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Glory of Varanasi


Sarvesh

Mona Dureja

Miles of stepped ghats, a holy dip in the Ganges, religious ceremonies, numerous temples and mosques, pilgrims and tourists from India and abroad -- all these and more make up the eternal city of Varanasi.

I discovered the town's true spirit during a memorable trip there. Popularly known as `mini India', Varanasi has been the converging point of all religions and cultures for centuries.

The city can be explored by boarding a tourist vehicle run by the State Transport Corporation. Similar tours which take you on a visit of the ghats, temples, the Banaras Hindu University, Sarnath and the Ramnagar fort are available with private travel ag encies and hotels. A guide can also be hired from the same sources.

The stepped ghats, along the banks of the Ganges, is the perfect place to start your exploration of Varanasi. The early morning boat ride alongside the ghats provides a glimpse of the morning rituals of the city. As the sun rises, the various ghats are t hronged by people who offer their prayers to Nature.

The older parts of the city are criss-crossed by narrow lanes and alleys, which are difficult to access by car. Varanasi can be best-discovered on foot. While hiring a cycle-rickshaw or an auto-rickshaw, the rent should be fixed before hand.

The city is dotted with temples of importance to Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. While visiting the temples, it is advisable not to wear jewellery and carry money. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most-famous temples here. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is the patron-deity of Varanasi and, is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas revered for their mystical powers. The temple was originally constructed by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar in 1776. Later, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had the dome gold-plated as a g oodwill gesture to the city.

There is a temple dedicated to Mother India, about one km from the railway station, which is called `Bharat Mata Temple'. A beautiful 3-dimensional relief map of India, etched out in marble, is the presiding deity here.

Varanasi is famous for the Banaras Hindu University, which is probably the largest residential university in Asia. Varanasi, being a centre for arts, culture and philosophy, attracts students from both India and abroad, especially from neighbouring count ries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and Japan. The new Vishwanath Temple built within the university-complex is dedicated to learning, with verses from the Gita inscribed on its walls.

The Bharat Kala Bhawan houses an interesting collection of archaeological artefacts. It was established in 1920 and Rabindranath Tagore was its first chairperson.

The Ramnagar Fort, on the banks of the Ganges, is about two km from Banaras Hindu University. The ruins of the palace of the former Banaras rulers can be found at Ramnagar. The festival of Dasara is still celebrated in its precincts with the same pomp an d glory.

Shopping in the bazaars of Banaras can be a very exciting experience, especially for the famous Banarasi sarees. Other interesting artefacts are also available. The city is also famous

for the `Banarasi Paan'.

The Banaras gharana style of music, light and classical, and dance are highly stylised and distinctive in character. So it is a good idea to enjoy a concert or two while visiting the town.

For the religious minded, a visit to Varanasi is incomplete without taking part in the Ganga aarti, which is held at sunset. The priests and the pious come together to chant shlokas and sing bhajans, while lighted diyas float down the river casting a mag ical spell on the spectators.

Fact file

How to get there:

By air: Babatpur, which is 22 km from Varanasi is the nearest airport. Indian Airlines has convenient flights to New Delhi, Mumbai, Bhubaneswar and Lucknow. Taxis are easily available from here.

By rail: Trains to New Delhi, Patna and Calcutta are available from the Varanasi cantonment station and Mughal Sarai station.

By road: Varanasi is well-connected by road. Uttar Pradesh Roadways plies a number of deluxe and ordinary coaches for the

convenience of pilgrims and tourists.

Where to stay: There is a host of deluxe, standard and budget accommodation available in Varanasi.

Some of the addresses are given below:

* Clarkes Varanasi (Deluxe), The Mall, Cantonment, Varanasi.

Ph: 348501 Fax: 348186.

* De Paris (Standard), 15, The Mall, Cantonment, Varanasi.

Ph: 346601-08, Fax: 348520.

* Tourist Bungalow (Uttar Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation), Parde Kothi, Near Cantonment Railway Station, Varanasi. Ph: 343413

Pic.: The stepped ghats of Varanasi

Picture by Sarvesh

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