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Our travel to the mystic City that is Varanasi – February 2016

November 15, 2015

Our travel to Varanasi and Gaya  : [ 21- 25 February 2016 ]

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Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities of the world, placed on the banks of the holy Ganges and one of the most sacred places of the Hindus. Varanasi is known for its spiritualism and religious passions. It is a place where even  Gods prefer to reside . “Varanasi [ known as Kashi in early times ]  is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together. “[Mark Twain ]

There are a total of 84 ghats in Varanasi. Over ten thousand people perform the ritual of lustration in the waters of the Ganges on their steps every day. A real ritual sacrifice is performed on Dashashwamedh Ghat every night; and the ritual Hindu pyre burns on Manikarnika Ghat for many centuries. Hindus from all over the country come to the City for the holy experience.

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Rajdhani Express takes you from New Delhi Station to Mughal Sarai Jn. – less than 20 kms from Varanasi – in comfort in just about 8 hours [ 780  Kms ] . 2nd Class AC one-way fare is approx .Rs.1500 [ for senior citizens ] .

On arrival at Mughal Sarai Station at 10.15  PM  by DBRT Rajdhani Express , we were received by Mukesh Pathak and taken on  a round of BHU complex in Varanasi – a 30 minutes drive from Mughal Sarai  – and then transferred to Hotel Diamond .

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Diamond Hotel, Bhelupur, near IP Vijaya Mall . M: 915422276696, 0542-2276696 – 699 . Sridhar Mishra, General Manager .

This is one of the  most centrally located downtown hotels in Varanasi . Within walking distance from the Ghats of Varanasi and the revered temples of the holy city, the Hotel is also in close proximity to the Banarsi saree market and the Banaras Hindu University.

Day 2

8.45 AM: Breakfast at the Bistro Benares restaurant .

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9.30 AM : Proceeded to Sarnath located at the confluence of Gomti and Ganges rivers  , a mere 15 kms away , but passing via congested roads took us close to 45 minutes to get there It is where Emperor Ashoka erected a number of stupas and monuments for spreading Buddhism. The  stupas here are a house of relics, manuscripts and fascinating inscriptions that can teach one a lot of Indian history, development of Buddhism and provide alternative theories such as Aliens and how they visited the earth. Sarnath is certainly one of the best places near Varanasi, especially for those who are keen to learn more about history and religion in India. Main attractions which we visited  in Sarnath were: Chaukhandi Stupa  and Buddhist temples set up with the support of Royal Thai Government and Sri Lanka Mahabodhi Society .

Images from our trip to Sarnath :

Returned to Varanasi , and engaged in shopping at Lallapura, a muslim weaving area , for exquisite Banarasi sarees [ including visits to 2 weaving centres , with looms run by power as well as  by hand  ] .

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In one of the bye lanes of Lallapura . You can hear sounds of the looms shuttling as you walk along the lanes .

Moved  for city tour covering major temples in the city after a brief rest at the Hotel .

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The reverred Sankat Mochan temple dedicated to Bajrangbali Hanuman . Beware of the simians who move around looking for food items .

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Tridev temple comprises of deities of Shri Ram  , Hanuman  and Durga .

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Shri Satya Narayan Tulsi Manas Mandir is  worth a visit with the entire Ram Charit Manas engraved around its walls on the ground as well as first floor .

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Visited Sri Durga temple, close to Tulsi Charit Manas temple .

5.45 PM:

Enjoyed a boat ride in the Ganges  from Kedar Ghat which gives a magnificent view of various Ghats of the Ganges each one of which is seeped in history . One of the busiest ghats on the Ganga, the Kedar Ghat can be identified by its red and white steps from a distance. Thousands come here each year to pay homage to the Gauri Kedareshwar temple. This can be reached via boat or through the narrow lanes of Bengali Tola. The temple is famous for a replica of the Kedarnath lingam of the Himalayan temple.

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Harishchandra Ghat is also nearby where the funeral pyres burn all the time .

Overflowing with devotees that come to offer their prayers day and night , the Prayag Ghat is considered the most important section of the Varansi Ghats . Fortune tellers , seated under rattan umbrellas , read fortunes for the visiting pilgrim.

Below: View of other ghats as you proceed along the river by boat .

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A panoramic view of other Ghats

Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat

This highly choreographed ceremony is not available at any Ghats in India. The Aarti in Varanasi is performed facing the river from the Dasaswamedh Ghat. Although it seems very touristy and less spiritual (more so than in Haridwar or Rishikesh), it is a must see while in Varanasi.

The Aarti is performed by five young pandits/priests on elevated planks. They wear a dhoti and saffron colored kurta, bound with a long towel. The aarti starts with the blowing of a conch shell. Sticks of incense are waved circling large flaming lamps. The rhythmic chants and the smell of incense are almost hypnotizing.

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The Aarti starts at 6:45 PM although people start  arriving via boats  much earlier to ensure a good view.  Since the Aarti is performed facing the river,  this is  a much better option. We hired a boat for ourselves which took us around various Ghats , starting from Kedar Ghat charging us Rs 1000 for a 3-hour ride .

