“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.
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.
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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- By the Ganga in Varanasi
- Dussera in Varanasi
- The Ganga Aarti in Varanasi
- Getting lost in the alleys of Varanasi