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!

Moments of Bliss

Beside the Serene River Spiti…

I couldn’t have enough of the crystal clear emerald green water meandering its way through the nooks and corners of the big tall mountains. Sitting on the banks of Spiti River, all I could hear was the soft gentle gushing sound of water. The gurgling sound of water was healing and soothing to the mind. It was a moment of pure bliss and I felt transported to a different world. The serene calmness of the water quietened my mind and cleared out all thoughts. The peaceful moment was mystically overpowering and I could think of nothing else.

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Pic 1: Spiti River sometimes emerald green sometimes a tinge of blue

Originating from the Kunzum mountain range and fed by the glaciers melting from the top of the Himalayan range, the river is an epitome of peace and tranquility. Its calmness seem to radiate an eloquence and grace that made it gloriously beautiful. To me it seemed to be wearing a constant smile, welcoming me with open arms, and making me feel at home and comfortable.

Alongside the river and just a little distance away, runs the only road in Spiti Valley, which serves as a passageway for thousands of vehicles ferrying people across their destinations.The river didn’t seem to be affected at all by the tarmac road and its activities. It kept flowing along its own course shining and glowing all the way.

Shouldn’t I be like the river, I wondered? Unperturbed by all the happenings around me and be my best self always? Possibly I cannot but at least I can try. Will I remember this when I go back to the city?

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Pic 2: The tarmac road, the elegant river, and the barren mountains

The glistening stones smoothened over time with the flowing water was clearly visible through the shallow water. These stones laying on the river bed appeared to sparkle even though they were covered by a layer of colourless slippery moss. I tried stepping onto one but it didn’t let me stand. I wondered what stories they would tell. Each one would surely have a story of their own. They must have seen so much through the passage of time. If they could talk, what conversations would they have with me and with one another? I giggled at the thought of telling them about the world of AI and IoT.

I sat there for a long while staring at the transparent water. The river had captivated my imagination and I felt I could sit just like that forever. My mind was blank and I must have been smiling. “Didi, look here!” suddenly these words came flowing through the wind putting an end to my blissful reverie. It was my sister calling out from a distance. She was positioning her camera to click a picture. While I sat there, she walked along the banks, both of us were lost in our own worlds.

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Pic 3: I could sit there forever

Those moments of serenity and tranquility I treasure. Much as I wish, I cannot get that here in my city. Drowned in the humdrum of daily life, I miss those moments. The anticipation of the next such opportunity keeps me going. Until then, I just gratify myself with those wonderful moments carefully stored in a corner of my heart. My source of sustenance, as I patiently and eagerly wait for the next blissful moment….

Serene