Hamara Ganga nadi ka anokha evam anootha safar  :

Relished rava dosas and blended cold coffee – from the affordably priced  Kerala Café at Bhelupura Crossing,  within walking distance from the Hotel . Total expense Rs 190 only  !

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Day 3 : Got ourselves shifted to a better room at the Hotel  on the renovated 2nd floor ,  with wooden flooring and provided with tea maker and electronic locker .

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While we were visiting the Shri Vishwanath temple  inside the BHU complex , our resourceful driver Manoj brought the best Paans in the city for us from  Keshav Paanwala  [ Lanka Chauraha nearby ]  .  Varanasi’s famous paans come with a strong punch of extra mint.

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Checked out Baba Black Sheep @  B12/120 A-9  Bhelupura crossing, very close to our Hotel. Purchased a  silk-polyester stole as gift for son .

Lunch with sister Mridula Sah at Vigyan Kuteer , Pishachmochan Marg , Lahurabir   . Seeing her after 31 year long years brought back happy memories of our younger days .

The very unique Bharat Mata temple , that is a must see . Although not many residents of the city seem to be aware of its existence . A monkey handler outside the temple regales visitors with the antics of the simians .

Ksheer Sagar has some of the best “mithais”  in the city, as well as a clean, modern interior. It has 5 outlets in different locations in the city . Relished hot imartis and mango lassi , both affordably priced,  and purchased sweets boxes to be given away as gifts .

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In the evening , the General Manager of the Hotel , Sridhar Mishra hosted a dinner for us with dishes specially made for us .

Day 4

Varanasi is most famous for  Kashi Vishwanath Temple [ Golden  temple ] ,  It is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas (the holiest of Shiva temples) . The current temple was built in 1776 by Ahalya Bai of Indore; the 800kg of gold plating on the tower and dome was supplied by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore 50 years later.

2.45 AM: Proceeded to the KV temple for pooja, with Shri Mukesh Pathak and Sushil /Renu Pathak – entry from Gate 1 with special admission tickets . Rudrabhishek rituals were conducted thereafter by the Chief Pujari of the temple .

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After the Poojas at the Kashi Vishwanath temple , spent time at the very clean Assi Ghat for watching the early morning sunrise and the 2 hour Subah e Banaras programme that comprises of  Ganga Aarti performed by 5 priests , Vedic hymns chanted by 5 school girls , Sitar vadan  and ode to the Sun on the river banks , and Yoga exercises .

Images from Subah-E- Banaras programme at Assi Ghat [ 5 AM – 7 AM ] :

[ Photographs courtesy : Mukesh Pathak ]

At the invitation of Shri Mukesh Pathak , visited Manav Sanskar School managed by him. The School is located on Varanasi- Mirzapur border , 18 kms away from Varanasi . It currently has 150 students on its rolls covering Playschool to  Class VIII .

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Returned to the Hotel and checked out at 1.15  PM .

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After spending sometime at a decrepit and decaying Ramnagar Fort located across the Ganges river , proceeded to Mughal Sarai Jn. at 3 PM  to board the Jodhpur -Howrah Superfast Express for Gaya which, however , arrived 4 hours late  !

in pic: The young cabbie Manoj who took us to all the fascinating places .

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Day 5: Gaya

Arrived at Gaya  past midnight and received at the Station by  brother in law Shirish Prakash . Stayed overnight at their opulent bungalow situated in a prime location .

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After a sumptuous breakfast, proceeded to Bodh Gaya , some 20 kms away . The whole atmosphere in the mini city is very calm and peaceful , a soul stirring experience it is to go around the whole complex dotted with myriad temples, monasteries and other places of worship with Mahabodhi Vihar at the hub of it all .

Images from our visit to Bodh Gaya :

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The famed Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha received enlightenment .

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A  view from inside of Mahabodhi temple, probably the most peaceful place on earth.

Due to shortage of time, we were in Bodh Gaya  only for 3  hours , but really to be able to do proper justice to your visit, you need to spend the whole day in this amazing place that fascinates you like no other place on earth.

After completing our visit to Bodh Gaya , we reached our ancestral home located on the very busy G.B.Marg . My eyes became  moist after meeting and greeting our 90 years’ old  “Tai ji” , the eldest surviving member of our large family, and taking a tour of the property,  a good part of which,  including the room in which my grandfather lived , was destroyed due to an earthquake !

Pics of our home coming :

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Our ancestral home which evoked memories of yester years .

After spending 3.5 hours chatting with Taiji and  cousins , we went for tea  to the elegant house of another cousin sister, Anjana Poddar who runs a boutique  along with one of her daughters-in -law .

At a dinner party in a restaurant on the 2nd floor of Pramod  Laddoo Bhandar , Chowk  to celebrate the marriage anniversary of  cousin sister Kiran’s son .

Celebrations over, we left for the Station to board the overnight  Rajdhani Express for New Delhi carrying happy memories of our 5-day trip to Varanasi – Sarnath and Gaya – Bodh Gaya .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                              .

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