Last Updated on 14 August 2023 by Poorna & Brinda
We wrote about our first morning in Varanasi and its chaotic beginning in Varanasi Wanderings 1 – Lost in transition.
We get down from the auto rickshaw at Chowraha or the round about. Not because we loved to walk but the auto-rickshaws were not allowed in the road leading to Dashashwamedha Ghat. Here was another display of chaotic traffic of Varanasi. Intensity and chaos, these two words personify Varanasi. There is chaotic traffic but no traffic lights! This is the unbelievable logic of this city. There were all types of vehicles and cattle jostling for space. The street leading to the ghat is taken over by hawkers on either side. Pavements are never heard of in these towns. The people were elbowing to move ahead in single file.
We seem to be getting used to the chaos and dust in the city. The initial chagrin at the state of the affairs in the city was slowly giving way to acceptance and we started looking at the whole place through different perspective. Here were people from all walks of life and from all over the country with only aim of worshipping the river. To take a holy dip in the river. To seek blessings of Lord Shiva, the presiding deity of Varanasi and other pantheon of gods and goddesses. There were people who had come to Varanasi with the sole purpose of dying here as death in Varanasi leads you to attainment of Moksha. There were others who had brought the holy ashes of their dear ones who had died for immersion in the river. The microcosm of people stuns you. Their energy is unbelievable. That is what makes this city which never sleep full of energy and life.
Yes. This is Kashi. The holiest of the places for Hindus.
After few meters of walk through the crowded street, Mukesh lead us into a small gully which is good enough for three people to move together alongside. Kashi comes alive in these gullies or the alleyways. We had read about the maze of alleys in the walled parts of Varanasi or Kashi as this area is known as. One of the amazing things about Varanasi is that it has so many nooks, crannies, and narrow gullies that you could spend weeks exploring the city and still not see half of it. These gullies are part of what make Varanasi famous. Flanked by houses of all shapes and sizes, some in decay some well taken care of, it is maze and one can get lost easily here. One gully leads to another and we follow Mukesh very closely so that we won’t get lost.
It is a lively scene out there where you can see all kinds of hawkers selling Pooja material, knick-knacks, small restaurants, kirana shops, sweet stalls, utensil stalls, fabric stores etc. You can get anything here. It looks like a whole world in itself. These gullies are so narrow that only one two wheeler or a bicycle can enter them.These are the life lines of the city. You have anything and everything in these alleys. It is a world in itself. A first timers is likely to get lost in this. In all possibility you will never be able to come out at the same place you entered!
We enter the narrow street leading to Vishwanatha temple known as Vishwanatha gully. We are greeted with fascinating array of signages.
Our first stop is at the Vishwanatha Temple. A narrow lane leads to it. Mukesh brings us to shop known to him and a young boy is assigned to us to take us inside the temple. After explosions in 2006, the security in the the temple has increased manifold. There are different levels of checking and mobile phones are not allowed inside. It is better to leave it in place where you can also buy some puja items. We get frisked by the police and go to the flower vendor to pick up a basket containing flowers, banana, a pot of milk and some peda for offering to the lord. We are not prepared for what was in store inside the temple!
There is not much of rush and there is no special darshan like in other places. We stand in the queue and expect to have darshan in next 30 minutes. The queue moves slowly. This is not a big temple and shares its compound with Gyan Vapi mosque built by Aurangzeb. As we enter we notice hordes of monkeys – big & small – roaming around the temple freely snatching away the fruits and Prasad from the baskets carried by pilgrims. These monkeys are absolutely arrogant and are not sparing anyone carrying the Pooja basket. Brinda, who is carrying basket is scared and hands it over to Ram Sharan the boy accompanying us. Ram Sharan covers the basket with his hand trying to protect it from these monkeys. That won’t last for a long time. A big monkey suddenly jumps from the roof, snatches away the fruits and the peda from him. In the bargain, he suffers small bruises as well. Fortunately the flowers and milk pot is still intact.
We near the main idol – A small linga – and perform milk abhisheka. Seeing us, the Pandit sitting and facilitating the Pooja sign us to come closer, touch the idol and perform puja. We do as he says and promptly pays a Dakshina of Rs 100. He is visibly happy!! We come out of the temple and return to the shop where we had left our camera. Mukesh asks us if we are game for a cup of chai? We nod our heads. Opposite the shop is a chai shop. Freshly brewed chai in kullad is welcome. We drink one cup, like it and order one more.
Chai done and we now move towards Dasashwamedha Ghat for our sunset cruise and Ganga Aarthi. We still have time for the start of cruise and want use it to explore the gullies. We ask Mukesh to take us to – Kachori Gully, Blu Lassi bar and Rajbandhu halwai as we have time. Kachori gully is next to Vishwanatha Galli and very soon we are in front to Raj Bandhu, the well known halwai. He is preparing hot samosas and kachoris which we cannot resist. We savour kachoris and samosas and then the special peda. As we are eating our kachoris, we hear the words “Ram naam satya hi”. We look out and a dead body is being carried by a group to Mani Karnika ghat. Life goes on as usual in these lanes…..
Our next stop is Blue Lassi shop. Kashi has many Lassi shops and Blue Lassi is one of the popular places. We can see a bunch of backpackers sitting inside and enjoying the Lassi – thanks to mention in a Lonely planet. The Lassi is made by hand and the man making it – the third generation of the family – takes pride in doing his job. He goes on churning fresh curds and makes glass after glass. The Lassi is possibly one the best we have drank. He garnishes Lassi with dry fruits and it is heavenly. Poorna asks him how many glasses he prepares every day. He says may be around 700-800. He asks him whether his hands do not pain doing all the churning. He says he is used to it now. The shop prepares its own curds for Lassi and does not buy from outside.
Full with Kachori, Samosas, Peda, and Lassi we explore the life in these gullies for some more time and walk towards Dashashwamedha ghat. This is the main ghat of Varanasi. Increase in water level has submerged the steps of the ghat making it narrower. Crowds are already gathering to witness Ganga Aarthi likely to start at 7 PM.
Mukesh signs the boat man who is ready to take us for a sun set ride. We are all excited.
a) Make time to go explore these streets.
b) Take your camera, bottled water and good sturdy shoes and get lost wandering… You will come to enjoy this unexpected and very interesting city.
c) These gullies are photographers paradise. Just go on clicking!
d) These streets are not clean. You will find dirt and filth. The smells. Don’t worry about it. You will come over it looking at the energy of life here.
e) These gullies are cleaned every night. If you want to walk on clean streets, do it first thing in the morning. We did it. That will be for future posts in this series.
Chai – Spicy Indian tea
Lassi – Sweet yoghurt
Aarti – Hindu ritual religious ritual of worship, in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more deities
Ghat – Bathing area on river bank
Kullad – Clay tea cup
Puja – Hindu rituals
Kirana shop – Neighbourhood grocery shop
Kachori, Samosa, Peda – Indian snacks
Abhisheka – A hindu ritual of worship
Dakshina – Tip
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