Sunday, 7 May 2017

Varansi..

i had heard some negative experiences about Varanasi so i didnt know what to expect. Initially i thought i might stay for 2-3 days top but ended up staying for over a week!
The first view of Varanasi was serene.
 It reminded me of lazy winters spent in the villages, warming up in front of wood stoves after an hour cycling on ratty old bicycle visiting my relatives.
Nostalgic memories of my past.
Breakfast of Naan  & alo mattar (potatoes & green peas) curry. Soft salted bread dipped in tangy curry. yum...
Varanasi- first impression is full of touts; some quite aggressive. i had a little help from a constable to disengage one. After breakfast i booked an Ola cab to head to my destination- Roadhouse Hostels, located close to Assi Ghats.
 Roadhouse Hostel started off in 2014 by a trio of Indian who love travelling. Currently they have a hostel in Goa & Rajasthan as well. Since Roadhouse Varansi opened it's door in August/November...i guess there was an offer in Jan/Feb for ladies dorm. One night was just Rs100!!! i scored a good deal! Currently dorm bed starts at 250rs. After checking in i looked around the place and headed to the terrace for a smoke and watch a march for "Educations for girls" with all the participants being all boys... Hmm..
Eager to explore, i head out for a walk along the ghats.
There is free yoga session early morning in Assi Ghat, just bring your own mats or be early. It's not exactly the type of yoga to bring a sweat but rather more of stretches and a laughter therapy as a winding down feature.
i think most would rather just cuddle up in a warm blanket.
While traveling across India, i always make it point to taste the pani puris. The lad should really stick to his books as his culinary skills are lacking. Thankfully he just helps out before school.
Back at the hostel, since there was cooking facility i purchased some basic groceries and made some vegan Pajeon (green onion/ savory pancakes), mint chutney, sweet corn soup and green tea. Pajeon could have been way better is an understatement.
I made it a point to prepare at least breakfast or dinner in the hostel since i didnt see anything interesting to eat outside, budget constraints and hell i missed my own home cooked meals. There is fridge to store fruits & vegetable although i don't recommend as fresh vegetables are easily available and my cheese went missing.
Breakfast of Maggi noodles, gun powder/Molagapodi (a South Indian spice condiment) omelette, mini pancakes with cashew butter & a sweet. 




In Varanasi especially Assi Ghats- it is not so easy to get meat products and i had to walk a bit to actually purchase eggs.. The cafe do sell meat based items but as a whole it is a vegetarian town in honor of Kashi Vishwanath, presiding deity of Varanasi. Plus with all the constant cremation at the river banks- i definitely dont feel eating meat is very appealing. 
Noodle soup with fresh home made noodles and a packet of milk. Maggi & instant noodles are nice but nothing beats fresh noodles. I used some sweet corn soup powder as base stock.
A huge egg ciabatta sandwich with vegetable soup. I purchased the bread from a bakery (Vegan&raw- ??, cant recall). A dense loaf of ciabatta was under rs100.

One meal i decided i just wanted to have something light so made some pulkas (unleaved rotis), with palak sabzi (spinach side dish), and hot & sour coriander & scallion soup with a scoop of cashew butter for dessert.
Another meal was of alu chura (potatoes & beaten rice stir fry) and spicy egg drop soup.
Since i had to finish the vegetables i made gobi sabzi (califlower side dish), eating it with the remaining ciabatta.
One of the reason i prefer hostels to stay in is due to the use of Kitchen facilities. Roadhouse Hostel Varanasi may not have the best of equipments but to whip a basic meal it is enough. They also prepare meals on pre-order.
Everyday i took a walk along the river banks....
Boat rides are very popular.. it cost about 200rs per person, with a minimum of 4 people required. A hostel is a good place to gather/search for those interested. Unless you wanna pay more. While the river has bits of cremated human parts quite a few people do swim.
Boats are made & maintained locally.
The entire length of Ganga river has various ghats, side by side with graffiti.
personally i love graffati, i think it's very colorful and livens up otherwise boring walls. 
While the locals are too busy with their day to day lives..tourists do their bit to beautify the sidewalks.
Art is required in life, especially in Varanasi. Watching the funeral pyres and observing the end of the physical bodies can be a little lonely as it exemplifies that our lives are futile at the end of the day. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" Genesis 3:19.
There are countless artists and art students in Varanasi. Most of them selling their works or just practicing, quite a few from Benares University.
Some people just like to sit down at the river banks and check their cells... i spent hours doing the same..
Along the bank there are many things to see like the architecture/museums etc..
Or maybe you could spend more time people watching and taking in the sight..
The Ganga Arti in the evening are not to be missed. There are 2 main arti each evening- one in Assi ghat and Dashashwamedh ghat. The latter is very popular & crowded while the former is more intimate.
I perferred the Asi ghat arti as it seemed less of a showmanship, with devotees being able to participate and receiving parsadam at the end.
I did visit the Shree Kashi Vishwanath Temple several times.
Leave all your belongings back at the hotel or at any one of the locker available for hire. I feel some rich folk definitely needs to open a free locker for the devotees.. and the puja samagri items are ridonculously expensive. A small jar of milk (50-70ml, actually water with dash of milk) cost about 30rs. If i ever become a billionaire i would do it myself.
Kashi Vishwanath is one the Jyotilinga, having a special signifancance to Hindus as those who pass on to the afterlife here gets a place in Shivas abode in Mount Kailash. Numerous saints having visited the temple. The history of the temple is a harrowing one having been ransacked and destroyed several times by conquering Empires yet has always been rebuilt.


