandas or balconies. Unlike Kolkata, my daughter was elated to find such an open space. She jumped, hopped and played merrily, surrounded by big trees. The place was near to the by-pass – Highway and was a bit away from the congested galis of the main city of Varanasi. Incidentally, the day was my daughter’s birthday and to our big surprise, her uncle decorated the rooms with balloons and served birthday special ‘Payesh‘ to her!
After the cake cutting ceremony, in the evening we went out to the New Vishwanath Temple. Located in the sprawling green meadows of the prestigious Benaras Hindu University, it has the Asia’s largest temple tower. The temple is one of the tallest temples of India and has a height of 253 feet. The design of the mandir is inspired by the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and took 35 years to build it. Inside was the Shivalinga (made of silver) , the main Lord of the temple. It was time for evening arati and we could hear the drums beating loudly! The temple also had places for other deities like Devi Saraswati, Lakshmi Narayan, Hanuman ji, Lord Ganesha, Balaji. On the first floor, idols of Radha Krishna, Durga mata are placed. Also it has idols of Nandi just outside the main temple within its campus. The temple is mostly made of marble and had extracts from the Holy book of the Gita, inscribed on it’s walls. Also, one can see the great preachings of Ramakrishna Paramhansa inscribed on the walls of the temple. The ambiance of the temple is quite peaceful.
The next day in the evening we planned a trip to the Dashashwamedh Ghat and other adjoining ghats. We booked a cab and were dropped in the chowraha, from where we had to walk past a broad street to the ghat. We could see a Brihaspati (Lord Jupiter) Temple and the place is surely a bliss for the shopaholics! One can find, beautiful banarasi dupattas, sarees, sweet shops, food joints serving teas and dosa, idlis, sambars. One can purchase puja utensils made of copper and brass from here. I found them quite sturdy and the price was reasonable as well. Once you reach the ghat, you can see a magnificent view of the River Ganges! Devotees from all places of India, monks, priests, foreigners – all have gathered at the Dashashwamedh ghat. Next we climbed down the steps of the ghat and reached the bank of the Ganga. From there, we boarded on a motor boat and started ‘Ganga Ghat Darshan‘. People float beautiful flower adorned diyas on the river of Ganges. We sailed past many ghats until the Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra Ghat. From there, again we moved back to Dashashwamedh Ghat and again headed towards the ManiKarnika Ghat.
Manikarnika Ghat is a cremation ground for the Hindus and it is one of the ‘Ekanno Peeth’ of Devi. Mythology has it, that upon the death of Devi Durga, Lord Shiva was immersed in grief. Lord Vishnu took his chakra and ran it over Devi’s body. The body got divided into sub parts and fell onto several places across India. Those places are called ‘Peeth’ and is considered as holy places for the Hindus. In Manikarnika Ghat, fell Devi’s earrings and hence the name of the ghat is ‘Manikarnika Ghat’. The hindus consider this ghat as the most holy place for cremation as one can thus attain’Moksh’ or Salvation upon death. All round the year for 24 hours, one can see the burning of bodies here.
From Maikarnika ghat, again we sailed back to the Dashashwamedh ghat. It was 7 pm by watch and the famous sandhyarati had started. In the Sandhyarati, fire, The Sun, Lord shiva are worshipped. There are 9 umbrellas below which 7 priests perform the sandhyarati using props like ‘incense sticks’ or dhoop, dhuno – pajal, coppur or camphor, long diya stands. They all do it in beautiful coordination and sync with each other. Thousands of people gather here during this time to watch Sandhyarati at Dashashwamedh ghat everyday! After watching the arati, we moved ahead towards our home.
The next day, my brother – in – law insisted that we should take a linear walk along the ghats. Knowing that it would be a long walk, we rode on a cab and got down at Assi ghat, which is the 80th ghat among the 88 ghats of Varanasi, lying on the bank of the holy river Ganges! We learnt that people come here to see sunrise out here. From Assi ghat, we started off our long walk along the beautiful ghats. Each ghat had their own unique charm and had great heritage associated with them. Most of them were adorned with beautiful palaces, which are turned into luxury hotels, Kothi, temples, shops where the places’ famous Benarasi Sarees are sold. On the river Ganges, one can see in the afternoon, buffaloes and cows taking bath along with human beings. Boats ply from most of the ghats. Boats are also being made at some of the ghats. The native children fly kites on the bank, play, while the others chant, sing bhajans sitting in groups. So after Assi ghat, climbing up and down the steps of the ghats, we crossed Ganga Mahal Ghat, Tulsi ghat. It is said that it is pious for a married couple to take bath in this ghat. A few more ghats that I could remember are, Janaki Ghat, Jain Ghat, Prabhu Ghat, Chet Singh ghat ( Hosting the magnificent red colored Chet Singh Fort ), Shivalaya Ghat ( Hosting Suryauday Haveli ), Harischandra ghat (A cremation ground named after Satya Wadi Raja Harischandra ), Shankaracharya Ghat, Kedar ghat, Chauki ghat, Khemeshwar ghat, Narad Ghat ( where a married couple should not take bath together ), Chousati ghat (44th ghat ), Ahilyabai ghat. It was already an hour and we reached Dasaswamedh ghat. We decided not to move ahead. It was 6 pm and people started gathering around the ghat fro the arati. The priests started doing the arrangements for the daily arati. In the backdrop, was played Bhagvad Geeta. One is bound to have a spiritual upliftment in such a wonderful ambiance!
