Benaras Revisited

CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT

Life is unpredictable. Don’t we all know that! Yet we land up spending a lot of energy seeking permanence and familiarity. Consciously aware of the fleeting impermanence of everything around us, we still have this innate tendency to cling on to our pasts. In fact, it’s the unpredictability of life that makes it exciting and beautiful. What a monotone life would otherwise have been!

The world around us does its bit of continually reminding us of the fact that nothing lasts forever. We are just unable to internalize it. Last week, I spent five days at Benaras when River Ganges ascertained that I resonate with this thought of change being the only constant.

Pic 1: A section of Darbhanga Ghat clicked in 2019.
Pic 2: The same Darbhanga Ghat in 2021 (clicked on the third day when the water had receded a bit)

This was my second visit to the Spiritual Capital of India. The purpose of my visit this time was particularly special too. It was in 2019 that I had first visited the holy city, just before the pandemic.

The wonderful experience of the city had been etched in my memory forever. It was Christmas time in the month of December. There was no Sun and the days were very cold. The weather was least of our concern though. The long walks through the ghats, maneuvering through the confusing galis (narrow lanes and by-lanes) particularly around Bangali Tola, soaking in the divinity of the evening aarti, observing the crowd and contemplating on our perception of their quirkiness, gorging on the best of the street food, and the best chai in the world, are things that still bring a warm glow to my heart.  

Pic 3: A section of Panchganga Ghat clicked in 2019.
Pic 4: The same Panchganga Ghat in 2021. (clicked on the third day when the water had receded a bit)

With that mental picture in my mind, I found myself swiftly alighting the steps of Dasheshwamedh Ghat. I couldn’t wait to walk through the ghats (centuries old riverside stops). R, my photographer friend, was my travel companion in this trip and this was his first visit to the city. I had already talked enough and more about my previous Benaras experience. The anticipation building up in the past few days was at its peak now, and I couldn’t wait for R to experience it all. But why do things appear to be a little different this time? The ghat seemed to be smaller and more congested than how I had seen it. I tried to look around and walked towards one corner of the ghat in the hope of hopping over to the next ghat, but I couldn’t find a way.

Soon enough the story unfolded. River Ganga was overflowing due to water released from two dams in Allahabad, all because of a cloudburst up North. The ghats were inundated and large portions remained submerged. As a result, there was no connectivity between the ghats. One could access the different ghats only through the road. The essence of Benaras was totally lost and I am not exaggerating. If you have experienced walking through the ghats in Benaras, you’d exactly understand what I mean.

Pic 5: Just before Panchganga Ghat clicked in 2019
Pic 6: The same structure just before Panchganga Ghat in 2021. (clicked on the third day when the water had receded a bit)

I was distraught and visibly upset. As I reasoned with myself, I wondered how could I think that the ghats would always remain just how I had first seen them! Water levels in a river is always subject to change. What made me think that I would experience it just the same way. I could do nothing but accept the present situation and go with the flow. This encounter was certainly going to be different. And, sure enough the enriched experience this time was only because it wasn’t the same as the last time.

As they say – live in the present instead of dwelling in the past because only the present exists. But do we really learn!

Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

26 thoughts on “Benaras Revisited”

  1. My thought was at least they had dams to release the water so there wasn’t a larger catastrophe somewhere else. But I see your point after you’ve travelled so far specifically to share your experience in Varanasi with your friend. Great to show the before and after for context. Maggie

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    1. Perhaps the dams would overflow and cause flooding, hence the water had to be managed. Since we were there for 5 days, the water receded little by little everyday and my friend was able to experience some of what I talked about on the last two days. Thanks for reading, Maggie.

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  2. The last photo showed clearly the amount of water level increase, but it still surprised and shocked me – I didn’t have idea the river levels rise so much.
    But then looking at the older of the second ghat pictures, so many doorways would have gone under water, wonder where they led to 😢

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    1. In the last photo that entire structure was under water with only the topmost part slightly visible. This picture was taken on the 4th day of our visit after the water had receded a bit and walking through the ghats was possible. So, you can imagine how high the level of water would have been.
      As for the doorways, they all are entrance to small temples, if I remember correctly from last time.
      Have you been to Varanasi, Deb?

