I’m writing this while in the train. The next work stop is actually Chandigarh, but am going to Amritsar to meet mom for a day, so yay!

Anyway, Banaras. The flight to the place made me think I was directly going to land, and be taken to the ghats for my final rites. It was crazy, the turbulence! The foreigner couple in front of me were hardly amused. Without exaggeration, I felt like I was on a BEST bus, swaying from left to right, the coffee spilling on the table, and the plane vibrating like anything. I’d almost started repenting having turned agnostic 😛

Of all the places I’ve been so far, probably the most unique one. It’s a funny city. Like everything from the roads, to the cars, seem like they have not changed since the British left us. You have many almost irrelevant old temples, tombs of the Mughal era, and buildings that seem like they’ll come crumbling down if you as much as touched them with a finger.

The city is a manifestation of everything ‘India’ for foreigners! From snake charmers, to weird sadhus, from long haired saints to religious fanaticism, from broken roads and infrastructure, to good food, from madness, to historical importance, from the Ganga to dirt and grime. They’ll find the India they’ve heard about here, oh yes!

My first coupla days here were quite average, except for one day when for lunch I had this local specialty called ‘sattu ka paratha’. Quite delicious. The ‘sattu’ in the paratha is ground chana, and is served with a side-dish of, what seemed to me like, the bhaji of pav-bhaji with brinjal in it.

Anyway, finally the Sunday of my budday came! I was absolutely alone on that day. The first time that had happened. I decided to go sightseeing, and enjoy the day alone. But before that, I had to tuck in a good breakfast. The hotel food was quite lousy and I wanted something good, so I headed to *high voice* The Taj for breakfast! Ohh what a spread it was. I’d gambled on there being a nice buffet spread, and it was fantastic. From aloo sabji and freshly ‘served at your table’ kachori, to uttapams, to porridge, rice balls, baked tomatoes, and hash brown potatoes, to the baked beans, and the juices. It was awesome! I’d to do complete justice to it. I didn’t want to overeat and ruin it, and undereating would’ve been an insult to the spread. So maintaining a fine balance, I had what was the best breakfast I’d had in a long time! Finished it with a fantastic cup of cappuccino. Made just perfect. Amen.

After the awesome breakfast, I headed to Sarnath. The place Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon to five disciples. A huge stupa has been built to commemorate the place he gave the sermon. There’s also the birth place of the 11th Jain guru, Shri Shreyansnath ji right there. It was a very peaceful place. Nothing hurried up about it. A few nice statues, and the stupa.

Right next to this park, where there is the stupa and the statues, is an Archaeological museum, which among other artifacts, also displays the Ashoka Chakra. The four headed lion that is on the back of every coin. I decided to check that out too. Was slightly disappointed in the chakra, for it has not been maintained well, and is heavily chipped, one of the heads almost gone. It also has a lot of stone carvings of the Buddha times, which are on display.

Moving on, I thought, since I was in the land of temples, I might do what I’ve not done for a few months, or years now. Visit temples. So I started with the Vishwanath temple at the Banaras Hindu University. Simple temple. Well maintained. Didn’t take me too long there. On my way I also saw this temple that was unabashedly claiming to be a black magic temple. Freaky stuff! I then decided to visit the Kashi Vishwanath temple. On my way there, I saw this huge crowd at a theatre. People jumping on top of each other to grab tickets for the latest blockbuster, Prem ka rog bhayil. Also on the way, I saw a lot of ‘kavadiyas’, Shiv ji bhakts who walk down all the way from Amarnath to Banaras, or their village, barefeet, carrying gangajal in matkas in their kavads. They basically wear orange, and had therefore made Banaras a sea of orange.

