There is no age where one can start to travel and in the fifth episode of balancing the act we have Akshita Shrivastava, a resident of Bhopal, who started her solo travel at the age of 19. She thinks of herself as Awara or vagabond. For the past 2 years she has been travelling and working in different regions of India. Warned about the dangers of being a solo female traveller she took a leap of faith and ventured her first solo trip in college.
According to her the more you travel the more you know. She travelled around India learning from her experiences. Took up her first job after the 12th grade and saved money for her travel. This made it convenient to travel as the only way her parents could stop her was if they had to fund her trip. It started with Prini which is a village in Manali. At that time there was no public transport , decided to walk and ultimately hitch hiked to the destination as she had no option.
Eventually she started working in zostels through world packer.com which provided her with free meals and accommodation in various places around india. This made her travel more convenient . She worked with Zostel Jaipur, Zostel Varanasi for 8 months, Zostel Dharamshala for 3 months and then in Zostel Goa. She met numerous travellers and looked at the world through their eyes by hearing their stories. Her favourite place in India after all her travels is Kanatal in Uttarakhand which is a beautiful village, which is surrounded by apple orchards. There is no mobile connectivity which makes it her escape from her normal life.
“Banaras calls out to you and seeks you, you don’t travel to banaras” which she thinks its very true because unintentionally you end up being attracted to the beauty and charm of banaras. Most people who venture out here are on a spiritual journey and they try to learn as much as banaras has to offer them. While choosing between mountains and Banaras, the peace of the mountains let’s you talk to yourself and help in self- discovery whereas Banaras seeks out and talks to you.
Three places one can visit in Banaras are as following:-
A sunrise in Banaras
A sunrise at Banaras is breathtaking and absolutely mesmerising. Assi ghat is one among the foremost famous ghat in Varanasi. The first morning Ganga Aarti, shloka chanting and havan are absolutely divine. Most of the tourist come here in the morning and after Aarti take a ship ride to experience beautiful sunrise and visit other prominent ghats
The Rajghat bridge or the Malviya Bridge in the evening during the full moon night is perfect. The reflection of the full moon in the river ganga is calm and serene. The cool breeze along with the scenery makes it a perfect place to be at.
Tulsi Akhada is a place where the saint and poet, Goswami Tulsidas, used to practice Khushti.
Another place she loves to visit is the Manikarnika ghat which is one of the holiest cremation grounds. While first visiting she was in tears but later she realised that death is a part of life and one shouldn’t be sad about it. Another famous thing are the boat rides on the holy river, Ganga. She suggested that 150 rupees along with other people or 400 rupees for a boat of 5 people is quite reasonable. The rates can be cheaper if you go for a boat ride in the morning or prebook it.
Food to eat in Varanasi is variable. A few places one can visit is Kashi Chat Bhandar is one of the best places to have chaat in the evening while taking stroll. The tomato chaat is one of their best dishes as it is a mixture of tangy, spicy and sweet. Lassi and Bhang are also famous refreshments. While having Bhang one must be cautious about the amount one can intake. Last but not least is the famous Banaras Paan .
Choosing between Beaches and Mountains is hard but both have unique life lessons to give us. Mountains teach us to preserve nature as in the city we do not give enough of importance to nature. Nature has an impact on your mind, body and soul. Beaches teach you to have fun and explore new experiences. Even though there is a change in landscape and culture from varying regions but the love of hospitality in Indian people never changes. Both work and travel are important and this is how Akshita balances the act.
The ancient Buddhist scripture Vinaya Pitaka (attributed to Buddha himself) also mentions Kashi (as Banaras was called then) as a well-liked halting station on the traditional northerly route. Uttarapatha, which connect Rajgir in the south-east and the beach to faraway Taxila (now in Pakistan) in the north-west. This made Kashi a centre of strong commercial activities also , 2,500 years ago. Cottage industries and textile manufacturing were thriving here. In fact, when Buddha died, it’s said that his remains were wrapped in cotton woven in Kashi.
This combination of faith , commerce and an area of learning helped Kashi grow from a ‘janapada’ to a ‘mahajanapada’ by the 6th century BCE. In fact, Kashi was one among the 16 states that were a neighborhood of the transition from janapadas to mahajanapadas.
