The Charisma of Varanasi

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Tourists go places and visit attractions. But what do you do when you land in Varanasi? Cities have attractions to go to. But Varanasi itself is a massive attraction; of course with more attractions within the city. The moment you set foot into the streets of one of the world’s oldest living and India’s holiest city, your bewilderment has begun. Here on, you really need to be on your foot and wander. Be a wayfarer! It’s pretty much the only way to best experience the magic of Varanasi.

A Typical Old Varanasi Neighbourhood
A Typical Old Varanasi Neighbourhood

 

The Charisma of Varanasi

With a little research you will probably come across multitude of blog posts and guides from eastern and western travellers sprouting their wisdom on Varanasi. More or less all of them have attempted to jot down the Varanasi Charisma in mere different words. There is only so much that literature can portray. The true essence of first-hand life experiences can just not be put into words. With my roots ingrained into Varanasi for several generations past, I have been told number of stories about the city and what my ancestors had been up to here. It is, therefore, doubly exciting for me to get outsider perspectives.

What for me was merely the streets I grew up in and the riverside I spent picnicking with my family on Sunday mornings, was for the rest of the world an incredible destination that they had heard of from the ones who made it there before them.

Receded Ganga
A Receded Ganga View

Since being born & raised in Varanasi I have travelled to many places and lived outside of the city for much of my life. And from my first-hand accounts I can tell you that there is no place like Varanasi. They say, ‘Kashi is unique in the universe’. I think I could testify to that opinion if I’d seen all of the world aleady. But it’s hard to imagine that another place would come close to what Kashi is. Perhaps this is why it attracts hundreds and thousands of Indian and foreign visitors every year. Kashi, by the way, is the ancient name for Varanasi; today mostly used romantically in literature and by people kin to the city.

Honestly, at first glance, the city is an utter chaos. But it hasn’t always been like this. Indian population exploded around the year 2000. A lot has changed since then. And once you manage to get past the chaos perspective, you will begin to enjoy what drives that chaos – the underlying charisma unrivalled by any place else on earth. The magic of Varanasi is in its rhythm.

 

Experiencing Varanasi

Most tourists will probably never truly experience Varanasi. All through my childhood I have seen scores of western tourists piled up on rickshaws and tourist coaches filming the action through their state-of-the-art gadgets while their faces delineating as if they witnessed an alien occupation. I can understand that though. India is intense, and Varanasi is hardcore. If you’ve never stepped out of your cocoon before, and then with one out of the world brave decision ended up in Kashi, then this experience can be truly mind-boggling.

Nevertheless, seeing Varanasi through organised and guided tours is probably the worst choice you are likely to make. If there is one place on earth where you don’t need any maps or guides, it is Varanasi. If it is your post-retirement trip and you’ve never before been to Varanasi or anywhere near such experience, then I’m not sure what my advice to you would be. But for the ones young at heart – get out of your cocoon and stay out! Like I already mentioned: The only way to experience Varanasi is through wayfaring – by getting lost in the holy chaos and then rediscovering your-new-self.

3 Days and 3 Nights

I would like to assert how staying for anything less than 3 days and 3 nights is just plain, simple wrong. What can you see and comprehend in any lesser time? Even scientific studies have shown the importance of spending at least 3 days to get hold of the rhythm of a new place. My blatant recommendation hence would be to cut down by a day or two on any of the bigger cities and instead allocate that time to Varanasi.

 

Follow Ashish Verma:

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An organic product of the world’s oldest living city: #Varanasi. Founder of @ith_hostels and @etherstudio.

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