In the last leg of ourNainital Trip we had a one-day visit to Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. Apart from the grand architectural edifices bearing the elegance of Mughal architecture what attracted me most is the gorgeous interior of Chota Imambara in the City of Nawabs.
There was a burst of color and opulence as we entered the main hall.
The Chota Imambara, also known as Hussainabad Imambara is a congregation hall for Shia Muslims located near the Bara Imambara in the heart of Lucknow in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). This beautiful monument was built by the third Nawab of Awadh, Muhammad Ali Shah, in 1838.
I was wonderstruck by the intricate calligraphic decorations on the exterior walls and a range of gorgeous Belgium-made chandeliers inside.
The hall is popularly called as the Palace of Lights because of these chandeliers which are lit during festivals.
The Imambara also houses the tombs of the Nawab and the royal family members. There are two beautiful replicas of Taj Mahal which are the mausoleums of his daughter and son-in-law.
The fountains and the reflections of pristine white tombs in the water and the beautiful surroundings – all gave a message of peace.
On the next and the last day, I decided to explore the ghats on my own while my family went to Viswanath Temple for the second time. The main ghat was a 5-minute walk from the guest house. It was early morning and I roamed the ghats to ‘feel’ Varanasi for the last time. The river, the boats, the flowers in the floral shops, the sages in saffron and the people taking holy bath … all looked so different in the soft light of morning sun. I tried to capture some regular activities along the ghats.
Here are some for your eyes only… 🙂
In spite of its zigzag narrow lanes, enough to give you the feel of labyrinths; dirty overcrowded ghats, polluted water, congested roads and no traffic rule at all, Varanasi has its own charm with its age-old edifices, temples and a laid back attitude towards life. It was really a wonderful trip to the holy city in late February when the weather is pleasant. I think this is the best time to visit the place if you want to avoid both the chilling winter and the scorching summer of Northern India.
Gradually our time in Benares came to an end. I chose the Travera of the guest house for extra comfort. Pickup and drop cost us a total of Rs. 1200 which could be cut down to Rs 300-400 if we took auto rickshaws. But I don’t mind that extra bucks for the comfort and convenience of my family.
N.B: If you need to dry your laundries out in the sun don’t forget to clip them tight. Otherwise, you may lose them forever… courtesy monkeys. They have a tendency to grab anything and everything that belongs to human species… 😉 . Take care and have a nice trip!
The second day was reserved for sightseeing. In the morning we went to Kashi Viswanath temple for ‘puja’. It was a Monday and the alleys to the temple were stuffed with people, actually devotees, from all across India. Being a not-so-religious kind I chose to wait at a distance with all the mobile phones and cameras while my mother and aunt went inside. They don’t allow mobile phones and cameras inside. So, one way or the other I had to wait outside.
After lunch we set out for sightseeing in Varanasi. This time we didn’t take car from the hotel. We managed it with a local car rental agency and hired a Tata Sumo for the rest of the day at Rs. 800 (at the hotel desk, they asked for Rs. 2000). But I advise you should always start early for sightseeing.
Ram Nagar Fort
We started at 1:30 pm from the city and headed to Ram Nagar Fort, the palace of the ‘Maharaja’ (king) of Kashi (Benares).
Now the palace has been turned into a museum where you can see a historic collection of oriental and western artillery used in the 17th and 18th centuries; the cars and golden chariots used by the royal family; the silk robes and intricately designed silver dinnerware and decorative ceramics.
I liked the beautifully crafted chariot and was amazed by the size of a huge Cadillac. The ‘Rang Mahal’ (entertainment hall) has fascinating stained glass windows and doors to add more charm to its purpose, I guess.
From the fort we headed right to the holy shrine of ‘Sarnath’ where Lord Buddha is believed to preach his first sermon. Here, one thing I must mention that normally the sightseeing trips start with visiting temples in and around the city, then the university and then Ram Nagar fort to Sarnath which is about an hour journey from Varanasi. Since we started late we changed the itinerary starting with the distant fort and shrines and then coming back to the city.
Sarnath Temple was looking beautiful in the golden streaks of twilight sun.
The temple premises were clean and quiet with the typical characteristics of a Buddhist shrine. Serenity was prevalent in the atmosphere. But what disturbed my mind was the signboard right inside the temple “Rs 25 for Photography” while “photography prohibited’ was written outside. Commercialization has turned out to be an infectious disease!
Banaras Hindu University
Our next destination was BHU, Banaras Hindu University, one of the largests in India. The university has its own aerodrome, helipad and bus service. The buses start from the main gate and ply the sprawling 10 sq km campus dropping students at their respective department buildings. Unfortunately it was already dark and I couldn’t take pictures. You’ll like the beautiful Birla Temple situated inside the campus.
