The Ghats of Varanasi

“Sorry, Madam. You won’t be able to walk along the ghats of Varanasi. It was raining till yesterday and the walking path is under the Ganga waters. It will take about 2-3 weeks for the water levels to go down and for the silt to settle. Then the ghats and the path will be cleaned and only then will you be able to walk along the ghats,” the hotel manager said apologetically. Seeing the crest-fallen look on my face, he hastened to add, “But you can always see the ghats by boat, Madam. You will get a better view anyway.”

I had come to Varanasi with only two pre-decided activities—the Ganga Aarti and a walk along the ghats. And now, with the rain playing spoilsport, I wasn’t going to give the opportunity to experience life on the ghats of Varanasi; I only modified the mode.

There are reportedly 84 ghats in Varanasi, though some estimates put it at 100. Two of the ghats are cremation ghats, while the others are bathing ghats. Since my hotel was located somewhere in the centre of these 84 (or 100) ghats, I saw the Southern side ghats on Dussera day on my way to Ramnagar Fort, and the ghats on the Northern side the next day.

A panoramic view of the ghats of Varanasi

The ghats come in all shapes and sizes, as well as state of repair or disrepair. But one thing that is common to all is that each one is interesting either mythologically or architecturally or historically. See for yourself, a sampling of the different ghats, presented in the direction of the Ganga’s flow that is, from South to the North.

The Tulsi Ghat is where the poet-saint Tulsidas is reported to have written the Ramcharitmanas
Prabhu Ghat, one of the cleaner ghats in Varanasi
Harishchandra Ghat. Named after the mythological king Harishchandra, who is supposed to have tended to the funeral pyres here
Kedar Ghat is one of the more important ghats in Varanasi and has been even recorded in inscriptions dating back to 500 CE
Buffaloes lazing in the waters at Narada Ghat. Just look at the accumulation of mud and silt on the steps
Pink coloured water tanks at the Rajendra Prasad Ghat
The Manmandir Ghat has one of the most beautiful buildings I saw in Varanasi,  with ornately carved windows and jharokhas
Receiving blessings from a Swamiji at Lalita Ghat
Manikarnika Ghat. Funeral pyres have been lit here without a break for the last 5000 years, or so the story goes
The leaning temple of Varanasi at Bajirao Peshwa Ghat
A family conducting a shraddha ceremony at Scindia Ghat
Mosque built by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb at the Venimadhav Ghat
Morning Ganga Aarti at the Panchganga Ghat
Clothes being washed and laid out to dry
Picture of calm. A “houseboat” moored at a ghat
Nandeshwar Ghat

Hindus consider the Ganga to be the holiest of all the rivers in India and Varanasi the holiest of all cities. The reason is that at Varanasi the Ganga is uttarabhimukhi, i.e. it flows from South to North, as against the usual West to East, or North to South, or the less common East to West. Bathing in the Ganga in Varanasi is considered to wash away one’s sins, and for this is where the ghats, which literally means steps, are pretty useful.

The boat rides were fun and some of the scenes will remain imprinted in my memory for ever: the beautiful aarti at the Panchganga Ghat; the jharokhas of the building at Manmandir Ghat; the vivid colours of some of the buildings at the ghats, the burning ghats, the different names of the ghats, etc. Not only are the views of the ghats from the river side stunning, but the slow, rocking movement of the boat was oh-so-relaxing. Rajkumar, the boatman who took me on the tour of the Northern ghats of Varanasi, sang some beautiful, haunting melodies for me, songs he had learnt from his father, who (in turn) had learnt it from his father, and so on. On both days, the boatmen played guides and told me stories, legends and some absolutely outrageous (and libelous) stories about modern-day Varanasi politics and communal tension.

The ghats of Varanasi is truly a place where mythology, history and present day realities converge and is an experience that is not to be missed. Do take that walk along the ghats, but do also take a boat ride. It gives a very different perspective. 🙂

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

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22 thoughts on “The Ghats of Varanasi

  1. आपने उस समय यहाँ का भ्रमण किया जन पानी पूरे उफ़ान पर था ये तिरछे वाला मंदिर भी आधा डूबा हुआ था।

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    1. I arrived in Varanasi on the day before Dussera and it had been raining quite heavily till a day or two before. Boat services had just resumed and I should consider myself lucky that I was able to see what I did. 🙂

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  2. I am amazed by your stories wow 100 ghats & you visited them all.You are a TRAVELLER and you take us along in your journeys.The ghat pictures are so descriptive .Had a lovely trip of Varanasi.

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    1. Welcome here and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Varanasi is a must visit place and in spite of all the dust and the dirt and the garbage, it’s magical

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  3. lovely post! the ganga would have been a sight during the rains, right? we were there in may, so the water level was quite low, and we walked a lot along the ghats… the boat rides are def the best part of the city!

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    1. The water level was quite high and the boatman said that the water level had to go down by at least 10-12 feet before the walking path became visible. I was only able to walk from Chausatthi Ghat to the Dashashwamedh Ghat nearby, and that was tricky because of the silt. The boat ride was awesomeness personified and orth every rupee I paid. 🙂

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