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      1. I had gone as a small kid, the age where important things don’t form a lasting memory. All I remember is walking up to a dhaba at noon with face covered in cloth to avoid the loo, the super delicious shahi paneer and tandoori roti, the all night power cut wihen we sat in the veranda to escape the heat. My mom’s disapproval of the famous benarasi paan. And morning boat rides on the Ganga, the dark coloured waters and the very very creamy and yummy lassi in almost all Gallis 😋😁
        I remember the Kashi Vishwanath temple too, but not much of the ghats.

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        1. In that case, you definitely have to visit again. And during the winter months but maybe after your daughter is slightly older, lest she feels the same way you did as a child. 🙂

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    1. The water level was high and I am certain it would have been in Kolkata Ganga too. As I mentioned in response to a previous comment, this picture was taken on the 4th day of our visit. Everyday the water receded bit by bit and finally on the 4th day walking through the ghats was possible. Though we did have to maneuver our way through the slippery sediment/soil deposited by the river. That was fun too. 😀

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  3. Really glad you got back there and got to see it again as well. I remember last time I was there in 2016 there were signs of mud high up on the ghats as it had recently flooded but I couldn’t imagine it. Seeing it made it real.

    What is travel like in India these days? I haven’t been more than 200 km from home in our own province and have done very little. Here crowds are small, masking is still required indoors except for restaurants and bars where proof of vaccination is required. Even then it’s still a little stressful as it’s opened enough that buses and trains are crowding again. And our cases are rising again – either the fourth or fifth wave depending on if you count our recent decline as the end of the fourth or not.

    It may be a while before I go beyond as far as my bicycle can carry me for a little longer yet.

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    1. I remembered you Todd and all the Varanasi posts I had read in your blog. I was even mentioning this to my friend. Also while passing through the guest house (Marigold), where you stayed I once again remembered you. 🙂

      In India, different cities have different norm. Though travel seems to have become quite normalized again. Upon arrival in UP, I thought our vaccination certificates would be checked but nothing like that happened. I believe the rules are strict upon arrival from Maharashtra and Kerala, where the cases are more. For e.g., if you are coming from those states to Bangalore, covid-negative test is mandatory.

      I visited Lucknow and Varanasi last week. Was shocked to find only 5% people masked. We asked our cab driver in Lucknow to mask up, he flatly refused. The roads and places of tourist interests were extremely crowded. And, as for Varanasi, you can well imagine it’s just as crowded as ever. However, there were very few travelers. Most of the crowd were pilgrims. The pandemic after affects on business were largely visible too. Especially the kind of restaurants, whose major customers were foreigners have shut shop. We did see a few foreigners though but really very few.

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  4. Your first paragraph really got me contemplating about life and the choices I’ve made. That’s a huge difference in water level between your 2019 and 2021 trips to Benares! I know instances like this also happen elsewhere across the globe — where man-made structures are submerged, whether temporarily or permanently, for different reasons. I wonder if those now underwater ghats will eventually see the light again.

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    1. The water was receding everyday bit by bit. On the 4th day of our visit we could manage to walk through the ghats and that’s when I clicked these pictures. So I am quite sure the structures under water now will be out in a few days.
      Have you been to Varanasi, Bama? Being the kind of traveler that you are I’d suppose you have. And, if you didn’t then you most certainly must. 🙂
      Thanks so much for reading.

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      1. That’s good to hear. Actually I haven’t been to Varanasi. When I traveled to India back in 2015, I only went to the south (Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry) with a brief stay in Kolkata. I’ve seen so many images of Varanasi (I even learned a little bit about it at school) and it does look intriguing.

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        1. I see….That’s understandable. It’s difficult to club South and North India, you’d need a lot more travel days. Next time you’re here, probably you could plan to visit all these ancient cities. It’s an enriching experience as you can understand.

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  5. Nice to see that you could visit Benaras again… all those doors too! 🙂
    Though there exists a natural seasonal change in the topography of places and we can expect a slight variation every visit (especially at diferent times of the year), this is really bad. Climate change is here and the seasons going awry is the first sign of things to come – I dread the imminent.
    Well, I would say change is the law of life, but not unless we change our attitude to life!

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    1. Couldn’t agree with you more on changing our attitude towards life. As for the river flooding during Winter season, I really don’t know what to say. We are just a witness to climate change. Even though some of us make small changes in our lives, that adds up to nothing. Major changes need major actions, which obviously isn’t happening and probably will never happen.

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