“In the city of chaos, there are pockets of saneness. They are right in front of you. You must know where to look for it”, said my walking tour guide Aayush Rathi , co-founder of Roobaroo walks in Varanasi.
This was my fifth trip to Varanasi and in my head, I laughed at this statement. Here was the loud honking with tuk-tuks and cars moving around with no lane discipline whatsoever, and the 26-something guy was talking about finding sanity. “Good luck to that, I told myself with a tinge of sarcasm.
Little did I know that not only the three hours would break my stereotypes of the city, my entire trip would turn out about breaking these notions I had formed about the city. Not my fault totally. This is the how the city is portrayed in the media and the movies glorify it.
We started the walking tour with a 17th-century old church in Varanasi- St Thomas Chruch. Now, this may not sound odd, but we Indians have always known Varanasi as a center for Hinduism, and starting the tour from a church for the very same reason was my first myth busted about Varanasi.
The group who were along with me on the walking tour of the city
I was told Varanasi has about 3000 temples. I bumped into Tom from Dublin while I was enjoying lassi in a kulhad. I was surprised to hear him converse in Hindi with the shopkeeper. I think, I was the only one amazed with this. I struck a conversation with him and learnt that he has been travelling to Varanasi for about 5 years. Tom was working on the cause of human trafficking in the city. He had enrolled himself for Hindi tuitions and loved the colours of the city.
He said, “You see the number of temples here? There are as many pubs in Dublin when compared. I love the insanity of the city. The city has its own rhythm and that is what I like about this place.”
My fascination with the city had just begun where I was still finding meaning in the chaos. In the same walking tour, when we reached in thatheri gali, I was taken to the house of the revered poet Bhartendu Harishchandra, the father of modern Hindi literature. The transition from a narrow lane which was dimly light to an ancient house with a pretty looking a courtyard, this juxtaposition was something one should witness when in the city.
They say, every lane in Varanasi has a story waiting to be heard. Now I know what it meant. While passing through another lane, we saw a group of old people who had gathered to play chess. Not very far away, I heard the old news being played by All India Radio while people were busy with their business. It did seem like I was transported to a different era altogether. For a city girl like me, these experiences were a rare occurrence.
It is also easy to get lost in the lanes and for someone like me, who does not remember directions this can be one of the biggest challenges.
There is so much to the city and I have not even got talking about the beautiful ghats, the music, art, and food of the city. I need to spend a good one month to just soak and understand the many sides of Varanasi.
A few crazy things to do in Varanasi
- Get a haircut from the guy sitting on the street. (Varanasi is famous for the local barbers on the street)
- Participate in a local gym called akhada
- Have bhang, magic cookies and get high as hell
- Have weed with the babas of Varanasi in one of the ghats.
- Try playing hide and seek in the lanes of Varanasi Ha-ha.
- Be-friend a person who has a hand-rowed boat and listen to his perspective of the city.
- Learn the recipe and make a Banaransi paan at the local paan shops