First Impressions of Varanasi: Part 1

Banaras or Kashi is every traveller’s dream. One of the oldest inhabited cities of the world where a river is revered to the extent that many seek death at its banks, where Shiva is ubiquitous and where Hindus and Muslims live in perfect harmony, each religion colouring the city in its unique grandeur.

It was my first visit to the city. There were food trails done, bazaars were thronged, temples were visited, the quintessential boat ride was done and the grand Ganga Aarti was witnessed.

Door were clicked too! (Obviously!) Full post on this coming soon.

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Here is Part one of my initial experiences in this Holy City.

1. Gallis and Chaos.

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The narrow lanes near Thateri galli

One word that describes my first encounter with a Banarasi market: Chaos.

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Gowdolia Chowk

Honking. Two wheelers almost killing you. If you survive, you battle with the rickshaws. Bravo! You’re alive. Almost. But not before the din wrecks your ears.  Standing in the epicentre of all the action, I gape at the ruthless two wheelers barging in and out of narrow gallis. In the background a calm ensues. At every nook, a paan Waala’s chunna stained fingers, dish out a Banarasi paan every minute. People savour their paan over conversations amidst all the din. Not too far away is piping, hot jalebi being made and kullad wali chai being served.

Just like paan, even Lord shiva is ubiquitous. Found at almost every bend is a shiv ling or a Shiva Graffiti, proof of the fact that Kashi Vishwanath is indeed the ruler and protector of this holy city.

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Shiva on the walls. Shiva at every bend.

Stand in the Chowk area and let the city wash itself upon you. A melange of incessant ringing of bells, the evening Azaan from the nearby mosque and bodies being carried to the cremation ghats. It’s a normal phenomena, treating death to be as routine a thing as sitting at the Chowk and drinking chai in a kullad.

The markets are abuzz with activity, selling anything and everything from mouth freshers to jewellery to local itars.

Glimpses from the Bazaars and Gallis:

The gallis are narrower than you can think and turn faster than you can imagine.

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There is no time to stand and stare as a two wheeler honks in your ears and you jump over piles of cow dung. Each galli looks just the same and unless you have a local with you, you will end up landing where you started.

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Do not forget to engage in a conversation with a Banarasi. Be it a policeman or a rickshaw wala, they absolutely love to talk and converse!

2. Ghats and activities.

man on ghat

So if you thought the ghats were only for poojas, Pandits, aghori sadhus and cremations, then you might consider rethinking. Ghats are buzzing activity grounds.

conversations on ghats

Home to the Banaras cricket league, which has its own interesting set of rules. (Throw the ball in the water and you’re out). Masseurs give demos of their massages by shaking your hands and easing your muscles and if you’re game they make you lie down and give you a body massage( men only!)

A stroll on the ghats and one can witness the essence of the city.

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Boatmen almost chasing tourists for boat rides, locals washing clothes, teenagers playing cricket, men in huddled discussing politics, some playing chess.


There are 84 ghats in Varanasi  (Named after kings and rulers ) and each has a unique story to it. Each has a distinct architecture and design.

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Bhonsale Ghat

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While witnessing these from the boat is a great option for photographers, people watching at the ghats can be a great option too.

3. Shimmering diyas and the evening Aarti.

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It’s 6.45 pm and crowds have started to pour in. Everyone wants a good spot to see the famed Ganga Arti at the Dashashwamedh ghat. Boatmen will offer VIP seats in their chair seater boats. While local priests will not let you sit on their wooden panels unless you pay 25rs per person. Young girls hover in and out of crowds selling diyas and flowers to devotees to float in the Ganga as an offering.

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7 priests dressed in finery walk up to the Arti spot and take their positions. At the sound of conches, the Ganga Aarti commences, as all these priests worship the revered river.

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The priests in unison.

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With shimmering lamps, conches, flowers, peacock feathers, and smoke blowing out of cauldrons.

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Drums, bells and the holy smoke leaves the hundreds of devotees in awe as they move in perfect unison. Completely in sync.

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Devotees sit wherever there is space. Even boats are completely packed. After about an hour, there is complete silence. While majority of the crowds leave as soon as the Arti ends, a few walk down the steps of the ghats to float shimmering diyas nestled in flowers. I watch hundreds of these bobbling up and down, little bundles of prayers floating away, their destination unknown.

P.S: I explored the Ghats and Gallis with Ayush from Roobaroo Walks. They do a fabulous job of conducting walking tours in Varanasi.

P.P.S : It isn’t over yet. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post for a rendezvous with various other aspects of this mystic city!


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The journey continues….


things to do in Varanasi

223 thoughts on “First Impressions of Varanasi: Part 1

  1. The pictures are fabulous. It looks like the entire place breathes of culture and living tradition. I would love to visit this place, feels as if one can easily spend a week there 🙂

  2. I’ve never been there, but my family recently went on a trip (along with a few other places). I would like to see Ganga Aarti and the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple some day. And, have Jalebis too 🙂

    Nice coverage of their culture!

