After the end of the 2nd day, we had landed in Varanasi @ around 9 pm (with the stop over for dinner). It was very dark, but we could figure out that there is no such thing called traffic control in that area. Once we left the highway, I guess it took more time to reach the mdam (Kanchi sankara mdam). The roads are very small with enough billboards giving you the directions of the different ghats and the temples that we would be visiting the next day. We were too tired to really notice anything else. The last stop for the car driver was to drop us in the kanchi mdam and then we paid him in full (11000Rs) and bade him goodbye with a thanks for the safe journey.
The kanchi mdam is very near to the Kanchi temple and you can see more south indians (mostly vaadhiyaars) out here. Even the hindi speaking guys understand and speak a little tamil and telugu (as far as I heard). They gave us a room in the ground floor (thankfully) and we unpacked and were wondering what our next day’s program was when one vaathiyaar who does the local tours there for the visitors knocked our doors and asked us to get ready by 6 am or earlier and that we would be visiting the temples even before the ceremony starts. There was strict instructions on not to carry the cellphones or any leather items. Even money should be very limited. If possible, change for Rs 100 should do and some money for autorickshaws.
The room was spacious and clean and well maintained. They also have water filters and a temple inside (no slippers near the inside temple). We got ready by 5.30 am (naanga rombha punctual) and he was surprised when he paid a visit to wake us up @ 5.30 am. So we started off in a auto exactly @ 6 am and visited the following temples
a)The KaalaBhairavar temple (one of the to-be-seen temples in Kaasi)
b) The Annapoorneshwari temple
c) Kaasi Vishwanathar temple (had high security and checkings..)
d) Devi temple (exact name I forgot)
The roads to these temples are very very narrow and is full of building on all sides. You wouldnt guess which gali will lead you to the temple. The roads are very dirty and you can see cows every where (not just here.. the whole of the Varanasi). Everywhere you go, please stare at your purse to see how much money you have and how they can take all of that. That is why the guide vaathiyaar asked us to get change for 100 Rs and not take a purse at all.
After that we returned back, and I had my breakfast (2 vada’s in the nearby stall and a coffee) and the ceremony started. Here we did the Hiranya Shraddham and once that is done, we took the avisu (the cooked rice..) to do the other rituals in the Ganges.
We walked to the Shivala Ghat (picture below) which was very near to the mdam only to find that the purohit who was supposed to do the rituals for us, had been waiting for us since 7 am (as was instructed to him) and we had reached by 8 am (after our visit to the temples). So he got pissed off and he went and sat in a far off place not willing to do the ritual for us. We were shocked by this behavior. Because we werent aware of this miscommunication. So we waited for the guide vaathiyaar to handle the situation as they felt correct. He tried to convince the purohit and since he was stubborn (and he had another customer coming @ around 8.15 am) he didnt want to come. So they arranged for the vaathiyaar who had done the hiranya shraddham in the mdam and he came in short notice. This was the small glitch in the whole story. And then the events continued as usual.
We were supposed to do the Shraddham in 5 ghats (owing to the time limits…) They were
a) Assi Ghat
b) Dashavamedha Ghat
c) Trilochana Gat
d) Pancha Ganga Ghat
e) ManiKarnika Ghat
We have to proceed towards the Assi river side of Ganges and start from there and then proceed back to Varuna river side where we do the rituals in Pancha Ganga Ghat and come back to ManiKarnika and then back to Shivala Ghat.
I asked the vaathiyaar, if I should take a dip in Ganges too. He said he would let me know which ghats I can take a dip. So I was waiting for his nod. This is a picture of the ghats and the Ganges from the Assi Ghat.
This is the Harishchandra Ghat, where there were a few dead bodies which were burning and which were ready to be burnt too.
Once we came to the Pancha ganga Ghat, the vaathiyaar asked us to visit the Vindhu madhav temple which is situated almost 100 stairs above (little steep). So after the dip (including mine) and the rituals, we went and did the darshan and came back.
This is the ghat where the Ganga Aarthi is performed during Sunset everyday. They say it is a beautiful ceremony which should not be missed. But we would miss our train, so we skipped it.
I had my dip (not so good one) in Pancha ganga, where I sort of tricked myself and did a partial dip (I am scared of water!!!) and convinced myself that I had bathed in Ganges :D. Then again Manikarnika, they asked me to take a dip. This is the other ghat , other than Harishchandra ghat, where the dead bodies were burnt and their ashes mixed in the Ganges. Inga dhaan sema comedy. My dad realized that I wasnt doing the dippy thing properly.. He was asking me to do it well. But I asked him for a mug so that I can pour the water over my head and I would be done. But everyone (including the boatman) were encouraging me to do a proper dip..But everytime I tried, somehow my hair stayed dry. Realizing the fact that I wasnt going to do it on my own, my dad came forward, and pushed me inside three times. It was scary the first time, but then it was better for the next two dips. I was more scared that water will enter my nose and ears, more than anything else. After that, well I was my usual self. But then, when they were doing their rituals, there came a north indian family (mostly women) who were doing the dippy dippy like me and then to everyone’s surprise, they took out a mug and started pouring water on their heads with it. I was looking @ my mom who was shocked to see this and didnt know what to say. But atleast I did the proper dip with some help. I am glad about that.
We finished our rituals and came back @ around 12.30 pm and had our lunch and rested for a while and packed our stuff for our train @ 6.30 pm and then again @ around 2 pm the guide vaathiyaar came to pick us up for our local tour.
