By Hiralba Sarvaiya
“Travel makes you speechless and then transforms you into a storyteller.” Ibn batuta
I feel travel has two components. One is the seeing part which can be well described through photographs, describing the Itineraries, major attractions of the place etc. The second one is “the feeling” part- which is what you feel deep inside as you witness the the places. Both the parts do not exist in isolation. However it is very difficult to accord words to “the feeling” aspect of travel –an experience which is deep and intense. That part where Ibn Batuta mentions about being speechless.
For me travel has always been more of a healer in more ways than one. Seeing someone else’s world from a distance suddenly helps in rationalizing my own.
I visited Varanasi recently with a twin motive of meeting a friend and getting away from my world for a while. The beauty about Varanasi is that one is never a mere spectator. You are always a part of the frame.
As I write this article and ask myself, what was I the most touched with or which was my favorite place in Banaras. The answer is -the Ghats . Sitting on the steps of the Ghats, basking in the morning sunshine or gradually seeping in the Acoustics of the evening Aartis, staring at the Ganga river, watching colorful boats carrying hordes of tourists pass by and slowly taking a dip in the spirit of the place.
I stayed at the Stops hostel. This was a first hostel experience in India with regard to travel. And it served just well all the items on my checklist of affordability, ambience, hygiene and proximity from the Ghats. Staying in a hostel has its own perks, you meet fellow travelers from across the globe. This concept of staying in hostels is gaining currency in India as Indians are gradually looking towards being more of a traveler rather than a tourist.
It’s a pleasant experience walking along the Ghats, navigating the sudden crest and trough of the steps. For a moment the Ghats looks similar, but each has its own story of origin and if you intently observe the architecture is very different too.
Seeing the Ghats from the boat is a visual treat. The otherwise smaller structures at the ghats unite to form a beautiful landscape.
Walking parallel to the road along the Ghats, are the small alleys leading one to the world of handicrafts, silk scarves, and the traditional tourist stuff. Also one can spot bohemian cafes offering French, Italian cuisines too.
The tourists rush to the Dashawamedh Ghats for the evening Aarti , But just take a stroll around the ghats and you can see some smaller Aartis being performed which give a more peaceful and serene feel to the place.
At the Manikarnika ghats and Harishachandra Ghats, time stops for a while. Death is an everyday affair to be dealt with .The cremations continue day and night metaphorically indicating the cycle of life and death which continues throughout. My mom says that a witnessing a cremation makes one more humble as it reminds us that we will be one with the earth and everything will end here itself. Couldn’t agree more with her standing at the Harishchandra Ghats.
A place is not only the landscape but a place is also conversations. I had a few of the best conversations about the history of Benares in terms of the Ghats, temples, music with a friend and the founder of Espirito Kashi and the friend from berlin who was the major reason I was in Banaras. Espirito Kashi provides with heritage walks in the city loaded with facts, myths and beautiful stories woven around each place in Kashi.
One of the place named “Mukti Bhavan “that surfaced from the conversations triggered my interest. It is a lodge wherein people check in but do not check out. People come to this lodge with the sole intention to die. It is believed that death in Benaras leads to the attainment of moksha. After checking in, the person is reduced from a name to a number. The individual is allowed to stay for a duration of 2 weeks, if he/she does not die within that duration, they are asked to vacate. This put me into a deep zone of reflection about what it is to come to terms with renouncing from the world on one’s own.
Another interesting place is the South Point Café which is very near to Banaras Hindu University. Its run by a nonprofit and it’s a perfect place for an evening chai and snacks as you ponder over the city. I liked the quietness, the dim lightings and the ambience of the place. A refuge from the hustle-bustle of the city.
At the end of my three day stay in Kashi, I resolved to visit it again at some point in life. Travelling is a very transformative experience and the trip to Kashi – the city of surrendering indeed made me realize how surrendering is a part of growing into oneself. is.