What We Like About…

It may still be a bad time to talk about travel as India has emerged from the second COVID-19 wave only two months’ back. However, there is a post idea that has been on our minds for weeks now & we felt this would be the perfect time to write it down.

So, we have travelled to 21 states & 6 union territories of India. Not all of them for sightseeing but nonetheless… & something or the other has always caught our eye!

Now, even in states, a lot changes between districts. Thus, this is not a generalization but just an account of the things we have experienced & liked about a place.

So, here we go with what we like about…

Andhra Pradesh

P visited Andhra Pradesh as a child. The memories are faint but if we had to choose, it would be the beaches of Vishakhapatnam.

Bihar

What to say about the state that has been home? Yet, Biharis’ zeal to achieve stands out spectacularly.

Chandigarh

The planned sectors & the bungalows… Retiring here would not be a bad idea!

Chhattisgarh

Limited exposure that too in childhood & not from a sightseeing POV

Dadra Nagar Haveli and Daman Diu

We have been to Daman. Loved its laidback vibe. Also, what we coined “poor (wo)man’s Goa”!

Moti Daman Fort

Delhi

Heritage, history, more heritage, more history!

Goa

The lush greenery & the intimidating Arabian Sea during monsoon

Gujarat

The farsan!!!

Sabarmati Riverfront

Haryana

Dhabas & dhaba food!

Himachal Pradesh

The far Himachal of Lahaul, Spiti & Kinnaur… the dangerous Hindustan – Tibet Road… the friendliness of locals…

Jammu & Kashmir

Without a doubt, the valleys. & The dried berries & fruits!

  • kashmir, shikara

Jharkhand

Limited exposure not from a sightseeing POV

Karnataka

The backwaters! (Yes! Unknown compared to the Kerala ones but quite pretty.)

Kerala

How we can go from hills to seas in less than five hours! & The Malabar cuisine.

Between Karnataka & Kerala can be a competition for the best backwaters. We weren’t complaining though…

Ladakh

The sheer grit of the locals! It is a difficult terrain to live in; yet we never found a single person without a smile!

Madhya Pradesh

That fact that it is SO underrated! It has everything – hills, water bodies, geographical formations, indigenous cultures, heritage – & yet it is not the first name that pops up when we speak of ‘Incredible India’.

From the hills of Pachmarhi to the river of Orchha…
Sunset on River Betwa

Maharashtra

The Western Ghat undoubtedly! & Konkani food!!

A pink sky on the Western Ghats

Odisha

P visited Odisha as a child. But she remembers the Chilka Lake vividly…

Puducherry

Favourite beach town in all of India! Great food, colourful buildings, heritage, & max – chill vibe!

Punjab

Mustard fields. Sarson ka saag & makke ki roti. & Harmandir Sahib.

Rajasthan

The fact that when all north India shuts down in winter, this state comes alive! Also, the folk music! & The royalty!

Sikkim

How clean! How safe! How pristine!

Tamil Nadu

The headshake to start with… & Mysore Pak (We know Mysore Park originated in Karnataka, but we have always eaten Mysore Pak in TN ☹)

Telangana

P visited Telangana as a child. She remembers the musical clock at the Salar Jung Museum…

Uttar Pradesh

Home. & Kashi.

Mustard fields, Eternal favorite, uttar pradesh, india

Uttarakhand

The difference between Garhwal & Kumaon. The omnipresence of rhododendrons.

West Bengal

The romanticism. Many movies & series are made with WB as the backdrop. & The outcome is nothing short of beautiful…

There is still a lot to be seen. We hope to cover at least all the states & union territories in our lifetime even if we are unable to see them in entirety. Frankly, one lifetime is inadequate to experience all of Incredible India!

SEEING BENARES IS DIFFERENT FROM EITHER HEARING OR READING ABOUT IT! *

Varanasi in 36 hours

We still prefer referring to Varanasi as Kashi. The word ‘Kashi’ conjures up images of ancient India. After all, didn’t Mark Twain say, Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”?

Ganga Aarti, Dashashwamedh Ghat
The iconic Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat

We made our way to Varanasi on a January long weekend. We had to cancel our original train booking as it was running late. (Winter can be a little risky time to travel in north India, as flights & trains get disrupted due to fog.) We flew to Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport located in Babatpur, 26 KMS from Varanasi.

The First 12 Hours

The highway from Babatpur to Varanasi was under construction then; so, it took us a while to get to our destination. But the construction has been completed in November 2018.

