Kashi Calling!

Banaras as a destination has fascinated me for a very long time. All I knew of Banaras before visiting the city was what I’d seen in movies like Laaga Chunari Mein Daag and Masaan. So one fine day, we dusted off our travel gear and embarked on our Kashi Yatra. Banaras is known for its thugs and we were two women travellers visiting the city for the first time. We’d been warned against criminals in the streets, in every nook and corner of the city. I have my set rules for travelling that I stick to and have never faced any problems as such.

  1. Keep things simple and avoid attracting unnecessary attention
  2. Do not wear or display jewellery or prominent branded accessories
  3. Always try to blend in
  4. Experiment with the local cuisine

We reached Banaras after a 90 minute flight from Delhi and were welcomed by the sight of rain-washed lush green surroundings. We quickly reached our hotel in Nadesar, considered a hub of good hotels in the region.

architecture, Banaras, chaat, history, kachori, kashi, lassi, panChaats, kachoris, lassi and more

Banarsi food has always been the subject of much conversation. Soon after dumping our stuff at the hotel, we headed to our first stop, a local chaat shop named Deena Chat Bhandar. With tempting sights and sounds of food surrounding us, we gorged on Gol Gappas, Tamatar Ki Chaat, Palak Pakodi Chaat, Dahi Kachori Chaat and Gulab Jamuns. Our next stop was Ram Bhandar at Tatheri Bazaar with its thick, round, crisp, juicy and sweet Jalebis that are quite different from their thin Rajasthani counterparts. We also tried kachoris at this shop; actually a poori stuffed with peethi (lentils soaked in water overnight and cooked in dry spices) and served with a small portion of hing (Asafoetida) flavored  aloo sabzi. A little down the road, while roaming through Tatheri Bazaar, we came across a shop with no name but an exceptional lassi that can only be described with words I have yet to learn. It was creamy, mildly sweet, topped with a layer of thick cream and its appeal enhanced with a splash of rose water. We ended our first day in Banaras on a sweet note with Malai ki Gilori at Raswanti Sweets.

[quote]When in Banaras, shop for Aloo papad and stuffed red chilli pickle at Vishwanath Gali. Also, don’t forget to observe and experience the two things available all over the city – cows and chaats![/quote]

architecture, Banaras, chaat, history, kachori, kashi, lassi, panRich in history and architecture

The next morning, we planned a visit to Kashi Vishwanath Temple which is one of the holy Jyotirlingas of the Hindus. After visiting the high profile temple with its high profile security, we made our way to Kal Bhairav Temple. Interestingly, Bhairav is also known as the Kashi ke Kotwal – the constable of Kashi.

architecture, Banaras, chaat, history, kachori, kashi, lassi, pan
Sadhu in Banaras

Sarnath, our next stop has a museum that is a treasure of artifacts ranging from the 3rd century BC all the way to the 12th century AD. The structures of Sarnath Stupa and Thai Temple are beautiful beyond words and a visual treat for travellers seeking architectural wonders. The huge statue of Buddha in the Thai Temple is breathtaking in its splendour. The Bodhi Tree, where Buddha used to pass on his teachings to his disciples is a serene place that the soul of city slickers like us desperately seek.

We were lucky enough to experience aarti at Assi Ghat in addition to the splendid demonstration at Dashashwamedh Ghat, without which no visit to Banaras is complete. One falls short of words trying to describe the beauty of rituals and the well-coordinated movements of the priests.

[quote]We loved Assi Ghat where young BHU students were singing and playing guitars, taking us back to our college days![/quote]

High hopes from Banarasi paan

Having heard about the Aghoris who live and meditate at the cremation grounds, but alas, we couldn’t find any. With one remaining order of business – find a Banarasi paan – we set out to find the best there is in the streets of Banaras. How could we leave Banaras without eating a Banarsi paan? Having heard so much about the famous ‘Paan Banaraswala’, we expected the world. As with everything else that can be overrated, the Banarasi paan of Banaras was as good as any in Delhi or Mumbai and turned out to be unremarkable to hold on to its reputation.

architecture, Banaras, chaat, history, kachori, kashi, lassi, panBanaras is an eclectic collection of religion, culture and tradition, of which food is an inseparable element. The city is ancient – even a random walk along a random street yields gems that no modern city can match. Street-side history apart, the museums and well preserved ancient structures offer plenty for the curious to visit. So if you are looking for an interesting cultural experience, easily accessible from Delhi, with complete with history and food – Banaras is the destination for you.

Madhu Dhawan

Foodie by choice