“Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together” – Mark Twain
Have you ever been to a place that’s so chaotic, colorful and has so much character but at the same time there is this underling calmness to it.. A calmness that is surreal, enchanting and hard to explain.. That is Varanasi for me!
In Varanasi the sights, the smells, the sounds engage all your senses to a level where it feels magical, you easily get sucked in to falling in love with this place and all that it’s made of. It is a place where life and death goes hand in hand, a place that reminds us of the fragileness of life and also of the colorful side of life. She has the ability to bring out happiness and sadness at the same time- a perfect balance. She is the world’s oldest inhabited city, and still is spreading her enchantment over anyone who sets foot on her soil.
Our train reached Varanasi in the middle of the night stranding us in the middle of nowhere. Ultimately we made our way to our stay for the next few days, the Sri Lankan Mahabodhi Temple in Saranath.
Saranath a small town located 13 Km away from the main town of Varanasi and is the place where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon “Damma chakka pawathana suthra”.
Mulaghandha Kuti Temple
Next morning our first stop was the Saranath temple “Mulaghandha Kuti Viharaya” which is a massive temple complex built in the recent past to signify the importance of Saranath in Buddhism.
Just next to the Mulaghandah kuti temple is the Deer park, a wildlife conservation project under which a variety of birds and other animals are sheltered and cared for.
Just a little distance away from the new temple is the Dhamek stupa, a massive stupa built of bricks and sand. It is believed that this is the location where Lord Buddhas first sermon took place. The stupa is 34 meter in height and lord Buddhas relics are thought to be enshrined inside.
The remains of the foundation of a pre- Ashoka era stupa can be seen in the Vicinity of Dhamek stupa.
A octagonal shaped tower built to commemorate the location where lord Buddha met his first five disciples.
King Ashoka erected a pillar to mark the area where lord Buddha preached his first sermon.
Other than the main temple complex there are a few more modern Buddhist temples built by different countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka.
In the evening we made our way to the main city of Varanasi to visit the bank of river Ganga, the most popular site in Varanasi.
Even before reaching the Ghats the city turns in to this colorful mess. Shops line the roads selling food, arts, traditional crafts, and Puja flowers.
Flocks of pilgrims come from all over the world to Varanasi every day to wash off their sins in the holy water of river Ganga or to cremate loved once. Varanasi is considered as an auspicious place to die as it is said that if you die here you will reach Moksha.
A labyrinth of ghali’s starting from the city will lead you to the Dashashwamedh Ghat passing shops filled with flowers and Puja offerings. The large Ghat takes you to the river bank where you can hire a boat to take you to see the Ghats from the river.
Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of the oldest and holiest ghats in Varanasi. located in close proximity to the Vishwanath temple this ghat is constantly buzzing with action. There are many legends surrounding this ghat, the most popular being that it was created by lord Brhama to welcome lord Shiva.
Once you reach the river bank you can ether walk along the Ghats or you can hire a boat to see the Ghats clearly from the river.
There are thought to be about 80-90 ghats edging the river Ganga in Varanasi, a ghat is a set of stairs leading down to the Ganga. They are used as a site for performing Puja and also to perform cremations. In some places these happen side by side- a true example of how life and death goes hand in hand.
Each Ghat has its own history, its own story and a purpose for its existence…
Harishchandra Ghat is one of the two cremation Ghats on the river bank. It is believed that who ever gets cremated at this ghat attains Moksha.
This Ghat is definitely not for the fainthearted !! The chances of you being there while a Hindu cremation is in progress is high. But it definitely is an experience not to be missed.
Trust me your guide/ boatman will definitely stop at one of the silk saree shops on the Ghats for you to visit. The sarees there are a bit over priced since its target customers are foreigners.
Once we were done with the boat ride we took a stroll along the Ghats and we got to meet so many interesting peoples, priests, Sadus, commoners who have made a life on these Ghats.
Every evening a group of priests perform Agni Puja or Ganga arti at the Dashashwamedh Ghat. Thousands of people gather around every day to witness the puja, some standing on the ghats and some on boats on the river.
Visiting Varanasi was one of those experiences that have left me speechless (shocker!!) The things that I saw there, that I experienced there have left a mark on heart like no other. Varanasi made me grow even more closer and more deeply in love with India.