Some time within the 6th century BCE, numerous small janapadas made way for a couple of larger mahajanapadas. The stronger states consumed the weaker ones. This had to do with agrarian extension, control of trade routes and aggressive ambitions backed by more evolved iron weaponry and warfare. This era is additionally mentioned because the ‘second urbanisation’ in Indian history – when pastoral life paved the way for agriculture, surpluses fuelled commerce and market towns became large, populous cities. (The ‘first urbanisation’ was during the Harappan Civilization).
The Magadha mahajanapada and the region it controlled would still be a hub for subsequent 1,000 years. It’s from here that successful empires would be built, for hundreds of years to return .
From 1194, Varanasi went into a destructive phase for 3 centuries under the Muslim rule. The temples were destroyed and therefore the scholars had to go away . In the 16th century, with the tolerant emperor Akbar’s accession to the Mughal throne, some religious respite was restored to the town . All that disappeared again within the late 17th century when the tyrannical Mughal ruler Aurangzeb came to power.
In the 18th century Varanasi became an independent kingdom, with Ramnagar as its capital, when British declared it a replacement Indian state in 1910. After India’s independence in 1947, Varanasi became a part of the state of Uttar Pradesh .
Varanasi has the unique art culture all across the planet , due to its richest cultural traditions it’s called the cultural capital of India. it’s become the middle of the Indian culture because it belongs to the amalgamation of archaeology, traditions, natural features, religious places, various religions, sculpture and old history. Ancient arts and cultures are still preserved within the Varanasi city in many museums which denotes the traditional art and culture of the people. It indicates to the fashionable people to not forget the old culture but follow them. It’s has been proved through many scientific researches that the religious beliefs become true and have great reason behind them. Religious places, museums and monuments saves the important history of the Varanasi city, generally referred to as the Kashi. Varanasi is legendary worldwide for its art culture like the silk and Banarasi Sarees, handicrafts, ornaments, metal work, textiles, clay, woodwork and lots of more.
Varanasi has the variability of educational institutions that’s why it’s become the middle of education for all the religions worldwide. People say it the capital of education due to its great contribution towards the education. Indian serious music , drama and other activities are closely related to the good culture of the Varanasi. it’s the birth place of great legends who has provided their immense contribution in developing the town . Ramlila drama has been played by people in Varanasi per annum to point out the truth of the Rama period.
Varanasi has old culture of art and literature. Great Indian writers like Kabir Das, Ravidas, Tulsidas Kulluka Bhatt, Bharatendu Harishchandra, Jaishankar Prasad, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Tegh Ali, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Acharya Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Vagish Shastri, Baldev Upadhyaya, Sudama Pandey, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri and Vidya Niwas Mishra have lived in this city.
In Varanasi the art lovers and historians like Rai Krishnadasa, musician Gopal Mishra, Omkarnath Thakur, ravi shankar, Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Lalmani Misra,Chhannulal Mishra and various others who have kept this city alive to the spiritual aspects of fine arts. People celebrate their numerous festivals in traditional sorts of classical and folk culture of Varanasi.
Sushruta was an excellent surgeon and author of the book Sushruta Samhita has also lived in Varanasi. This city has hospitals for Ayurveda and Panchkarma treatment.
Varanasi also has great museums the Jantar Mantar, the Archaeological museum, the Bharat Kala Bhavan, and therefore the Ramnagar Fort.
Places to visit in Banaras
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
It is said that Kashi is sitting atop the trident of Lord Shiva and in Kashi his abode is Vishwanath temple. This temple dedicated to Lord Shiva features a Shivalinga situated below ground level. Located shortly from the Ghats, the temple is topped by 750 kg of gold donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab in 1839 while the temple was built in 1777 by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore. It’s often referred as golden temple of the town . The Shivlinga within the temple is amongst the twelve jyotirlingas.
Situated on the brink of the Kashi Vishwanath temple, the sanctuary of Goddess Annapurna is extremely popular amongst devotees. The temple features a bronze idol of the Goddess, seated on a silver platform. The Golden idol of the deity is opened on just one occasion a year for “darshan” for the overall public.
One of the foremost frequented Buddhist spots in India, Sarnath has wealth of spiritual traditions and archaeological remains , where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon after gaining enlightenment . Sarnath attracts many pilgrims, archaeologists, historians and students from India and abroad. Buddhists attraction in Sarnath are Mulgandha kuti Vihara, Dhammekh Stupa,Chaukhandi Stupa , Tibetan, Korean, Japanese, Thai,Buddhist temples and an Archaeological Museum, housing a precious collection of Buddhist artifacts including an Ashoka lion capital (India’s national emblem) in polished sandstone. Besides an outsized complex of ruined monasteries having Asoka pillar, which is that the evident of his visit to Sarnath can be seen.
