The Spiritual Capital of India, Varanasi – Shalini P. Sawkar

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Prayagraj and Triveni Sangam

No trip to Varanasi is complete without visiting the site of the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, or the present day Prayagraj. Lying close to the Triveni Sangam, the city Prayagraj gets its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Prayag’ which loosely translates to sacrifice or offering, which is found at the confluence of the three holy rivers. Triveni Sangam is the meeting place of the three rivers: Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, that is presumed hidden beneath the other two according to the Hindu legend. Be sure to catch a sunset on the Sangam! You can reach the Sangam by taking a boat from the shores of the Yamuna River. As the sun sets above the bridge across the river, the deep waters turn a shade of light lavender towards the horizon.

The shores of the Yamuna River, is also the site of the Prayagraj Kumbh Mela that happens once in twelve years. The Ardha Kumbha Mela of 2019 took place here from January to March.

Sunset on the Triveni Sangam

Varanasi

Also known as Banaras or Benaras, Varanasi is an ancient city on the banks of the holy river Ganga. Termed as ‘the spiritual capital of India,’ it consists of more than 2000 temples, including the well-known Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Some of the antique structures in this city will take you back in time. It is a potpourri of culture, where the old and new exist side by side. You will find the streets flocked with locals and tourists, domestic animals, varied kind of vehicles including a motorbike auto-rickshaw, trinket stores, street vendors, local eateries, and winding gulleys leading up to the temples. There is a certain rhythm in this chaos that can only be experienced if you walk these streets! It is what makes Varanasi the heartbeat of India.  

Food to try – local chaats such as ‘tamatar chaat,’ and ‘palak chaat,’ thandai/lassi, matka chai, Banarasi paan and Maghai paan.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple

The Golden Temple dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, is located on the western bank of the river Ganga, and is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, the holiest temples of Shiva. It has been destroyed and reconstructed several times over the years. The alley surrounding the temple, called Vishwanath Galli, is a local market consisting of colourful shops dedicated to the sale of holy items and fancy bangles. Don’t miss the chance to witness the Saptarishi Aarti that is performed every evening between 7PM to 8.30PM in the Garbhagriha, the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.

River Ganga

Ganga Ghats
Close up of the steps leading up to the Ganga River

The serene waters of the Ganges offer a soulful experience in the quiet hours of the morning. Take a boat ride across the river at sunrise and find a guide who can give you some insights about the various Ghats on the Ganga. Ganga Ghats are steps leading up to the river from the city. There are 88 such Ghats in Varanasi, famous among them being the Dashashwamedh Ghat, where the Ganga Aarti takes place every evening close to the Vishwanath Temple, and Assi Ghat, the one closest to Benaras Hindu University and marks the southern boundary of the city.

Sunrise over the Ganges River