Kashi, Banaras, or Varanasi – they all refer to the same place and they all bring a smile to my face even after a year of first stepping foot on this land.
The land of the living and the land the dead, the land of some order, and a lot of madness. Beautiful madness.
Religion could be mistaken for the protagonist here for Ganga draws everyone in and the Saffron of the sadhus and the monks paints the city in bright hues. It’s only when you look beyond that and peek into the remnants of those thousands of years of thriving that you will notice that Kashi is so much more than its colors and the flowers and the diyas.
To get a good taste of Varanasi, you must start early, earlier than the sun. Walk to the Assi ghat and witness the grand welcoming of the day and if you’re feeling particularly brave, try taking a dip in the Ganga maybe?
Watch the sunrise over Ganga, this is the time when the ghats are the most peaceful, the motor boats and crazy party boats haven’t started yet, You’ll see some rowing the boat when the river turns from dark blue to light to pastels of dawn.
Hear closely you can focus on the birds and ripples in the water.
It’s okay to get lost in all this for hours and days, I did and so did a lot of others I met. Whenever you find the strength to break the spell, do take a walk around the winding alleys, some covered with the cow-shit at least a few decades old. You’ll get used to it, don’t worry. embrace it. Walking on inches of dry cow dung to brushing against cattle in the narrow alleys.
In these gullies you will find the yummiest of Indian food that will ruin every other cuisine for you. Malaiyyo is the morning kiss you need, and piping hot kachori sabzi is a breakfast I can eat and eat and eat. Kuhad wali chai is my staple drink but once in a while that special lassi is welcome too.
Doors like these, you’d wonder about the stories that existed inside but only when you peek in you realize, stories continue there for there are families living inside. Some painting a Durga statue, some weaving magic in a Banarasi saree, some spraying the homemade itra , Banaras will take you around the tour of your senses with each step you take.
Each time you dip your toes in the river water, each time you chat up with that saffron-clad baba, each time you look at the smoke going up from the dozens of cremations, remember to look at the place without the lens of your camera too.