The Kashi Vishwanath temple is everything a commercial hindu temple stands for. The kind that makes you hate religion. The moment we reached, this fellow in a sadhus attire came and greeted us as if we were long lost pals of some previous birth. He started to show us around the place. I told him that we’d (the driver and me) manage on our own, but he wouldn’t leave us only. Then after we bought the prashad, just while entering the temple premise, this other fellow keeps some other food to be offered to the gods saying ‘Yeh tumhare mata-pita ki lambi umar ke liye hai’. I said mujhe nahi chahiye. He was like ‘Ajeeb bete ho tum’. I said hoon. He refused to take it from the plate only. I stoutly refused to budge till he took it off. I mean how on earth can you blackmail someone on emotion like that. A temple is a sacred place man. Where you supposedly go for peace of mind. Not to be surrounded by blackmailers.

Inside this guy continues showing us, telling us to recite some mantra or the other at every temple. In one particular temple, in the middle of the mantra only, he made me say that for this prayer, I pledge Rs. 201 to the priest, and then demanded Rs. 201, saying I’d pledged it in the name of my moms suhaag I was mighty bemused. Nothing doing, I said, and left the place.

After all the temples were done, this ‘maharaj’ gave me his blessings, and demanded Rs. 501 as offerings. Ya right, I said. I was so pissed by then, he was not getting anything. I mean you can’t extort in the name of religion yaar. That’s just plain ridiculous. Anyone who comes to a temple comes with his own set of beliefs, thoughts, wishes, and they can’t be exploited like this. I was just wondering that if, being an Indian, I could be almost fooled this way, how easily a foreigner could be hoodwinked of a few hundred dollars.

Anyway, after this I went to the aarti at the Ganga. Oh what a spectacle it is. Just amazing. Seven priests offering their prayers simultaneously to the river. It’s a beautiful sight, and was a delightful contrast to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. All seven doing the aarti simultaneously, with dhols and manjiras in the background. It’s an hour long spectacle. Absolutely worth it! I was mesmerized.

That was it for that day atleast. I headed back to the hotel, and retired for the night.

The next coupla days were just work. The senior had joined me by then, so one day we again went to the Taj for breakfast, and had dinner that night at the Radisson. How cool that sounded. Breakfast at the Taj, dinner at the Radisson :p But these hotels aren’t that expensive there, actually. Infact at Radisson, the food was almost as expensive as the hotel we were staying.

On our final day, we decided to go to see the sunrise at the Ganga. So we woke up at 5! And headed there. Hired a boat that’d take us around the Ganga. We were joined by this foreigner couple who were told that they’d have the boat all to themselves, by the boat owner. So they were quite irritated. Not exactly at our presence, but at having been cheated. They were like nothing against you guys, but he assured us that, and we’re paying him for that. Justified, actually.

The boat ride is where I saw the weird sadhus and long haired saints. There was this really scary ‘Aghori baba’ who was offering some sort of an aarti dressed like Shiv Ji. I merrily clicked photos and moved on. Later on, a colleague asks me, “I heard you saw an aghori baba” I was like Yeah, so? He tells me real life ‘aghori babas’ are those babas who pray and play with skulls, offer sacrifices to gods, and copulate with corpses. I went back and saw the picture (link given aage) and could distinctly make out two skulls in the photograph. My head was spinning when I saw that, more out of repulse. Bloody scary stuff!

Anyway, among the many ghats of the ganga, I also saw a Babua Pandey ghat 😀 When we got off, we had these snake charmers there, who were playing their beens, and the snake dancing on its tunes. Again, stuff I’m not used to.

That was as much for Banaras. Quite a nice experience actually, or maybe some bits were not 😛 But the place, and even the depot had very nice food. And having given up on the diet long ago, I’m sure I’ve put on a good amount of weight.

Next to Chandigarh, and then I plonk myself in Delhi for a month. So maybe I’ll get to see all in Delhi I didn’t get to see.

Oh and I didn’t get a chance to go shopping, so no Banarasi Saris for mom (who doesnt wear, and I didn’t try Banarasi pan either. Sad, I say : (

Oh and am also attaching collages. So enjoy! Toodles : )


2 comments so far

  1. Spruhal on

    Looooong post… read the whole of it – I’m so bored in life. With regard to the temple thing – Thats why I dont go to temples!!!

  2. Roxanne on

    Writing articles is tedious.I know where you can get unlimited content for your
    website, type in google:
    Anightund’s rewriter

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