First stop was BHU… evalavu periyaa university..yappadi .. auto la dhaan poanoam..university kulleye 10-15 mins round adika vendiyadhaa irundhichu. They had a beautiful temple (picture below). But this is more of fancy temple. Some how I dont feel like praying in temples made of marble. May be because I am more used to the older stone temples. Especially if the vigrahams are made of marble, I rather look @ it for it beauty than pray.
Then we went to Tulasi manasa mandir, where the whole of Ramayan written by Tulasidas is inscripted in the whole building. They had two floor. Again little on the fancy side. If you want to have a look @ the Ramayan inscriptions, good place to visit. My mom wanted to visit this because her friend had told her that this is one of the not-to-be-missed places in Varanasi. I wonder why!!!
Next stop was a Hanunam (Sankat mochan) temple where we are not allowed to take the camera or cellphones. After that we went to Adiparasakthi temple or Durga temple which was colored in dark red (as seen below). Looked like a very old temple, but recently painted. They say that the goddess here is very powerful.
The last stop was the Choliamman temple, who is said to be the sister of Kashi vishwanath. They say that unless you see her, your trip of Kaasi is not complete. Why Choliamman? Here you pray with the choli (I dont know the english name of it.. its a small play thing that is commonly used for dayakattam.. ) We use that instead of flowers and they give us one each to be placed in our pooja room.
It was almost 4.30 by the time we reached back to the mdam, settled the accounts, got the night dinner packed (idly with chutney powder) and came to the station @ around 5.30 pm itself.
A few things about Varanasi:
Its dirty, but not as dirty as Allahabad
There are cows everywhere…. and in equal population to the men who come there.
Foreigners are so attracted to the Ganges even inspite of the uncleanliness in the ghats, that I see most of the sitting by the river and meditating
The place in between the two rivers (Varuna and Assi) is called Varanasi.
There are more then 64 ghats
The guide vaathiyaar has been there for 3 years now (doing seva) and spoke so little hindi. And when he heard me speak hindi to a dukaanwala, he was so surprised and appreciated me for speaking it so well. (ennaku dhaan theriyum yen hindi yoada azhagu)
Everyone was money for everything, including the guide vaathiyaar (He does seva in the mdam and doesnt get paid..but gets food, shelter and clothing.. so only with the money he earns as guide and as a vaathiyaar, he has to buy things for himself and his wife…ellarukum oru story..)
I hardly saw one or two traffic policemen and 1 traffic signal. Unless you are careful, you will be runover. Be careful there.
You will get Tea easily when compared to coffee.
We saw people getting dead bodies from nearby places to be cremated in Ganges. Ideally, unless the dead person is a child of less than 7 years, all bodies will be burnt and ashes thrown in Ganges, but if the dead person is a child they will immerse it as is in Ganges. That is what people informed us there. Also people who are expecting their death come to Varanasi to die near / in Ganges.
Ganges is highly polluted, but there is something out there which makes you feel different (atleast made me feel different and want to take a dip there). Do not take the dip near the Ghat.. Go a little further and do it. The places near the ghat is the one which has more garbage.
The proper city (not the ones where the temples are located) looked more or like a slightly older version of the BTM layout except for the language.
Everyone, almost everyone, chews paan. I hate that smell (one of the very few smells my nostrils react to) but you cannot avoid that.
As per our guide: The Kaasi vishwanathar temple has a darga (mosque) next to it. During the invasion, the then Raaja took the lingam and hid it in a well to prevent it being desecrated by Muslims. But then later a muslim lady found it and re instated it. You can also see the gold plated domes donated by a Hindu Maharani
As per our guide: You can do the kaasi yaathra rituals based on your convenience. You can do it in three days (minimum like we did) to three years. Some people stay there for a year and do the elaborate rituals…(appadi enna dhaan pannuvaanga theriyala..I dont know about these things well enough to comment..) But if you want to do it, you should always start @ Allahabad or @ Gaya and not in Kaasi
One small conversation between me and the guide vaathiyaar:
Our Guide: ennoda oru chinna logic pathi solavaa kozhandhai…. inga irundha indha 3 varushamaa naan evalavu kathundean theiryumaa
myself: appadiyaa (!!!!!) .. sollungo maamaa.
Guide: nammavaalaam swamiya thodaamadhaane thozhuvoam.. inga mattum yean ivaa ellam swamiya thadavi koduthundu thozharaa theriyumo?
myself: theriyalaye.. neengale sollungo maamaa.
Guide: yeannaa.. Raamar enga porandhaar ? sollumaa
Guide: krishnar ?
Guide: chamathu.. Shiva enga irukaar?
Guide: paathiyaa.. naama thozhara ella kadavulum inga dhaan porandhirukaa.. adhanaala ivaa ellam avaala thannoda irukara thaan kooda puzhangina oru aala paakaraa, adhanaaladhaa thottu vanangaraa.. nammaku appadi illai..kadavulaadhaan paakaroam.. adhanaala thodaama thozhudhutu poaroam.
ippadi pala conversations nadandhadhu.. but ippo adhigam nyabagam illai.. vandhadhum update parean.
All in all , a satisfying and successful journey to the Ganges. My mom was quite happy that she could do it in her time and that when she is healthy enough to do it too. My dad was content that his dream had come true. I was at peace because I visited new places , especially holy places and had my dip in Ganges, which I didn’t ever dream of.