One of the oldest living cities in the world, the oldest in India and the holiest as well – Varanasi, Benaras or Kashi is and remains a destination of choice for pilgrimage tours as well as for anyone seeking to experience Hinduism in its roots.
It is a city which comes alive much before sunrise, where each new day is welcomed with joy and rigour, a prayer of thanks, the ringing of bells, and the aroma of the incense sticks. Ghats and temples line the banks of the holy river Ganges, the lifeline of the city, around which the entire city’s life revolves. Every step you take takes you closer to some sadhu or god man, or some temple.
An early morning visit to the ghats or a Varanasi boat ride at Sunrise reveals the way Varanasi and its residents greet each new day. With holy baths, surya namaskars, and the morning aarti at the temples. Temples are open through the day with aartis and poojas at regular intervals.
In the evening, nightlife in Varanasi ranges from the famous Ganga Aarti Ceremony at the Dasashwamedh Ghat to the evening aartis at the many temples of Varanasi.
The Ganga Aarti ceremony is the much preferred experiences, especially due to its spiritually uplifting sights and orchestra of sounds of the aarti ceremony – multi-tiered lamps, specially dressed priests, the floral offerings and the flow of milky water, all culminating in the magical transformation of the Ganges river into a twinkling river of tiny lamps and floral tributes.
Venture to the interiors, away from the ghats, and you come across a network of lanes and by-lanes, some so narrow that not even a cycle rickshaw can go through! But in these lanes are some of the most interesting experiences – experiences with the locals, which can make your holiday tour in Varanasi an even more mesmerizing experience.
Visit the weavers of the famous Banaras Silk; enjoy the savouries of the most renowned sweet shops and eateries of Varanasi; and do keep a look out of cows, cow dung and the funeral processions.
It is believed that the one who dies in Varanasi is sure to gain moksha, or salvation from the cycle of birth and death. And with this belief, many old people on their deathbeds shift their bases to Varanasi, in any of the ashrams, specially built for this purpose. Funerals and funeral processions, are thus, a common sight in this city.
And as far as cows are concerned, they are considered to be holy animals, and this being Varanasi, they are much revered and have a right to their ways!
All said and done, when it comes to Varanasi, this city is a destination in itself for tourists and devotees. Many combine it with a visit to Sarnath or as a starting / ending point of a wider pilgrimage tour across India. For many other tourists, it is an essential part of the Indian holiday tour experience. Either way, a tour of Varanasi is a delight and an experience that is sure to enrich your life in some way or the other.