Older than history itself - Varanasi
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.
A FOODIE'S TOUR of VARANASI
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.