Varanasi, a set on Flickr.I have always been proud to call Delhi my home. My love for the city, I believe, is what new-age folklore songs should be made of. However, as people who know me even a little will certify, I love to travel. The incessant need to be going to some place new, meeting people I have never met before, experiencing cultures I have never been introduced to earlier, are some of the main reasons why life and living appeal to me even in days when hope is lost and despair threatens to become my best friend.
I have been fortunate to visit a lot of places across India. Every place, I’d like to believe, has left an impact on me and made me a better person in some way or the other. I have no qualms over admitting that I get overwhelmed easily. Birds flying in the ‘V’ formation at twilight, lush green trees that line the roadsides, butterflies, or even the rustling of dry leaves under my feet can bring tears to my eyes. But my strongest reaction is to water—be it a lake, river, sea or ocean—I end up contributing my two drops by shedding a couple of tears or more.
Even before I left for Varanasi with my friends earlier this month, I was certain that I would cry uncontrollably and had warned them in advance lest they be alarmed in the middle of the river. Varanasi is not conventionally a destination that a trio of 27-28 year-olds choose as a getaway for an extended weekend. But when have we stuck to convention. Sangeeta had her heart set on buying her wedding sari from Benaras and her college friend Simrita and I, her colleague, bitching partner and shopping guru (Sangeeta dare you question this :P) took less than a second to jump at the proposal to accompany her to the holy city.
As is my wont, even before our train tickets were confirmed, I had troubled a lot of people on Twitter collecting information on what should be on our must-do list. My file, with the mail from Varun (@varungrover), our tickets and the train schedules was ready 3 days before we were to leave. Most of the people I told about our trip did not understand why we were going to another city to buy just a sari. As I understand, the trip was more than just to buy the sari. The idea is to make a celebration and an event out of every small and big thing that will lead to Sangeeta’s wedding. I think this is one of the main reasons why I like Sangeeta. She celebrates life to the maximum. A kindred soul.
The trip was everything I had imagined and more. I’m essentially against the practice of eating. I think chewing is an exercise and spending time on eating or thinking about eating is time thoroughly wasted. But surprise, surprise. We ate really amazing food. And I relished each and every bite. I have never been more excited about poori and kadu subzi in my life before. The jalebis were awesome, and even South Indian food—vada sambar and curd rice—tasted better in Varanasi. We had samosas and bhaaji at Banaras Hindu University and paan from Godhuliya. The chai and the khaari that we had at the roadside stall were akin to attaining nirvana. And trust me, I’m not exaggerating at all. The experience was truly divine.
Considering we were in the holiest of Hindu cities we did our share of temple visits. Each temple had a story to tell. The whole city is full of mythological anecdotes, historical events, delicious delicacies and fragrances that can transport you to heaven with every breath (and no, I’m not talking about bhaang, gaanja etc.). The temples were clean and crowded. A lot of people in Delhi had warned us that the city is very dirty but either we were wearing rose coloured glasses or the city had been cleaned just to welcome us because we really thought that it was very clean especially if one takes into account the number of people who come there everyday.
We visited Sarnath and just the thought that I was walking on the ground where the great emperor Ashoka had once walked excited me enough to repeat this several times to my friends. Fortunately, Sangeeta and Simrita are history experts and I had two very knowledgeable guides who managed to shut me up by talking about the history of the place and the facts that historians have deduced by studying the architectural ruins.
The highlight of the trip was the friendly nature of the people. Everyone we met liked to talk. They spoke volumes but the proverbial ‘mithaas’ in their voice managed to melt all of us. Be it the cab driver, the boatman, the autorickshaw driver, the shop keepers or the waiters that served us. Being a Gulzar fan I was thrilled to meet his doppelganger just weeks after meeting the real genius poet. Sangeeta bought her wedding sari from the shop called Rozy Silk and the shopkeeper was christened Gulzar Uncle within 5 minutes of stepping in his shop. I can speak for all of us when I say we have never had more fun shopping.
Pic courtsey: Sunaina Das
It was on Gulzar uncle’s suggestion that we decided to attend the world famous Ganga aarti on board a boat. I’m glad we met Gulzar Uncle and listened to what he said. The boat ride was the best decision we took. Words can do no justice for what we experienced in those 2-3 hours on the boat. The expanse of the river, the lights from the lamps, the sound of the holy chants and the aarti, the devotion of people in other boats, ensured that there was not a dry eye on our boat. It was the first time that I spoke to my mother from the middle of a river. She told me that I was the first one from the immediate family to have visited Kaashi. She also emphasised that being a Hindu, it was one of the most sacred places to be visited in a lifetime. Just after keeping the phone down I looked at the river and took a deep breath. It was a moment that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. I was going through a mix of emotions—I was happy to be experiencing it, I was missing loved ones, I was remembering people who were no longer living or were not in my life, I was mentally taking notes so as to describe the moment to the people who would come into my life later, I was thanking the almighty for saving my mother’s life, I was asking Him for more blessings—I was quiet while doing all of this. Only a continuous stream of tears adorned my face. I’m sure my friends appreciated this silence from my end. This was the longest I was silent throughout the 3-day long trip.
The trip was special because I started to like Sangeeta and her younger sister, Sunaina (Pinky), even more. I bonded really well with Simrita and hopefully have found a travelling partner in her. I felt grown-up (in a good way) checking out and settling the bill of the hotel. I bought my first Banarasi Sari. I enjoyed food after a long time. I loved interacting with the good, warm and down to earth people of Varanasi.
I cannot wait to go back again!