Back to the city, we visited temples of Gaudi (Durga Mandir), Hanuman Ji (Sankat mochan) and Annapurna.
The manager at car rental suggested for a day trip to Triveni Sangam, Allahabad which is about 3 hours drive from Varanasi. Unfortunately we were too short of time. Well… there is always a next time … :).
‘The cultural heart of India’… or ‘the melting pot of Indian culture’ … or ‘the holy city of India’ – whatever you like to call it, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city, Varanasi has its own charm to attract travelers from all across the globe. Glimpses of Benares in Satyajit Ray movies have always made me curious about the city. As I read Aldous Huxley’s ‘Benares’ …all those description of boats in the river, the ghats and Hindu rituals during solar eclipse ignited my inquisitiveness further.
Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the old city of Varanasi (Banaras) and would like to share my experience there. It was a family tour with my mother, aunt and my sisters.
On 19th February we boarded the Howrah-Mumbai Mail at 10pm. Courtesy Kolkata’s typical rallies and meetings, all the roads to Howrah were blocked and we were stranded in traffic jam for 2hrs. Thankfully, it was our destiny that we reached the station literally at the last minute when the guard was about to wave the flag and finally managed to get on board.
The train reached Mughalsarai Junction next morning right in time. We opted for pickup service (Rs 600) provided by the hotel. A white Ambassador was waiting outside to take us to the guest house. We took the GT Road (or NH2). It was a journey of about an hour from Mughalsarai station to Godowlia Crossing, in the heart of Varanasi. However, there are plenty of auto rickshaws and trekkers outside the station that are much cheaper mode of transportation.
As you know, the narrow alleys are one of the city’s specialties… we had to get down on the main road and walk down the alley to reach our guest house.
Sita Guest House on Chowsatti Ghat is really a good place to stay in Varanasi if you want to enjoy the view of the Ganges in the quiet and privacy of your room. Rooms are neat and clean and the price is quite reasonable with respect to its location, facilities and service compared to other hotels/guest houses located near the always crowded Dasaswamedh Ghat (known as the main Ghat of Varanasi). Sita Guest House also has a rooftop restaurant which was another reason for me to choose this place.
Godowlia Crossing, the main commercial hub of the city was 10-minute walk from our hotel. After a refreshing hot and cold water bath in the guest house we set out to explore the city market. I believe the market is a place in every city or town that gives you an essence of the city at once.
One thing I must mention that if you want a good meal outside the hotel you are staying, go for Kesari Restaurant, which is a popular eatery serving a variety of cuisines starting from Punjabi to South Indian. The restaurant is situated on the left of the road towards Dasaswamedh Ghat from the crossing.
After lunch our next destination was the famous Dasaswamedh Ghat. I wasn’t surprise to find the ‘sacred’ ghat so dirty. It was an over-crowded place where it seemed the whole city population swarmed in.
The best thing about Varanasi is I think the boat ride in the Ganges…
Since ours was an all-women group we reserved a boat for Rs 500 for one hour private ride. The boatman said he will show us the main 17 ghats and drop us in front of our guest house. Alternatively, you can go for a ride at Rs 70 per head in a group of 15 to 20 people at a time.
As the boat floated along the ghats the boatman went on briefing the history of each ghat including the main Dasaswamedh, Rana Mahal, Assi, Harischandra, Manikarnika and more. He was a captivating story teller, I must admit. I was busy in observing various activities of the devotees and visitors along the ghats while listening to him. From Hindu family performing religious rites to visitors from foreign countries taking pictures to some other species (buffaloes actually … ;)) staring at us while grazing lazily on the bank – it was quite an assortment!
In the middle of our ride we stopped at Kedar Ghat only to shop banarasi saris… well…you know women! 😉 Not buying a Banarasi Silk sari while in Benares is next to impossible.
There are a number of sari shops and silk factories around. Many of the shop owners will claim that they will give you pure Banarasi silk saree at cheaper price…BEWARE! In the market you’ll find many ‘dalals’ (broker) coming up to you and try to convince you to buy from their establishment. Do not listen to them as you may end up with a bad deal in the end. However, we shopped till we dropped… lol… and started back towards the main ghat. The sun was nearing the horizon and the ‘aarti’ was about to begin.
It’s a wonderful experience to watch dusk falling over the city and lights coming out one by one along the riverbank. We found the ‘aarti’ already started as we reached the Dasaswamedh Ghat. It was one of a kind experience to watch the ‘aarti’ from the boat. I saw clergymen clad in saffron stood up in a row and chanted hymns together while waving lighted ‘diya’s (indigenous lamp used in religious rites) towards the holy river. The ghat was flooded with the light of bright golden flames… beautiful!
Slowly we passed the main ghat and headed towards Chowsatti Ghat. The boatman dropped us right in front of our guest house.