It was planned by the founding father of Benaras Hindu University, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and executed by the Birla Family. The temple was built for the propogation of Hindu culture but used it for the revival of ancient Hinduism free from the prejudices of caste, creed and religion.
Ideally located on the other bank of the holy river Ganga, Ramnagar Fort may be a historic fort built in the 18th century. It was once the abode of the Maharajas of Banaras. It encompasses a temple and a museum aside from other royal structures. Reflecting the Mughal Era charm, the fort may be a treat for the senses.
Banaras Hindu University
Banaras Hindu University is one among the foremost famous universities of India. Established in 1916, this university boasts of an exquisite museum called Bharat Kala Bhavan- a museum with a desirable collecting of miniature paintings, local history displays, sculptures and 12th-century palm-leaf manuscripts.
The Celestial City of Varanasi has many Ghats which beautifully reflect its cultural heritage. Spend a while at the Ghats and it’ll evoke a spiritual feeling in you. Each Ghat has its own sacred aura. You’ll take a ship ride from one Ghat to a different which is sort of an attraction here. Although there are many Ghats within the city like Panchganga Ghat, Kedar Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Tulsi Ghat and lots of more but Dashashwamedh may be a must-visit.
Things to eat in Varanasi
kachori Sabzi may be a popular breakfast option here in Varanasi. The kachori is either full of dal ki pithi i.e. masala made from lentils or with a spicy potato masala. These Kachoris are served with a spicy aloo ki sabzi. This drool-worthy combination is certainly a requirement try.
Channa Dahi Bada
Deep fried bada made up of channa is soaked in thick beaten sweet yogurt. This is often then garnished with masala, crushed black pepper, cumin and coriander among other things. This perfect mixture of sweet and sour is extremely light.
Safed Makhan Toast
An early morning breakfast of Safed Makhan Toast with chai may be a good way to start out your day. Locally sourced bread is toasted over a coal oven and freshly made yellow or white butter is spread generously over it. The toast is either served with a pinch of chaat masala or sugar counting on your preference.
Thandai is milk flavored with a spread of spices. you’ll find different variants of the Thandai on the streets of Varanasi counting on the seasonal fruit. the foremost popular version is that the Kesaria Thandai of Banaras, which is understood for its unique taste.
Laiya Channa may be a snack made up of soaked boiled Channa. it’s almost like bhel puri; except the cold cereal is substituted with channa. Boiled channa is mixed with masalas, peanuts, chopped tomato, and onion. This snack is typically served with chai.
Chooda Matar is simply a Benarasi version of Poha. Flattened rice is soaked in ghee and stir-fried with fresh green peas and a spread of spices. Cream, milk, coriander, saffron, and raisins are added to enhance the flavour . It’s a light-weight evening snack and you’ll enjoy it with a cup of hot masala chai.
This regional delicacy is typically prepared during the festival of Holi, but you’ll find it on the streets of Varanasi all throughout the year. The crispy covering made from pastry is crammed with milk solids(mawa), nuts and sugar. This fried delight is then soaked in flavored syrup and served. One or two pieces of those are enough to satiate your appetite .
Baati chokha is one among the favored foods found on the streets of Varanasi. Baati may be a sort of Indian Bread with a filling of chatpate sattu and is served with Chokna which may be a mixture of mashed potatoes, tomatoes, baked brinjal, and spices. You’ll find Baati Chokha almost everywhere on the streets and also in plush restaurants at Varanasi.
This delicious street food of Varanasi is ready from milk and served in small earthen cups called Kulhad. This dish has Persian origins and is flavored with cardamom and saffron. It’s garnished with almonds and pistachios and sometimes served with flavored. It’s so light and frothy in texture that it melts in your mouth.
Rabri Malai Lassi
The Banarasi Lassi is different from the Punjabi lassi. The local Banarasi Lassi may be a complete meal in itself. Hand-churned lassi is topped with a generous amount of Rabri and Malai. This thick concoction is served in earthen pots with a generous sprinkling of crushed pistachios.