  3. I have been to the city once but am waiting for my call again for a long time now, the city touches the soul in ways one can never imagine… only experience. What a wonderful coverage of the essence, both with pictures and words Divsi, you just increased my heart’s longing… can’t wait to take a dip in Varanasi’s magic again some day!

  4. My God! I have to get there at least once! The compositions and characters in them are so interesting!

  5. I’m glad to see you are enjoying the city. It is a polarizing place – people either love it or hate it. You do an excellent job of showing the city with your photos and words, but Varanasi is a place that really has to be experienced. There is no place quite like it. Looking forward to part II.

  6. Can I just say Wow !! These pictures are so good. I just love the way you explore every place and it’s culture. Right now I am experiencing Banaras through your pictures.

  7. Although I have been to India 9 times, I haven’t stepped foot in Varanasi yet. Don’t know why, but for strange reason, I have been hesitant to experience Varanasi despite seeing numerous pics. However, in all honesty, let me share with you – your post, the pictures and your descriptions are slowly convincing me to change my mind. So, let’s see if Post #2 does the trick 🙂 Seriously, love your pics. It’s amazing how you got amazing shots of the aarti. I have read from another blogger’s experience who found the entire experience frustrating because many people were standing and blocking other people’s views.

    1. Varanasi was on my list since a very long time but it really never materialised into a trip. I guess it is also the calling of the place 🙂 Thanks a lot for the appreciation Kat! Means a lot!
      P.S: the Aarti is in fact one of the toughest photography experiences! My back broke clicking those pictures. BUT it was totally worth it! 🙂

  8. Varanasi is my hometown and your post brought back the memories of the days I spent over there. It’s a beautiful city and has a special place in my heart and hence your blog also occupied the same place. Eagerly waiting for the part 2

      1. Wow it was a long time ago. And not really my blog content, but maybe I could put something together

  9. Hey, nice pictures you have there of your adventures. There is a page that I manage and would be glad to have you join it. The page is around backpacking in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Your contributions will be helpful, cheers! 🙂

  10. Loved the pictures. I have been to Benaras myself and the place continues to linger around in your memories. I unfortunately missed the evening aarti.

      1. Hey there!

        I have one interesting photo blog coming up. So will share the link with you when it is up and running.

        Just started blogging so that body of work is very minuscule. However I have managed to document 2 amazing travel journey’s – would love you to have a look at them.

        1) Kerala –

        2) Pondicherry –

        Great photos again! Keep them coming 🙂

  11. Beautifully composed photographs with more beautiful perspective. Nostalgia grips me at the sight of the evening artis on the bank of the river. Feeling to get lost time and again in the congested lanes and bylanes of this holy city.

      1. I am not a travelblogger..You can check my blog, will realise that I write completely different stuffs..Yet, India and its scenario intrigues me each time we travel..Thank you for refreshing that love! This was lovely !

  12. Really nice piece, camera work is very commendable must say. All in all a great refresher. I had been to to Benaras in 2004 and the memories came rushing back.

  13. Amazing photos.inspite of living in India I’ve never visited Varanasi.
    Your photos awakened a strong desire to reach here as soon as possible..
    loved your post…..:-)

  14. The culture, color and mystery this country exudes in its every brick is AMAZING. Your photos have taken me to another world, I must say QuirkyWanderer! Can’t wait for more of your posts!!

  15. Wonderful pictures. Truly inspiring. I plan to go there end of the year and hope it will be as mystical as you experienced it. Enjoy your stay!

  16. As my grandfather was brought up in the holy city I gather that your description quite matches the storied he told me about the holy city. Thank you for such a beautiful description through both writing and photoraphs. I can now imagine a background for my grandfather’s stories. I want to visit the place even more now.

    1. There is nothing like nostalgia. I wish I could also visit all those places, stories of which were narrated by my grand dad:) I am so happy you liked the post 🙂 Thank you!

  17. I miss the nice parts of the older world. Not many, but we did make beautiful things and that is something that not many people appreciate. A beautiful post.

  18. Finally adding my comment to the long list of glowing comments. Girl this was so fantastic! I have never been to Benares! My husband studied at BHU and shares with me fond tales of a filthy place that just grows around you and how he fell irrevocably in love with it! Your tale through the images was captivating to say the least! Going to how Part 2 can get any better….

  19. I quite loved the way you have captured a day in the life of Varanasi with your lovely pictures and narrative. While personally, I may not have like the chaos and the din, the way you narrate it on your blog is quite fantastic to say the least :D.

  20. Hi Divyakshi! The pictures are excellent and from the way you described it, I’m sure the city lives and breathes the glory of Mahadev Shiv. I’m going there in a week’s time and needless to say, your posts are my benchmark to observing and seeing the city in a better light.

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