Dispatches from India – A trip to magical, mystical Benares

I have been writing about traveling to India with a toddler, but this one is more just about our trip to Benares. We went over the long weekend, flew out on Kingfisher (a fabulous airline, with good food and air hostesses, very kid friendly. They had kids toys and a kids meal which kept the Babe occupied). A refreshing domestic flight after all our American ones. When we landed it was afternoon, and we headed for the hotel. My mom offered to stay back at the hotel with the babe while I visited the temple with my dad. I wanted to take the babe, but you have to walk a lot it Benares, and I was not sure if he would want to be picked up. Some of the roads can be steep, and I did not want to lug him all the way. But if you kids are a bit bigger, or like walking or you have people willing to carry (like if I had had the babes dad with us), by all means take your kid for an unforgettable experience.

Since we went in the evening, the car had to park very far off from the main temple. From there you can take a cycle driven rickshaw or walk. If you go in the morning however, the car can bring you very close to the temple. The roads are teemig with people on various errands, and you have to push your way through. Occasionally a VIP car will come and everyone will scatter to the  sides as it crawls through. The road is bordered with Benarasi stores, but check with someone for recommendation. There is no guarantee of authenticity from walk in stores. We had a ‘boatman’ who was helping us. The boatman surfaced at the parking lot as our hotel had called ahead. He was going to take us on the river on his boat, but he also served as a guide.

After a while we reached an area where the ‘galis’ start. Benares is famous for its galis – narrow, crooked, undulating streets where no car can fit. Even richsaws are not allowed. Only pedestrians, an occasional cyclist and more frequent cows and bulls. These galis have stores selling puja stuff to brass wares and colorful toys which are good buys, I think. After following an enormous bull with huge curling horns for half a mile while the boatman and the guide walked impatienly ahead, I was able to cross him perilously close to his horns and make my way. The temple was beautiful and spiritually refreshing as usual. It was a lot less crowded in the evening than in the morning. Feeling calm, and happy after that visit we made our ways down the winding galis to the river.

Benares is peppered with ghats by the river. Our boatman said that there are more than 400 of ghats – or bathing areas by the river. The holy river Ganga flows through the city and at two of the ghats, every evening at 6 30 there are ‘ganga arati’. (check with your guide for seasonal timings). We had some time to kill, and so we went on a boat ride on the river. The boat goes downtream from the middle and the breeze is refreshing. The broad river, the many boats and the ancient ghats look beatiful. I succumbed to buying some diyas, Bollywood style, in leaf ‘boats’ cencircled in marigold to light and release in the water. As night falls, the river is lighted up beautifully with hundreds of floating diyas released by tourists on boats.

At 6:30, the arati started. The Ganga arati happens on the ghat, but the best place to watch it is from the boat. Boats doc corner to corner tied to one another forming a temporary rocky bridge across the river. Little boys selling tea climb from boat to boat with their kettles and cuppas. Then the arati begins – seven people in coordinated, beautiful movements – each time with a new type or lamp or incense. It looks beautiful. There is one more ghat too, where there are five people doing the arati.

The next day the babe played in mango groves and beautiful rose and dahlia gardens near our hotel. He spent hours outdoors, taking in nature, exploring a vegetable garden, the trees, the grass, and even getting to ‘drive’ a horse and buggy.

All in all a great visit. On the way back we flew spicejet, which is more American in approach as its a low cost airline (you have to buy food, and no kids meals or toys).

Have any of you been there?

Read more of our Indian adventures here for out trip to Jaipur and here for other expeditions.

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4 Comments

  1. Priya

    Wow!!Khushi..I have seen the lighting only in bollywood movies…Sounds awesome..I wish I can make it there next time…

  2. Khushi Mommy

    Thanks Priya, it looks really nice. This is the first time I tried it.

  3. zeenia

    I have to say Khushi mommy’s elaborate descriptions of her visits always makes me feel as if I am right there 🙂 Yes I did go to Benaras when I was maybe 17 yrs old , so you can imagine how long ago that was !!! All these articles about India is making me really homesick 🙁 But pls keep them coming.:)

  4. Khushi Mommy

    Thanks, Zeenia. I will keep writing. I am hoping you will get persuaded to take the flight…soon.

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