I recently read somewhere that if there is one place in India that changes you in indescribable ways, it has be Banaras and true to the account, if there is one memorable trip I have to account for, it has to be to this quintessential holy city of shrines.
The first solo trip where you are allowed to fly to without the accompanying family cordon, is always special. More so to a city which Mark Twain wrote “Benaras is a city older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together’.
The city has a vibe and a tremor which resonates with your inner being. Alighting on the busy Benaras railway station, the humdrum of a crowded Indian railway stopover is the same as any other place yet the feel is different, the experience metaphysical. The history of the city which dates back to 11th century B.C and is home to more than 2000 temples is a walk in the past, a city capable of breaking the ties between birth and re-birth, a city capable of offering redemption and doling out salvation.
Yet, at that moment I was quite oblivious to the profundity of the place steeped in religion and spirituality and was soaking in the feel of my first outing away from family, amidst friends in the ruse of appearing for an entrance examination. It was a winter morning filled with gay abandon that we alighted in the city, checked into a non-descript hotel, dumped our belongings and immediately set forth to explore the nuancesof the place in a ride that best describes the feel of the place, an auto rickshaw.
The gregarious auto-driver rambles on about the city’s highlights and no trip can ever flag off without first paying obeisance to the much revered Kashi Vishwanath. The walk through the crowded by-lanes leading up to the steps of Lord Shiva’s ancient abode was a surreal experience, followed in quick succession to the Sankat Mochan temple. The late afternoon found us amidst the green sprawling campus of the Benaras Hindu University, the largest residential university in Asia, set up by Sh. Madan Mohan Malyviya.The dusk, that day, saw us witness to the evening Arti at the Assi Ghat and the scene that unfolded was breath-taking and extremely soul-satisfying.
The early morning boat ride, next dayacross the Dashwamedha Ghat and the early morning tea on the steps of the river Ganges, where humanity pauses to catch a breather and seeks validation from the spirits above were memories we would keep holding on, for along time. No trip in Benaras could be complete without scouring its markets for sarees, jewelleries and Knick knack items to bring back home.
Since that trip, winters have always remained synonymous with Benaras, taking me on a memory trip down that orange hued landscape, the chanting of mantras and the enchanting and enervating ambience of a place whichholds the ability to key to spiritual rejuvenation.