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BENARAS – KASHI – VARANASI: What’s in a name?
The world’s oldest living city is perhaps the world’s most alive city as well. The first reaction the name evokes in most ‘posh’ travellers, who haven’t visited yet is that ‘It’s a filthy city’. My wife and I (of course we are posh), also screwed our noses at this thought, but decided to visit the holy city because it didn’t seem like an expensive destination for a quick weekend breather out of Delhi. The Taj Gateway hotel as well as the flight were reasonable so we soon found ourselves negotiating the crowded lanes of the city, crossing festooned dead bodies, tied to Sumo tops, as we drove to our hotel, and they to their final destination at the Mannikarna ghats.
The Taj Gateway hotel was a tired and weary hotel, almost a blemish on the Taj legacy. We headed to the famous ghats in the evening for the Ganga Aarti, which has been often dissed by some as being too theatrical, orchestrated and Bollywood influenced. Frankly my dear, I don’t care a damn, since I was there to see a spectacle and the aarti surpassed my wildest imagination.
We took a tour of the Ganga in a hand rowed boat, the boatman regaling us with stories of ancient lore and wisdom, fact and fiction, sea gulls flying about us, the sun coming down lending a golden copper glow to the world. We didn’t venture too close to the infamous Burning Ghats, as I am not too fond of burning and burnt corpses. But at a surreal level, the funeral pyres reflecting in the sunset waters posed for perfect photo opportunities.
We viewed the aarti first from the boat, facing the extravaganza and then climbed up the stairs to numb our distractions in the clanging musical instruments and ritualism. It was worth every dime and rupee and I would go back to experience the Aarti in a heartbeat.
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