Photorama, Travel

Banarasiya- the essence of Banaras!







I was revolted at the sight of the holy city of Banaras during my visit in December 2013 – the garbage heaps, people spitting with gay abandon, peeing on roadsides with zero bashfulness, the dug up roads, and the stench; that god-awful stinking stench which just doesn’t seem to get away….

But once you get past the maddening cacophony of noise, crowds, filth and the stench; that’s when you chance upon the true Banaras. And believe me, you do. The city beguiles one with its quaint colloquial tales, street treats of food, artiness on walls-rickshaws- foodstalls; above all the wit and humour of the people of Banaras is priceless.

{With BJP chanting their “swachch Bharat” chant I hope this city also gets to see the magic of cleanliness soon.}

Till then, I will learn to aim my camera a little strategically and capture images minus the unpleasantness! And these images combined with my opinions of the city is what forms the essence of this post which basically is trying to condense the joys (ras) of Banaras.

So sit back and enjoy the insta – postcards from banaras with some informative commentary to supplement the tale of this colorful city.

Ghats of Banaras:


It’s on the ghats or the banks of river Ganges, where the most action can be seen in Banaras. People bathing, washing clothes, dhobis washing and drying clothes, sadhus sitting in meditation, pandits hawking shlok recitations for a fee, multiple temples with scenes of praying and above all the burning pyres – the crux of being in this city.

Its a popular and affirmed faith of Hindus that if one dies in Banaras, one’s soul will attain mukti or nirvana from the cycle of birth and death. Mercifully, the cremation ghats have been relegated to a few ghats, leaving the others for praying and bathing – so one is not disturbed by the visuals of burning corpses all the time.

“Harishchandra Ghat is called the ever burning ghat as its said that the flames are not allowed to die down on this ghat and every day the other burning ghats take a fresh flame from this ghat to begin the process.”


The ghats begin on one end with Assi Ghat (assi means 80 in english; Banaras has 87 ghats) where you have the most posh staying options with havelis converted into boutique hotels, cafes selling european/american cuisines, therefore, an area coveted by the foreigners.

Dashashwamedh Ghat ( literal translation is Ten white horses) is the central ghat as it has the main Kashi Vishwanath temple located here plus its central to the labyrinth of the bazars of Banaras. It also plays host to the famous tourist attraction of Ganga Arti wherein one gets to see 7-10 pandits chanting sanskrit verse, burning camphor and holding pyramids of burning diyas – quite a visual treat.

Street Treats of Banaras:

The food treats in the streets of Banaras boggles the mind due to two reasons:

  • The variety of the food spread is very large with extremely different taste; no matter it looks familiar or bears similarities to a food known to you. The way of cooking and mixing of spices is quite different and renders an amazing flavour to the food.
  • The food spots are in plenty; in the sense that every second shop seems to cater to a kind of food being sold.

Chaat - Food-treats-of-streets-of-banaras

Launglatta - Food-treats-of-streets-of-banaras

Banarasi Sarees:

A trip to the city is incomplete without paying a visit to its infamous saree shops, each burgeoning with silken treasures of immense beauty, pattern and colours. One can go for a sneak peak to a machine weaving units to see for oneself how these creations are brought to life.


Colourful doorways of Banaras:

It seems the people of Varanasi love to decorate their homes with bright colours and patterns, weaving the God & Goddesses and marking the entrance of their homes with them. I couldn’t get over the colour schemes used here.

Colourful-doorways-of-banarasSome Quirky but notable facts about Banaras:

Antique-looking-shops-in Banaras
Everywhere one looks in the market, the shops have a quaint almost sepia like tint in their appearance – it’s as if one has travelled to another time and era
The cycle rickshaws in Banaras have gorgeous designs punched on them in Aluminium sheets which sets them apart from their counterparts elsewhere in the country.
Holy Cow!
Cows are considered ultimately sacred and if one ventures inside a shop; its not shooed away but bowed to reverently for the banarasi people feel it’s a blessing.
I didnt believe this till I saw it for myself!!
Khichidi Baba:
There is a temple dedicated to a Khichidi baba on the Dashashwamedh ghat where a huge kadhai of Khichidi is cooked as prasad and distributed to everybody!!
I was blown away by the assorted pickle shops in Banaras where the variety was just astounding. Wonder who came up with the pickle of Bamboo….


