Varanasi Tales - Seeking Peace In The Chaos

6:52 PM Naina Madan 2 Comments

It is quite an irony that one goes to Varanasi or Banaras to look for peace when the city is anything but that.

The narrow bylanes, the busy ghats, the quest to find an original Banarasi saree, the coexistence of chaat and cafes, the boat ride on a calm Ganges early morning and most importantly, the celebration of life and death, everything that Varanasi is, it is anything but calm and yet, there is an odd sense of belonging that one feels there amidst it all.

A typical day for a visitor starts well before the dawn breaks. As you wade your way through the city roads and streets to reach the ghat to board a boat, you look around. Even in deep sleep, the city has a distinct vibe.

There are newspaper vendors sorting the stacks on the corner of the streets, there are chai stalls setting up their shops to feed the city, there are a couple of autos and taxis crossing you by, with more tourists who have just arrived in the city and then there are cows and dogs to keep you company on the walk to the boat.

Through the day, there are crowded markets like Thatheri Bazar, Godoulia, Chowk and Dashashwamedh Gali with shops of Banarasi sarees,old and popular sweet shops, the quintessential lassi and Banarasi paan stalls, fancy cafes and temples.

Once inside these bazaars, you will hardly be alone. There is not a moment of silence and yet you find quietude by soaking your eyes to this treat of colors and smells unfolding in front of you on every bend of the road.

The evening Ganga aarti brings with it another color of the city. For the first-time visitor, you must take a good (preferably front) seat in one of the many boats parked on the banks of the river to see this grand spectacle. In perfectly synchronized movements by the seven priests, the aarti is nothing short of a theatrical performance witnessed by a sea of crowd.

There will be hymns, the music, the chants, the flash of many cameras and you will find your own sweet spot, your comfort zone when you will be a part of that whole scene, that performance like a protagonist and yet, you will view it from afar and alone.

And the biggest, most striking contrast in the city fabric is that life and death coexist in a harmony. On your way to the ghats, or through the narrow lanes, or while on the the boat in the Ganga, you cannot miss the dead bodies being carried towards the Manikarna Ghat, also known as the burning ghat. For that moment you cannot help but take notice of how this city has the start and an end to the life and all that exists between. That feeling leaves you humbled.

Amidst all its chaos and madness, new and old, traditions and modernity, ghats and bazaars, there is no denying Varanasi will give you your ‘aha’ moment.

Been there? What was your moment?


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