This was such a last minute decision that I didn’t believe it until I was at the airport on the 27th! My gorgeous sister was scheduled to attend a fancy wedding in Khajuraho over the weekend and she wanted to make a quick stop in Benaras. Since Varanasi (Benaras) is a very important religious site for all Hindus, it was easy to convince our moms to join us on this holiday. So, us five girls (Chinmayee, her mother, me, my mom, and our moms’ elder sister) ended up on a three day trip to the ghats.
Chee and I were scheduled to join the moms (who had left earlier for an extra two days in Allahabad) on Wednesday. We took the 7:50 SpiceJet from Bombay that thankfully left on time. My sister had to finish some legal draft and tried (unsuccessfully) to type it on her phone. This charade continued on the flight, in the cab to the hotel, and then over lunch. She finally gave up, called the office, caught an unsuspecting steno and dictated her notes while I enjoyed my lassi.
♦ Travel ♦
By Air: Benaras Airport is a good 25kms away from the ghats and takes about an hour by cab. If you have made your hotel reservations, I suggest you call ahead and ask them to send a cab instead of booking one at the airport when you arrive. For a small car it costs about Rs. 750 (non-AC) and Rs. 850 (AC).
By Rail: There are multiple railway stations in Benaras. The main station is Varanasi BSB, also known as Cannt. This isn’t very far from the ghats, but given the traffic it takes about 30-40 minutes. A small cab costs about Rs. 400 and a big one will charge about Rs. 700. Again, I recommend booking one from the hotel.
By Road: I am assuming that you are traveling from Allahabad, Khajuraho, or any other place in the vicinity. Most of these places are on the Hindu bucketlist of ‘holy’ travel. This is why most hotels or travel agents offer transportation facilities connecting these towns/cities. You can either book a whole cab or check for ‘per seat’ fare. Most hotels should have ready information on availability of vehicles.
♦ Places to Stay ♦
When the moms suggested we stay on the ghats, I recoiled at the mere idea. My only image of Benaras is from the movie Laaga Chunari Mein Daag which I do NOT recommend you watch. The memories of Haridwar (a trip I made over a decade ago) still etched in my mind, I don’t harbor much love for the holy Ganga. I am respectful of the public’s sentiments but my sense of hygiene prevails and I refused to bathe in the water that people throw corpses in. But I was in for a surprise! The ghats have their own charm. There is a certain rustic beauty in those 3-ft wide lanes that crisscross in a maddening maze leading to the banks of the river. If you are healthy and can easily manage the long winding walks, I heartily recommend staying on the Ghats. The cabs will drop you off near Girijaghar and you’ll have to walk to the hotels from there. If you pre-book a hotel cab, they will send someone to carry your bags for you. Meer Ghat is ideal because of its proximity to Dashashwamedh Ghat and the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
We stayed at Hotel Alka, Meer Ghat. Minimalist and clean, friendly staff, vegetarian menu. You can check the ratings and availability before deciding.
♦ First Impressions ♦
It is an assault on your senses. There is no getting around that fact. The streets leading to the ghats from Girijaghar are super tiny winding lanes no more than 4ft wide. Cows, children, monkeys, tea sellers, and dudes on motorbikes claim major parts of these lanes. You have to make way for all of them. Do not interact with anyone trying to sell you anything until you’ve got your bearings. There are plenty of attractive shops selling kurtas, jholas, and the likes. Do not be shy to bargain. There are mithai sellers EVERYWHERE. And they all seem to make good business which makes me wonder if all the locals only eat milk, and butter-laden food. It is mind boggling. The kullad chai is a must-have. It took me a total of 45 minutes to fall in love with this colorful mess of a town and its people.
UP NEXT : Benaras – Sunset boat ride