City that Never Sleeps For Long - A walk through the holy lanes of Banaras

4:39 PM

(Subah-e-Banaras with Siberian birds and some lemon tea in mind-numbing breeze)

That's true, wake up at 5 in the morning and roam about the lanes and you would find early birds moving around, perhaps towards a nearest Ghat (the bank of river Ganges). The tinkling temple bells, chanting prayers, and aroma that never wait for a sunrise would follow you as you move.
Having my roots from Banaras (Varanasi) is a privilege for me to travel the city anytime I want and have a gala time with all my cousins. But it wasn't until my recent trip of the year-end that helped me explore the holy city more closely than ever. Since the city has a lot to offer so every time I returned from there, I knew I have missed on something. Of course in all my past trips, I also ran out of time. But for this time I unchecked almost [:p] everything off my to-do/see list. From exploring the well maintained ruins of Sarnath to the ill-maintained city king's Fort in Ramnagar, savoring the drool-worthy sweetmeats to the famous tangy Tamaatar chaat and banarasi paan, I didn't refrain myself from anything that came on my way.

So here in this blog I would be sharing a recommended list via locales of famous & not-so-famous places and what you may/must experience when you visit the holy city of Varanasi .

1. Subah-e-Banaras - Experience the Sunrise & Ganga Arti
(Ganga Arti at Assi Ghat @ 5:30am, behind priests rests Ganga)

This is the first thing you should put on your list. An experience one of a kind. Better to experience it in early morning than in evening. Every Ghat in Banaras performs Ganga Arti twice a day. I witnessed it at 5:30 in a morning of late December at Assi Ghat. The Arti is performed by 7 priests preceded with 7 girls chanting mantras, hymns, and Ganga Prayers.
After which the Yagya is performed followed with a daily Yoga session. By the time Yagya completes, sun takes it place. Now you can walk though the Ghat to lose yourself in tranquil and majestic scenic beauty of Holy Ganga.

2. A visit to Sarnath
(Dhamek Stupa during sunset)

Located at about 12km away from Varanasi, the peaceful city of Sarnath holds,

a. The Dhamekh Stupa (known as the holy seat of Lord Buddha where he delivered his first sermon) founded by the King Ashoka,  with a vast park around having relics and ruins all over.

b. Mulgandhakuti Temple, A buddhisht temple where Lord Buddha used to meditate. The temple so high as 110 feet huge, makes you feel that you are in Nepal. The passage adjacent to the temple takes you towards the animal and bird sanctuary known as Sarnath Deer Park.

c. Sarnath Museum, an archaeological museum of excavated relics from Dhamek Stupa park. Please note, the electronics are strictly prohibited inside the museum. In case of carrying any, submit the same at the entrance.
(ruins of Sarnath & the setting for the monks to meditate - the park)
d. Sarnath Deer Park- An animal and bird sanctuary

e. Lots of inner peace.

f. Don't miss Chaukhandi Stupa locally known as Seeta ki Rasoi. It marks the first visit of Mughal emperor Humayun in the city. It's located about 600m distance from Sarnath temple.

3. Fort Ramnagar
Ramnagar fort is located about 14km away from Varanasi and on the opposite side bank of the river (Also, opposite to Tulsi Ghat). A 166 years old fort that showcases, a museum of vintage vehicles , battle weapons, pistols, rifles etc, used in 17th century. The museum seems remarkable but its maintenance will let you down, the museum exit leads you to a drawing room like hall where you will find paintings of all the succeeded kings during that era and a beautiful & huge center table.
(A view from the Vyas mandir-back side of the fort)

Downstairs the museum is a passage towards the Vyas Mandir situated on the top backside of the fort. In the times, the queen used this passage to bathe in the Ganga followed by offering prayers to Vyas Mandir. It was such an ethereal experience to pass through it. Take a look on the roof, you will find numerous bats hanging there. Creepy ehh! No need to panic. Better glance and ignore and they will ignore you too. Keep stepping down and you will see a stone-made tortoise on your right side. It marks the water level for when come floods in the river. It's known that no matter how high a flood comes, it never goes above the mouth of tortoise.

(In and around Vyas Mandir)

Points to note:
Mobile phone is allowed but any kind of photography is prohibited inside the museum and hall.
Once you step out of one zone, you can't go back inside unless you buy a new ticket and begin again from the entrance. So take your time and make sure you see everything at one go.