New Vishwanath Mandir, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
Colors of Benares New Vishwanath Mandir

Our first evening in Varanasi was reserved for a boat ride on the River Ganges. It had been a childhood dream for us to take a boat on the Ganges & watch the Ghats. As the Sun set, we made our way from the Assi Ghat to the Dashashwamedh Ghat. The gentle swaying of the boat was accompanied by the boatman’s stories. The Ghats twinkled as we floated alongside. Our hearts could not possibly be fuller.

At sunset every day, the Dashashwamedh Ghat is lit up. Priests line up for a magnificent spectacle wherein the Mother River is worshiped. We felt blessed to be watching the iconic Ganga Aarti. The aarti time makes the Ghats (& the river in front) crowded; so, ensure you get here well in time. It was a heady feeling to be a part of faith at this scale. Watching the aarti from the boat was a surreal experience too!

From the Dashashwamedh Ghat, we moved inland through the maze of lanes that are famous for small temples, eateries, shops & what not. We did not have a set agenda but as our tummies were rumbling, we stopped at Bana Lassi. We tried a Plain Lassi & a Banana Lassi. Both were lip smacking good. The cafe had a bohemian touch with floor seating & painted walls – Bob Marley featured too. The place appeals to foreign tourists. Indian youngsters would feel at home here. We could imagine curling up with a book & trying out all their lassi flavors!

lassi, bana lassi, varanasi, uttar pradesh, india
Our lassis at Bana Lassi

We roamed the Varanasi streets. The abundance of color on the roadside shops dazzled us. Look out for handicraft centers having figurines of gods & goddesses. You will be struck with the variety in color, material & size!

It was time to call it a night after some more yummy in our tummy. Varanasi is known to have one of the tastiest street foods. To validate this, we headed to Kashi Chaat Bhandaar. This place is so good that even a non – street food lover like us returned to eat more. A small, easy – to – miss shop with a handful of tables for seating. Most customers prefer to stand outside, on the road, to gobble up the goodies. The Golgappa, Gulab Jamun, Kulfi Falooda, Potato Tikki Chaat, & Samosa Chaat knocked us off. We may return to Varanasi just for this!

It was a cold January night. Chai would help us sleep better. (Well, there doesn’t really have to be a reason to have tea.) At the Assi Ghat, a kiosk called ‘Taste of Banaras‘ offered us delicious kulhad chai.

Happiness, kulhad chai, cold night, taste of benares, assi ghat, varanasi, uttar pradesh, india
Happiness is… A kulhad chai on a cold night!

The Next 24 Hours

We had traveled over the Makar Sankranti long weekend. It’s considered auspicious to take a dip in the holy river, but, with the chill, we just bowed our heads. However, we did enjoy watching the kite flying.

We hit the road soon after. The best way to get around Varanasi is on foot or take a rickshaw. Our first stop was the Tulsi Manas Mandir. This is a newer temple. It is built on the site where the Ramayana was written. The gardens around the temple were clean & well-maintained.

tulsi manas mandir, varanasi, uttar pradesh, india
Tulsi Manas Mandir. That blue!

The Sankat Mochan Mandir is dedicated to the monkey god, Lord Hanuman. As if on cue, there were a lot of monkeys roaming around. While they mind their own business, it’s a good idea not to engage with them. The temple itself is divine. It has a calming effect. It is, probably, the second popular temple in Varanasi, after the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. There are lockers made outside the temple where it is mandatory to deposit all your belongings, including cellphones.

The Banaras Hindu University has beauty & history at one place! BHU, of course, is legendary. It was a pilgrimage of sorts to come here. The campus took our breath away with its cleanliness, greenery, & wide roads. This is one of the oldest universities in India, & you can almost feel the history when you stand in the campus.

What we liked about the new Vishwanath Mandir was that it was orderly & did not have the same chaos that other temples do. There were proper queues formed & the darshan was managed by officers. The temple is in the middle of the BHU campus & its own precincts are huge. This is a new temple & maintained quite well. Have a cold coffee with ice cream at its entrance.

new Vishwanath Mandir, shikhar, banaras hindu university, bhu, varanasi, uttar pradesh, india
The Sun plays with the new Vishwanath Mandir shikhar.

The Nepali Mandir was on our must-see list. The temple is built as a replica of the Pashupatinath Mandir. It was a hidden gem as even many locals did not know about it! It was, thus, a little difficult to find. (P.S. It is on Lalita Ghat.) But once here, we fell in love with the woodwork.

