By Rachael Ann Thomas-Jeremiah
Imagine being in one of the world’s oldest cities and not knowing where to begin!
That may very well be your reality if you don’t find out about Varanasi’s history before visiting it! Varanasi also called Kashi or Benares is one of India’s and world’s oldest cities and with it comes a lot of history, religiousness and a lot of culture.
As with all travel options, for any tourist it is important that you ensure that where you stay is comfortable, easily accessible and is near to eating places you will be happy to dine in. Also there should be easy access to bottled water.
One of the first things it is advised to do when you visit Varanasi is to visit the temple of Lord Kaal Bhairav and to get His permission to stay there and to seek His blessings. This is because Lord Kaal Bhairav is known as the gatekeeper of Varanasi. Once you have visited Him and you have sought His blessings it is said that you will have the protection and blessings of Lord Kaal Bhairav. In like manner before you leave Varanasi it is highly advised that you visit Lord Kaal Bhairav once again to ask His permission to visit Varanasi again.
What else you should do? This is a question many may ask and the important thing to remember is that Varanasi has a wonderful infusion of Nepalese and Tibetan history.
A quick Google search may be of significant help so be sure to find out what’s available. Be prepared to also explore the footpaths and narrow streets as you can be sure to stumble upon some very historic relics and places. If you can, be sure to access a copy of Sri Kashi Khanda, a publication released by His Holiness Param Pujya Dr Sri Sri Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji, Pontiff of Avadhoota Datta Peetham on the occasion of the inauguration of the Varanasi Ashrama Datta Peetham Branch.
A great place to start is Shivala Ghat where you can get a good view of the Chet Singh Palace. Deemed as one of the cleanest Ghats in Varanasi it is also one of the less populated Ghats there.
Photo 1 A view of Shivala Ghat at Sunrise with a view of the Chet Singh Palace
You also will not want to miss the lighting of the lamps at the Dashashwamedh Ghat. This is ceremoniously done every evening at dusk at the time of evening Aarti which marks the commencement of Sandhya hour for Hindus. Similarly you should seize the opportunity to enjoy a boat ride along the Ganges where you can view the Ghats and the beauty of Varanasi while on the water. It is one that is not just beautiful but it allows you to see the ancient city in its true glory.
You may also be able to buy diyas (earthen lamps) that can be placed on the steps of the Chat as an offering to Mother Ganga. If you are planning on placing the diya to float on the water then be sure that it is one that is environmentally friendly and you can use a coconut shell or paan leaf to place it on the water.
From the boat out in the waters you will be able to see the Manikarnika Ghat and the Ratneshwar Mahadeva Mandir which is sinking. While there you may also want to visit the Manikarnika Kund and the Dattatreya Paduka Mandir.
From there too you will be able to see the yellow steps which lead up to the Sri Gauri KedareshwaraTemple. Though it means climbing a narrow flight of stairs rest assured that the climb will be well worth it. An opportunity to see the Lingam here is also seen as quite a blessing.
Photo 2 An evening view of the Ganges with boats waiting to take persons for boat rides
With the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in close proximity seeing the Lingam here is a definite must do for you. Be mindful that you cannot enter with mobile phones and purses or large bags or footwear so you must be prepared to leave your belongings in lockers for a small fee. The alternative is that you should not take your personal items inclusive of your phones with you and leave few items in lockers. Traverse the pathways leading to the temple amid the crowds that visit daily to see the Jyotir Lingam and be prepared for routine security checks along the way. Enjoy the opportunity too to visit all the small temples along the way and to take in the historic architecture of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
You should also take the opportunity to visit the Sri Kashi Vishalakshi Devi Temple. It is located within walking distance of the Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple and is certainly is a must see. Regarded as one of the most sacred temples of the Divine Mother, Vishalakshi Devi is the consort of Lord Vishwanath. Her temple is regarded as a Shakti Pitha and is one of the eighteen (18) Shakti Pithas.
Not too far away in Lalitha Ghat you will be able to find the Shri Samrajeshwar Pashupatinath Mahadev Mandir which is also known as the Nepali Mandir. While its architecture is in strong contrast to that of other temples in Varanasi, it is one of the most famous spots to visit there and also holds deep religious significance.
Just about 30 minutes away in Sarnath you can be sure to find the Tibetan Temple where Buddha was said to have given His first teaching. It addition to its rich architecture you will be able to find a huge photo to the Dalai Lama.
Varanasi is named after two rivers- Varuna and Assi, which meet here. Legend has it that the city of Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva more than 5000 years ago. The city has been a part of Hindu mythology having been referred to in Ramayana and Mahabharata as well, and later during the time of Gautam Buddha as the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi.
One thing is for sure, to know and understand what Varanasi is, you have got to spend a couple of months to actually feel it’s pulse and to experience it’s mystical aura.
Having visited all of these places you would have seen quite a number of Varanasi’s famed sites. Be sure to visit the Lord Kaal Bhairav temple before leaving Varanasi and use the opportunity to not just ask for permission to visit again, but also to say thank you.