4. Lal Bahadur Shastri Niwas
Within a walking distance from the Ramnagar fort is where you will locate the house. A lesser known fact: The Lal Bahadur Shastri's paternal home is in Varanasi. Avoid taking any auto/rickshaw, just ask the whereabouts from the locals around for them to guide you with the direction. We found a bunch of kids who walked us through. The house is a two-story building which is in process to convert into a museum. The room you will enter first displays the old and rare photos of the time and life of second Prime Minister of the Independent India. Adjacent to it is an alley-cum-veranda that leads you to the well maintained rooms of the actual house. The rooms look just the way they would have been in old times. The stairs takes you to the first floor. Similar experience, clay colored painted walls and the floor will make you touch them to get the real feel.

5. Man Singh Ki Vedshala
(the backside of the Observatory, a photo shot from the boat)
An observatory located near Dashashmedha Ghat and Man Mandir Ghat is more like a Museum where you can learn everything about the river Ganga and it's history. The observatory is basically an addition to the Man Mahal by the then king Sawai Jai Singh II [son of King Man Singh, and a great astronomer] who used this observatory to study astronomy and planetary positions to calculate time and prepare calendar. The whole place is a visual treat with its intricate masonry and carved, painted windows and walls. While the first floor is a museum along with some locked rooms which earlier would have been a part of the palace, the terrace serves as the observatory with huge stone-made instruments and a breathtaking view of river Ganga.

(Intricately carved windows of observatory museum ahead which Flows the Ganga)
(view atop the observatory)

6. The Boat Ride
Take a boat ride along the banks of Ganga or just cross the river and go to the opposite side for a beach fun. Best time to go for it is either early morning or late evening. I enjoyed the boat ride from Dashashmedha Ghat and Man Mandir Ghat that are next to each other.

5. What to Eat and Where

The Usual Breakfast

The city offers quite a many options, Chooda Matar (different version of Poha), Ghughri-Jalebi (Ghugri is prepared with spiced black gram/peas), Kachori SabjiAloo-poori, and usual south Indian breakfasts. Pick first three for an authentic flavor that city provides. No specific place, look out for a slightly hygienic roadside stall (difficult to locate) or head to Dina Chaat Bhandar or Kashi Chat Bhandar. Rating: Great.

(Tamaatar Chaat/Dina Chat Bhandar)

Tamaatar chaat
A kind of chaat that you might have never heard of or had before. Made of tomatoes and mashed potatoes it's served with tiny namak pare (salty flour crispies) in kulhads (terracotta cup). Enjoy it at it best taste at Dina Chaat Bhandar or Kashi Chaat Bhandar. Rating 5/5

Laung Lata
One just can't get away without trying it out. A sweet patty dipped in sugar syrup, stuffed with mawa, dry fruits, and a generous taste of grounded cloves. A sweet so delicious with a different taste. Recommendation: Do not try any famous sweet shop as those big shops won't justify its taste. Better find decent local street market sweetmeat shops to savor the pleasure. Apologies, I was so lost in the taste that I completely forgot to click its photo! Rating: 5/5

(Banarasi Thandai | Rabadi Lassi | Masala Lemon Tea)

Lemon tea
Do not miss to taste it once. You won't have to visit a shop for it. Just go to any Ghat and you will find tea-sellers roaming around, especially during early mornings and late evenings. A hot beverage slightly colored with tea and infused with lemon, black pepper, cloves and a few spices it is super tasty.  Though some of the people might not build a taste for it. Rating 5/5

There is no definite place to enjoy a glass of it. Out of too many flavors go for Banarasi Thandai. You need to tell them to avoid or add Bhang. A dollop of cream would be on it without a miss. Rating-4/4

I found the thickest lassi of my life at a shop near Lal Bahadur Shastri's Niwas. Amazing taste, thicker, high on calories, served with dollops of cream and Rabri on the top, even if you take the smaller glass you'll face trouble finishing it off. Rating-4.5/5.

Well, that's about it. There are many such places known-unknown i.e. Anand Park near Durga kund and a nearby Golgapppe vala. Lesser known sweetmeat shops when the Ksheer Sagar franchise is everywhere. It is always a great experience to explore the holy city for something new every time. My next trip to Varanasi would be to explore the darker side of the city such as, the mysteries behind Aghoris, mysterious ghats like Mani karnika and harishchandra ghat, and lot more.

Till the time, hoping to come up with a few more travel blogs anytime sooner. Till then enjoy and let me know your thoughts on this one.

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