So though the streets are dirty, people are aware of it and take countermeasures which are far from usual but effective! So don’t be surprised to see unusual “temples” dotting the lanes, markets and yes even the nurseries where we went to buy plants.

small-big-temples-in -banaras-onstreets-and-markets

Visit a dance & music ashram by the ghats to enjoy a classical performance by talented and passionate artists or indulge in a yoga session on the ghats in the early mornings.


Litti-chokha-restaurant-to savour-typical-local-cuisine-in-banaras
Do drop into Litti-Chokha; a homogenous restaurant which serves the typical local cuisine with enough verve and flavour – Trust me, you wont be disappointed!
sunrise-or-sunset-on-the-ghats-of banaras-by -the -river-ganges
Do take out some time to spend on the ghats- early morning or late evening to enjoy the golden light draping everything in a soft surrealism






And don’t miss this Idli-dosa maker on the Dashashwamedh Ghat who crafts the most fresh and butter soft fare which simply melts in your mouth.

One thing that is not to be missed out is a day trip to Sarnath – the famed Buddhist site to soak in the peace, serenity and history of the well kept tourist spot
a-temple-inside-banaras-hindu-university- campus
Do go for a stroll in the Banaras Hindu University campus which is so well kept and green and teeming with some gorgeous architecture.










This is by no means a comprehensive list of things in Banaras but just the tip of the iceberg; one can stay in the city for a minimum of four days and a maximum of well say at least a month to really savour all its flavours and enjoy the ras of this truly joyous and full of life city called Banaras.

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16 thoughts on “Banarasiya- the essence of Banaras!

  1. I have been to Benaras only once and thought it was overcrowded. The ghats were dirtier than a dump yard. The temples had greedy ‘pandas’ – poori subji was good. We had to take a boat ride to the other side of the Ganga to take a dip. Great that you had a nice time.

  2. This truly was a block buster ! I’ve been scared of visiting this place simply because of the noise and the filth and of course stories of the pandas who irritate you . But your gorgeous photos and commentary make me want to visit . A recent visitor told me that the “swacch Bharat ” was working in Benares so I should visit it soon before it gets dusty again 😉

  3. Visited Varansi in the late ’70s when it was absolutely a familiar sight to see people cycling towards the ghats with a corpse tied to the back seat! Yet, as you say, despite the filth , it has its charm. You really feel the peace of the Ganges there.

  4. BANARAS (officially Varanasi) is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is perhaps one of the few sites that have witnessed continuous habitation from ancient times. Even during the lifetime of the Buddha, it was a flourishing city. No wonder that it evokes images of the universal, the timeless and the cosmic, and is deeply embedded in the consciousness of an average Hindu. Foreigners have often viewed it through the prism of orientalist notions, adding to the romance and myth of Banaras.

    1. Wow your comment is so bang on Roms! There is much that is myth surrounding this city and yes foriegners have been milked on such for a long time by the clever indian travel touts!!! But it remains a city very close to my heart!

  5. you have described almost everything of Banaras… i would like to add a bit The Jyotir Linga Visvanatha or ‘Golden Temple’, was rebuilt in 1776 across the road from its original location (now occupied by the Jnana Vapi mosque). Adjacent to this mosque is the Jnana Vapi well, the ritual center and axis mundi of Banaras. The Jnana Vapi, or Well of Wisdom, is said to have been dug by Shiva himself, and its waters carry the liquid form of Jhana, the light of wisdom. The imposing Alamgir mosque stands on the site of another of Kashi’s most ancient and sacred shrines, the temple of Bindu Madhava.

  6. Woah! Amazing write-up, Shalini! I really liked the way you wrote about every single photo posted here! I’ve never been to Banaras but it is there on my list. So whenever I’m going to plan my trip to Banaras, I’m going to refer this post for sure! 🙂

    1. Loved your posts- thanks for the share. Looks like we share an equal love for Varanasi. My friends run a very quaint himestay there (which I designed for them) – you should look at staying with them, next whenever you fo there.

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