Older than history itself - Varanasi

April 10, 2020

Banaras, the quintessential spiritual city of India, can be a shock to the first-time visitor. Crowded and noisy, slow traffic, beggars and vagabonds, meandering bulls and cows, overarching religiousness–you want to escape even before you have settled in. But then, it's not easy to grab the essence of one of the world's oldest living cities. As wrote Mark Twain in 1897, "Banares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

Varanasi, a city that dates back to eternity, can be best explored on foot, because that's the only way you can wander off into the tapering narrow alleys. Get on a boat at sunrise and see how Banares wakes up, followed by walk in the narrow alleys visiting temples, glimpse of local life and ending your day chanting Budham Sharnam Gachhami (which means I go to Buddha for refuge) at Sarnath.


The  palace  is  one  of  the  ancient  city's  oldest landmarks. It was initially built as a fort in the early 1800s by Shridhar Narayana Munshi, minister for the estate of Nagpur, and the evidence remains in its  doorways,  which  are  small,  to  make  entry difficult. The fort and ghat was acquired by Rameshwar Singh Bahadur, the king of Darbhanga, in 1915, when it was turned into a palace. But after it  fell  into  disarray  for  many  years,  Brijrama acquired the property in 1994. It took almost 20 years to carry out the restoration work (one can see the evidence in old black-and-white images) to make a property fit for guests.

The luxury heritage hotel has 32 well-appointed rooms  across  several  categories  —  Nadidhara, Dhanurdhara, Vasundhara, Maharaja Suite, Varuna Burj on three different floors. The décor is elegant with traditional furniture and embellished in the jewel colours of Banarasi silks. Traditional lamps and  beautiful  paintings  adorn  the  walls  of  the rooms that boast of time-honoured interiors with a chic twist. If it's the view you are after, aim for the 300 square foot Varuna Burj Room, also known as 'The  Bastion,'  a  semi-circular  room  which  is  an extension of the palace wall. Guests can enjoy a spectacular 180-degree view  of  the  crescent  at Varanasi and experience the Ganges.


The narrow alleys of Varanasi are worth exploring.  Each morning brings a new bundle of energy and enthusiasm to Varanasi, but the only thing that evokes the essence of the place is its everlasting and exotic food. A visit to Banaras is incomplete without exploring places with the best cuisine and heritage of the city, which are hidden in the narrow lanes of Kashi. These streets are the life of Banaras, where one can connect with the people’s way of living.

But then one is suddenly struck by the wafting smell of piping hot kachoris and jalebis being fried in hot oil. People stop for a glass of fresh lassi just next to the trash. Also can see German bakeries and Korean eateries with humble, ambient interiors where much of the foreigners settle for food and their daily quota of air-con.


All the razzmatazz of hippie street shopping and street food is here. But what's fascinating is that the locals still habituate these streets and the nuances of their daily lives blend into the 'touristy' experience. The life in the gallis almost like the city's obstinate declaration that yes, it is one of the oldest cities in the world and its legacy transcends time. One doesn't possess the power to change its ways but it can definitely sway you.


So, let us not miss the golden chance of experiencing the beauty of the city through its delicious culinary traditions and locations of historical importance.





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