Benares, the city of Shiva, has been the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Hindus down the ages. The holy city, also known as Kashi and Varanasi, has been a centre of learning for more than 3000 years. It was already called “the ancient city” when Buddha visited it in 500 B.C., and is the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world today.
Mark Twain put it perfectly: “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
Benaras: The Eternal Pilgrimage
There are a few tirthas that are eternal – Benares is one such. There has never been a time on earth when Kashi – Varanasi – was not there. Hindus say that Kashi is not a part of this earth, but a place apart; the city of Shiva is separate and indestructible. Many towns will be built and will be destroyed, but Kashi will remain forever.
On this city’s roads Buddha has walked, and in its lanes Kabir has given religious discourses. The holiness of all these people, the benefit of their good work, all the achievements of their lives, their collective fragrance is absorbed by Benares and it has acquired their life streams. This makes it separate from the earth, at least metaphysically.
Soulful Boat Rides And Prayers
Starting your day with a boat ride at the break of dawn is the best way to commence your rendezvous with Benares. Observe the Hindu way of life on the bank of Ganges. Visit Ghats alongside Ganges where you can see Hindu cremation as well. After the boat ride take a small walk in to the oldest part of Varanasi, famous for its narrow streets. Visit Kashi Vishwnath Temple area, also known as the Golden Temple. Other important attractions in city include the Durga Temple, Sankat Mochan(monkey temple), Tulasi Manas Temple, Bharat Mata Temple (Mother India Temple).
Spend your evening witnessing the captivating Ganga Aarti. It is a vibrant and joyous ritual that compels people to gather from all corners of the city. The holy lamps are reflected in the river water, illuminating the entire place with a mystic aura. It is an experience that goes beyond words.
Sarnath: A Glimpse of Buddhism
Sarnath, located approximately 10km from Benares, is home to many Buddhist monuments. The main attractions of Sarnath include Archaeological and Excavation Area (Sarnath, Deer park), Chaukhandi Stupa, Dhammek Stupa (Dhamekha Stupa), Dharmarajika Stupa, Mulagandhakuti Vihara, Ashoka Pillar (Ashokan Lion Pillar), Ashokan Lion-Capital (the national emblem of India) and the Archeological Museum.
If you approach Benares with a meditative mind, it is not just an ordinary modern city. It will take on a unique spiritual form. History may be lost, civilizations may be born and destroyed, may come and go, but Kashi keeps its inner life-flow continuous.