Managed to try out the famous malaiyo- sweet dessert of Varanasi available only during the winter..It's superb. Light & airy with a hint of rose water, cardamons, dried nuts and taste of malai (milk creme). These are hand made and sold early morning. the stock is usually over by 11am. The vendor i bought sells them outside the alley to Kashi Vishwanath Temple on the main road. 30rs per cup.
There are few other must eat item while here..
a simple samosa with a simple raddish & carrot salad. 15rs
 
Staple breakfast items of alu puri & jelebi. 40rs. Must try.
Crisp malpua. It is soaked in sugar syrup but i dont mind having it on the weekends.  guilty pleasures, well worth the exercise. 10rs per piece.
Kachori with green chilli chutney. 20rs. i first tasted Kachori when i was in my twenties and have yet to develop a craving for it compared to humble filling samosa.
Popular snacks..
I did not try the thandai (flavoured milk as i found it expensive at 45rs per cup) but i did have the plain dhai (yoghurt). It is similar to juju dhai of Bhaktapur but more watery. 25rs.
All of the snacks i had was mostly from street vendors. All the caloric snacks warranted a good walk through the streets..
Though the hostel grapevine i heard of this cheap hotel(cafe) that sold veg meals. It is located near Assi Ghat and run by an elderly couple. There is a simple hand written board stating "veg meal Rs40". It does not look very clean to be honest.
However the meal is worth more than 100rs, they give up to freshly made piping hot rotis and the dishes are tasty in a bland sort of way. Fully nutritional consisting of various beans, potatoes, vegetable and even a pickle.

I also tried out Pizzeria Vatika for their spinach & eggplant pizza with a view of the river bank. There is book store next door to purchase some postcards..
It was slightly better than Dominos pizza with less cheese.
Since momos were omipresent everywhere i tried a plate of those. Oh la la, spicy as hell & not in a tasty way. Filling was full of cabbage, green chillies/pepper and tons of garam masala. Not good the day after...20rs.
While checking out the various ghats, i noted "Nepali Temple" so i had to check it out. It is my duty as a Nepali to do so. It is actually an ashram for widow etc cum Vedas school managed by the Nepali Government, the Shiva temple in a simple replica of Pashupatnath Temple of Kathmandu and built by one of the past Kings of Nepal.
The 40-odd  ladies enjoy the time when the local children come over to play. i get it. Alot of them have been abandoned by their own children & family and in their own words are just waiting to die. It's tragic that children kick out their own parents in their old age. Grown children should be responsible and shower them with love and respect, after all the parents had taken care of them when they were young & helpless.
There are some boys who have come from Nepal to learn Sankrit & the Vedas by the banks of Ganga. I spent a lovely 3 hrs here with the elderly & students (they remind so much of my cousins when they were young) participating in the evening puja along with other Nepali staying nearby. i would love to visit them again in the future.
The furthest i walked to was till Marnikarini Ghat the most busiest of all the ghats as it is a Hindu belief that those who are cremeted here get moksha (salvation from the cycle of life). In the pyres next to Bagmati river outside Pashupatinath Temple, i have often seen the wails and despair of the relatives of the deceased as the fire rages. Here in Varanasi the most prevalent emotion is one of numbness. It is not the deceased who suffers but those left behind.
The detailed & gorgeous Shiva temple in Scindia ghat is partially submerged.

On my last morning i took a walk along the ghats, soaking in the atmosphere with a hard boiled egg as hand warmers in my pockets.

An early lunch before heading to the train station.

My view towards my next destination- New Delhi.

At the start of the trip i was not sure if i would actually visit Varanasi, but i guess i was called. A short 3 days visit extended to more than a week. I actually did not do much beside walking along the ghats, through narrow alleys and contemplating. It was a beautiful experience, one i would love to repeat again in future. An acquaintance of mine had come to Varanasi to recover from his heartbreak but ended staying for more than 2 years and still plans to continue living here. I understand the lure of Varanasi along with hundreds and thousands of travellers & pilgrims. There is a sense of timelessness here.
i would like to point out that there are many touts and unscrupulous people who also eke out their living here, be it through intimidation or through sale of drugs. Be firm and say no. i was lucky to be  approached just once if i wanted to buy drugs- a wide variety. Marijuana the most mildest. Again just say "No".

I am not sure when i would come back here again, but i do plan too in the future.