Kashi Tour | Benaras Tour | Varanasi Tour
The next day, we hired a cab for a day long trip. We were warned that to avoid standing in queues in the temples, we should start off early. We started at 7am. First stop was at the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple at the Dasaswamedh ghat! In the temple, tight security is being provided. We had to leave our purse, umbrellas, cell phones, shoes at nearby shops. in the same campus, the Gyan Vapi Mosque is seen. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, attacked the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and built the Gyan Vapi mosque there. One can see the remains of the temple on the walls of the mosque. It is surrounded by iron bars now. The Gyan Vapi Well, is a holy well where it is said that during the attack, the original Jyotirlinga was placed by the priests of the temple. channels are drawn from the River Ganges to the Gyan Vapi well. As we stood in the queue, we could see too many monkeys playing around in the campus. As we entered we had a beautiful pious feeling inside. Too many temples are built inside. In a temple, many Shivalingas are placed. Goddess Parvati is also placed inside. As we enter the main temple, we can see the main Shivalinga. Outside, there are temples of Annapurna Devi. Luckily on the same day, we had Annapurna Puja. Also we could see idols of Radha Krshna, Ram Sita, Hanuman Ji, Balaji, Narasimha, Jagannath – Balaram – Subhadra. A mandir is dedicated for Shani Dev, the Lord of Karma as well. After our puja, our next destination was Kal Bhairav Mandir!
Kal Bhairav is the fierce form of Lord Shiva. It is said that Lord shiva or Kal Bhairav is the Kotwaal of Kashi. So one has to seek permission from Kal Bhairav to stay in Kashi. A silver idol is placed inside the temple as the main idol.
Next was Sarnath. On our way we crossed the river Varuna. Sarnath is a place near the confluence of the river Ganges and the Varuna. After attaining enlightenment, Lord Buddha taught his first sermons to 5 disciples.We went to the Wat Thai Sarnath compund first, where the large Statue of Lord Buddha, welcomes you to sarnath. There’s a beautiful temple inside! There is a wonderful archaeological musuem outside the Wat Thai Sarnath Campus. From the Sarnath excavation site, the antiquities are moved to the Musuem by the Archaeological Survey of India The musuem is one of the oldest musuem of the Archaeological Survey of India and the construction was completed from 1904 – 1910. It houses the famous sandstone sculpted ‘Lion Capital of Ashoka’, several other sculptures of Lord Buddha and Bodhisatva. Also it harbours, several edifices, sculptures, artifacts which dates back to 3rd Century BCE to 12th century AD. Some of them are of the utensils used for cooking and serving food during that time, Idols of the Navagraha or the nine planets, meditating postures of Lord Buddha etc! In another campus is the Tall Dhamekh Stupa and the relics of an old buddhist monastry built during the Mauryan period. Interestingly, Dhamekh stupa is considered as the spot where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon to the five brahmin disciples!
Kashi Tour | Benaras Tour | Varanasi Tour
Afterwards we went to see the magnificient Ramnagar Fort! The entrance ticket would cost you Rs 50! It’s a beautiful palace in Varanasi built along the ghats of River Ganges. the palace is the testimony to the richness of the culture and heritage of the Raja, Maharajas (Kings) of Varanasi. A part of the palace is turned into a musuem for the public. It displays various items from the ruler’s treasury like Palanquins (palkis), several Vintage Cars, Horse Carts, Swords, Armors, Riffles, etc. It also displays the tiara, crown, grand banarasi sarees, kurtas, gowns from the wardrobes of the Royal members of the family. Also can be seen several other antiques, photographs, ivory works. As the clock struck 5:30pm, the gate of the musuem was closed and we moved to a beautiful part of the palace from where we could see the Sunset on the river Ganges. We could see a grand courtyard, temples inside the palace compound. There’s cannon as well! Overwhelmed by the antiques and possessions of the Royal family and owing to the tiredness of the whole journey, we decided to board our cab and take a short chai break outside the campus of the Ramnagar Fort. On our way back to home, we stopped by the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Mandir, our last stop. It’s a beautiful temple of Hanuman Ji. Also is worshipped there, Lord Rama and Sita. The idols are worth seeing! Words fall short to describe the beauty of the idols! They seem so real!
On our return trip, we took a stroll inside the prestigious BHU Campus (Benaras Hindu University Campus)! It was founded by Madan Mohan Malaviya and is the largest residential university of Asia! It has got over 140 departments and was established in the year of 1916.
We returned back home at 8pm. The next day, was the time to return back to home, back to the monotonous life of ours. The Kashi Tour | Benaras Tour | Varanasi Tour indeed was a nice breather that we had on the banks of the River Ganges, where not only we witnessed a lot of heritage and culture of India, but could feel more inclined towards the importance of prayers in our daily lives! We need to find a small break from our daily lives and meditate to realize our highest potentials within, the truest nature of our beings, the fact that we can find liberation only in oneness to God and service to Human kind!
The train was at 8pm. We boarded the train, high on emotions and a wish buried inside that some day, I’ll return back to you and soak in the holiness of the place again, even more deeply. Adieu till then…………
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