I recently got an opportunity to visit Varanasi with UP Tourism and Lonely Planet Magazine India. On our itinerary was Subah-e-Banaras which literally means a morning in Varanasi or Banaras!
I am not a morning person by any stretch of imagination. I howl and cry when I am asked to wake up and assemble in the lobby at 4.00 am. I do not wish to leave my comfortable hotel room at any cost that early! But 4.00 am starts are necessary to enjoy anything remotely to do with sunrise. And by the end of it, I was actually thrilled to have experienced Subah-e-Banaras. It was actually the highlight of my Varanasi experience.
The event starts with Ganga Aarti at the Assi Ghat. The winter timings are 5.40 am to 7.00 am and the summer timings are 5.00 am to 7.00 am. The early comers can make use of the chairs put near the stage. Otherwise, people sit at the stairs. The organizers are happy to assist with photography provided you don’t go and stand right in front of the stage where aarti is performed. We stayed only for the main aarti.
After the main aarti was over, we got down the stairs to the River Ganga. Kunal, our guide from Experience Varanasi arranged for two big boats for our group. As I said before I am usually cranky in the morning but the aarti itself was an awakening experience. By the boat ride I was feeling calm and peaceful.
It feels a little surreal to start the boat ride before sunrise and slowly see the ghats come alive. Early morning boat ride on the River Ganga is a popular tourist activity.
In winter the river is home to Black Headed Gulls. There are boats selling bird feed to the tourists. Whenever a boat scatters the feed in water, the birds converge around it from all directions!
By the time the sun came out, the buildings by the ghats were casting beautiful reflections on the river! I loved the golden glow, there were reds too at a different junction.
Varanasi or Kashi is considered to be one of the ancient living cities. As the boat passes by the ghats, in a span of five minutes the scene changes from the pious taking a dip to the sound of temple bells, to the funeral pyres burning at the next ghat! Passing by life and death at such close quarters certainly brings home the ever present truth- life is just too short!
While I was still marveling at the proximity of life and beyond on the ghats of Varanasi, our boat docked back at the Assi Ghat and we walked to the Tulsidas Akhara. Akharas are the local wrestling arenas with a long tradition behind them. I was happy to meet the students, particularly Anjali, the female student of the Akhara. We witnessed a few wrestling matches.
Siyaram ji is one of the instructors of the Tulsidas Akhara. He is 65 years old and has the energy of someone half his age! He exercised with the gada like the pro that he is! Our guide had to cajole us off the venue with the promise of a local breakfast.
The morning aptly ended with the breakfast of Sabzi, Puri and Jalebi at the Sri Ram Bhandar. It was a delicious affair! I love such unpretentious food!
For me was fun to surprise the local people by talking to them in Bhojpuri, as my hometown is Gorakhpur in UP. It wasactually a pleasure to speak Bhojpuri after such a long time!
I am not a morning person, I am usually cranky at the start of a day, more so if dares to start at 4.00 am. Four is night for me! In spite of that I thoroughly enjoyed the Subah-e-Baranas. I would highly recommend it. It is totally worth getting up in the morning to enjoy the rhythm of the ancient city!