“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.
Every tourist guide-book (national or international) worth its sales, as well as articles or blog posts on this Varanasi, online discussion fora, and word-of-mouth recommendations mention the Ganga Aarti at the Dashashwamedh Ghat as THE thing to do in the city. I had read and heard so much about the Ganga Aarti that it was on my list of “must do things in life”. So when my Varanasi plans got finalised, it was quite natural that everything revolved around seeing the Ganga Aarti.
On my very first evening in Varanasi, I saw the Ganga Aarti from my hotel room. Well, technically, I did not exactly see the aarti; rather, I witnessed the people participating in the aarti and saw the whole area lit up with a beautiful golden glow from the lamps.
Just a little more, I tell myself as I follow the hotel attendant up steep stairs to my hotel room.
I am in Varanasi after what seems like a long, long day. A day that began with an early morning flight to Delhi getting delayed, leading to my almost missing the connecting flight to Varanasi. And then there was this ride from Varanasi airport through the most crowded roads I have been through in recent times. All this was enough to stress me out on the very first day of a holiday that I had started planning in May this year.
When the hotel attendant opens the door to my room, I can’t believe my eyes. The view is exactly as the hotel website claims it would be: an uninterrupted view of the river Ganga or the Ganges or Ganga ji as the locals call it. All my tiredness and irritation vanishes in an instant as I sit down on the chair in the balcony and let Ganga ji take over.