Friday, May 15, 2015

What to do in Banaras

Not exactly your tropical weather, lounging around aimlessly kind of a holiday but Banaras has been one of my most enriching vacations. A four day trip to the state of Uttar Pradesh, to the holy city of Banaras or Varanasi as it is now known has managed to create for itself a large sketched heart over my virtual travel map. And no, it is not because I belong to the generation which tries too hard to be Indie-cool. I genuinely believe that unearthing the history of your own country and learning about its beautiful people is just as important as jet setting off to another continent. My trip was not propelled by the over simplified 'India is the land of yoga and god's men' belief but it definitely had an element of curiosity about how people who believe that, absorb Banaras. I do believe in the healing powers of yoga. I definitely do believe in a superior omnipotent power that looks over us all. But most importantly, I believe in the beauty of ancient architectural set up along with its mystifying creations. I believe in exploring and tracing my roots while absorbing the wafting aromas of the Indian palette on the way. From the famous Benarasi kachori to the Ganga Aarti by the banks of the River Ganga held at sunset, I managed to scale the entire city in a span of four days and in the the manner which is succinct and easy for you to refer to, I will give you a low down on all the do's and don'ts for your trip to the city of Banaras, whenever you decide to go. It helps that I got you a lot of photographs to incentivise your next holiday in Incredible India.

  1. It is ridiculously obvious that you would want to spend most of your time in the olden part of the city, close to the popular Ghats. Let me still, state the obvious. There are 365 ghats around the river Ganga in the city but only a handful are really significant. Dashashwamedha, Asi, Kedar, Munshi, these should be at the top of your list.
  2. The evening aarti at Dashashwamedha Ghat. No amount of photographs can do justice to the soulful experience of a gazillion temple bells and conch shells going off with the pandits performing the puja with an entire squad of lamps and diyas, in unison. The smell of incense soaks your senses and it is best to just be in the moment, at the evening aarti which starts off at nightfall. Find yourself a good spot and also, don't forget to let off your plate of flowers and a diya in the river to make a wish.
  3. A boat ride across the ghats. If you heard me on instagram then you know how despite the intrinsic touristy value of a boat ride, this one you will not regret. Also, it creates a great wonderful photo op.
  4. Food is beautiful in Benaras but if you do not believe in literally taking to the streets, some of your best bets for the sweets and savoury treats include Ksheer Sagar sweets. I could also dedicate a whole blog post to the amazing guys at Baba Lassi but let me just leave you with the thought that every conceivable lassi flavour to the power awesome infinity can be found here. It also helps that the owner is a chiller who you can have friendly conversations with over *ahem* lassi. You will see more of him in another blog post. 
  5. The hipster experience. I really do enjoy breaking free from the crowds and the social protocols and hanging loose and sometimes walking off the trodden path. It makes me an occasional hipster and I tend to be happy with it. Get lost in the lanes of Munshi Ghat. Take some time to admire the wall art or the beautiful carvings on the tiny colourful doors. Stop to talk to the locals or even buy some local incense. The Mona Lisa Cafe and German bakery is wonderfully nice with great wifi access but the food was not as great. For the great traveller cafe food experience, hit Pizzeria Vatika at Assi Ghat for fresh juices and authentic wood fire pizza. The cafe overlooks the ghats and is right next to a wonderful little bookshop that also sells beautiful postcards. What's not to love.
  6. The silk shopping. The best places and also with the most competitive pricing, to buy your stash of Banarsi silk sarees would have to be at the Chowk. From highly exclusive work that is supplied to the biggest retailers across the metropolitans to the smaller shops that cuts the cost of the middle men, this is your one stop shop for your silk shopping. Of course, shops are dotted across the entire city selling you silk sarees from as little as Rs. 500 (INR) to as much as Rs. 1,00,000(INR) but from our painstaking research and experience, this market should suffice.
  7. Do not trust the auto wallahs and rickshaw wallahs (the public mode of conveyance) in the city, with all your heart. We faced a small incident of petty undue pocketing and were more careful thereon. There are arbitrary rates with the rickshaws but try and establish that you know your way around and you would be less likely to get taken for a ride. Also, these are your best choices for transportation since the culturally rich parts of the city are made up of thin alleyways. 
  8. While a lot of websites point you towards, 'Open Hand cafe' and ' Baba Black Sheep', I would not put them on my list of 'cannot possibly miss' in the city. In one word: overrated. 
  9. Go to Banaras with the understanding that the entire city does not look like a postcard. There are parts of the city which would probably make you feel like you were in any developing city with its sprouting malls and a host of international stand alone stores. 
  10. If you plan to pick souvenirs or even trinkets or artefacts that would serve as constant reminders of your holiday, it is best to try the rows of small shops near the ghats (try Munshi Ghat). The cafes and emporiums will almost always have the same kind of products but with a higher price tag.
Pizzeria Vatika

Street art depicting the 'fearless' woman

The time I attained a little insight into peaceful living

Pizzeria Vatika

The jolly 'ol chap at Baba Lassi

Jumpsuit: C/O Stalk Buy Love

A few blogposts are on their way. Till then, I can't wait to address questions from you guys about this sojourn in Banaras. Ask away in the comments. 



  1. I have been to Benaras quite a few times, but my last visit was some 8 years back...I think it's time I visited the holy city again! :)

  2. Congratulations! Your blog post
    was featured in our Collective 10 Amazing Indian Destinations For Summer 2016
    Feb 25, 2016 at Blogadda.

    Please find it here:



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