"Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together" - Mark Twain.
To any eye , Varanasi is captivating, and here is a glimpse of it through my eyes.
The ancient yet modern city of Varanasi prospers by the river Ganges , and it's layout catches a frame in your heart. Wonder how many years it has taken for this city to be? Well nothing less than 5000!
It is a city where Gods and people coexist peacefully. You find a temple at every nook and corner, and the people are just to captivating not to be captured.
The Ghats or the banks of the river on Varanasi is prime to it's activities and life in the town. You will find ancient scriptures practiced here , just by a side of a casual bath.
Easiest of transportation in Varanasi is by boat , it helps you beat the dust and pollution on road through a smooth heart calming journey , and also fast.
The Ganga Arti is not to be missed ! A ceremony held to bestow thanks upon the lifeline of the town , river Ganges. She is also considered as a holy mother and every evening and morning , gets a rightful gratitude from the people.
The river Ganges in full flow has seen time pass by through this eternal city's existence! Considered the holiest among all rivers in India , the prosperity and existence of the Varanasi lies on this.
The narrow alleys of Varanasi runs like veins in a body, with plethora of life happening in them , even though always under the shadows.
You find men who seek for their Moksha or salvation everywhere. That is the basic purpose of life here.
All in all , you may be spiritual or not, may be a wanderer or not, yet this city is for everyone and hence , I guess it has stood beyond time and history.
Calcutta can be divided into two times. The times during Durga Puja and the times without Durga Puja. While without Durga Puja , this city is beautiful, but during the Durga Puja this city turns into the best in the world. For the intensity , crazyness , passion and enigmatic ambience that you find here for the 5 days of the annual festival. So here is a quick brief on the beggining of this festival and how it starts from my own experience, as I hopped into the city.
Essentially Durga Puja is the worship of the diving mother Goddess in the form of Devi Durga. According to myth , she was the answer to all the prayers of men , when a demon called Mahisasur was running rampant on Earth. She was the saviour of all mankind and bestowed upon the victory of good over the evil. Even now she is generally worshipped in the form of the Goddess slaying the demon.
According to legend though , this festival didn't came into existence during the months of Autumn untill Lord Ram performed it. Ram had to take blessings , to rescue his wife Sita from Ravana, and hence to make alliance with the mother Goddess performed the ceremony in the month of Autumn. Durga ashtami celebrates the day , when the alliance was made , and a special ceremony can be seen on this day that remembers the story.
The nine days of festival is known as Nav Ratri and celebrated mostly throughout India, however with different aspects.
The north and west of India , celebrates this ceremony of Lord Ram and his victory over Ravana primarily ending on Dusshera. However , In the east , the belief is a little different. Here , Durga is treated as the daughter of the land who is married to Shiva and resides with her husband In Himalayas. On this five days of auspicious timming , she comes down to visit her parents from the mountains, along with his children. So this Durga Puja is the celebration of HOMECOMING of the Divine goddess.
So the Goddess is formed in her way of slaying the demons and accompanied by her two sons and daughters, are made into idols from mud and clay , at special Craftsmen workshops. From here it is dressed and packed and to be put on vehchiles and taken to respective pandals or temporary temples built for the five days of festival during this time of the year. The Craftsmen highly qualified and their super workmanship is renowned worldwide and takes up to five to six months to form the Goddess
The formation of Goddess is highly creative process , where in the base is made of hay and bamboos, the flesh and face out of mud and clay. The finishing touches are of the eyes and is truly beautiful to see, once finished. Each and every idol is different in it's way , telling a story told by the Craftsmen with patience and precision through the idols.
Once the statues are all ready and opened for worship and display at respective pandals, the festival starts with full flow. And that's how one of the most intense human celebration is on its way.
Every city has it's own history and heritage, Kolkata still lives in it. And when most people and traveler , shell their money on entry fees and only visit iconic sites of this city, they actually miss a lot of this beautiful city itself.
To understand or feel the city like a true local would , you must venture a little beyond the usual iconic sites.
Here I try to reveal the five places in Kolkata , where you get to live this experiences for free. All you need to do is reach there and no entry fees!
1. Morning Flower Market
Nestled under the Howrah bridge, the morning Flower Market of Kolkata should be a grand way to start your day. Every morning, thousands of farmers, living in nearby countrysides of the city, shows up here with their produce of flowers for the day. And this market has been held everyday since two centuries. It is one of the biggest natural flower market in terms of produce and footfall, and surely a fascinating scene to see.
Farmers reach the market from 4 a.m , before the sun comes up, and the market stretches till 9 a.m.
With plethora of flowers and people , it's a chaos everywhere. After all it's a market, but my assurance to you, it will be one of the most different morning , you have woke up to !
2. Exploring Burrabazar.
Under the British , Kolkata grew up to be the second most important city in the world , in the colonial times. And a important city must have a big huge market, to hold on to it's economic value Burrabazar serves the purpose. It used to be the largest whole sale market in the world once, and even though the glory days are passed, still it doesn't lack the glory to fascinate you.
A plethora of people and activities , commerce and trade , this market serves as a street photographers paradise in Kolkata. Add to it the age old market building and the rustic look , every frame to shoot is perfect.
3. The Factory of Gods
A whole area in Kolkata is dedicated in construction and production of Gods and Goddesses. And that too mostly in a factory line procedure! Yes , the area of Kumartuli , is famous for the clay Craftsmen, who have created the idols of Gods , for generations. The skill is passed from grandfather to father and then to son. On busy seasons of festival, the whole families here adhere to the production , due to the sky rocketed demand of Gods for religious purposes. The production and quality of the idols are so good they are even exported oversees.
This place truly is not to be missed at any cost when you are in Kolkata.
4. Colonial Neighborhoods
Calcutta built in the seventeenth century served as the epitome of colonial power in India and the subcontinent. Hence, all the big merchants , traders or feudal Lords had to have a home here, in order to meet their good business and expand them. A whole neighborhood was formed , consisting their residences , here in the city. This 300 year old houses are still their eminent in their presence but mostly in ruins. People still live there , and some radiates a haunting glow. The neighborhood however is vintage, and definitely takes you back in time of the colonial era, with it's shape , sizes and hue. This colonial neighborhood is mostly found in the north of the city prominently in Shyambazar to Girish Park.
5. Sunset over Hoogly.
Like any city , Kolkata has it's lifeline in form of a river called Hoogly. By the banks of it, this metropolis has sustained and flourished for so long , and would remain to do so in future. The river is accessible easily from any part of the city, and can be the best place to spend the sunset. The numerous Ghats along the river from South to North of the city plays the vital role , from where anyone can glimpse the Divine sun down. For best experience, one can go to Princep Ghat, for a sunset. Also one can take a boat ride in Hoogly there , during any point of day and enjoy the grand euphoria. All this experiences are mostly accessible to all and comes in no or few money. For more information of such , you know definitely whom to contact with.
Note from the Author,
" Travel made me rich and free. Magic and miracles are true , once you wander on the roads to places different and divine. I have collected so many thoughts and stories while being a Tour & Trek guide for last seven years. Sharing with you all, those memories and stories , and wishing you all , that someday you guys travel far and wide too. I am not a great writer , so ignore my grammar and spellings, read it with feelings, and you might just be affected with the wanderlust to hit the road"