The Nepali Mandir was constructed by one of the erstwhile Nepali kings. The temple is different from all the other temples in its architectural style, materials used etc. The terrace is a good place to view the river. (There’s an entrance fee for foreigners.)

It is a lifelong dream of many Hindus to visit the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. Glad we got a chance! The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, one of the principal deities in Hinduism. The Kashi Vishwanath Mandir is in a narrow gully with a heavy police presence.

Many ‘priests’ will approach you for a hassle-free ‘darshan‘. You can opt for them if you want to cut the queue & do not mind parting with some money. Better to fix the amount with them beforehand. Our ‘priest’ made us buy a few offerings, got a locker for us to deposit our stuff & to remove our shoes. He, indeed, took us through some other gate where the line was shorter.

Once inside, he took us to the various parts of the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, made us worship & told us the significance of the temple. Beware: these priests have tie ups with the priests inside. So, they will make you complete a worship & ask you to donate large sums of money. It is OK to say no or give only what you want to give.

It was good to be able to visit the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, but it would have been better if there was more discipline inside. Once out after the darshan, you can feast on ‘malaiyo‘ – a thick, creamy variant of curd, available in the gullies connecting the temple to the street. Yum! After all, every puja must be followed by pet – puja.

Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, malaiyo, varanasi, uttar pradesh, india
No photos of the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir but chandan courtesy visit to the temple. Gorging on ‘malaiyo’…

(Disclaimer: The area around the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir has been cleaned of encroachments & been beautified.)

We ended our evening at the Assi Ghat. Cultural events keep happening here. The Ganga Aarti takes place at the Assi Ghat too. But as it is not as famous as the one on the Dashashwamedh Ghat, it is less crowded. We got front row seats to view this engrossing event. Morning after morning, evening after evening, it is only faith that makes this possible.

We had heard since childhood that the Banaras Ghats were not fit to step on. However, we did not encounter any such filth. All the Ghats have steps leading to the river. While hawkers & mendicants still throng these steps, there is no stinking dirt as such.

Banaras Ghats, varanasi, uttar pradesh, india
The Banaras Ghats have a life of their own!

We loved Varanasi. Delightfully vibrant! Spiritual & all-encompassing!! We understand now why people choose to spend their last days here. Kashi stole our hearts & left us wanting for more. To (mis) quote Arnold Schwarzenegger, “We’ll be back”.

Accommodation

We wanted to stay near the Ghats but had a difficult time finding a suitable accommodation. Thank goodness we chanced upon Hotel Banaras Haveli! It is located at a walking distance from the Assi Ghat. We could spot the Ghat & the River Ganges from our room.

River Ganges, hotel rooftop, hotel banaras haveli, varanasi, uttar pradesh, india
View of the River Ganges from the hotel rooftop

The room was comfortable with all required amenities available. Breakfast was served on the rooftop restaurant which was a great way to start the day on a winter morning. The hotel reception guys also arranged a boat for us for the evening boat ride. They also provided the airport pick & drop. All in all, a good choice!

With the Ghat being next door, & with rooms offering a view of the Ganges, we do recommend this hotel.

* Quote from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Statue, Madan Mohan Malviya, Banaras Hindu University, BHU, varanasi, uttar pradesh, india
Statue of the Late Madan Mohan Malviya at the Banaras Hindu University

The Journey, The Traveler

What is it about travel that entices me so? Be it global or national; by air or rail; long or short; with family or friends; official or personal – every single time, my eyes light up. It is not just about travel; it is also about the thoughts that rush to me when I travel. This dawned on me during my travel for an engagement to the hinterlands of UP.

When I tumbled my way in the Bolero from Jagdishpur to Lucknow at sunset, there was a smile on my lips. ‘Riding into the sunset’ was the theme in my mind. The roads were neither great nor poor; yet, I was at peace. I had seen rural youth learning skills to become employable. Their sincere faces were etched in my mind. When I closed my eyes, I could visualize them toiling under the hot asbestos roof, trying to make themselves productive. I thought of us, the privileged ones, how we still curse our lives…

symmetry, like, bada imambargah, lucknow, uttar pradesh, india
symmetry to my liking

When I traveled from Raebareli to Lucknow, my thoughts wandered to the video I had seen of the poorest of poor. They strove to make a better life. They fought to overcome the odds. In a land where women are still exploited, harassed and oppressed, it was heartening to see groups of women come together to rise from the ashes. Even at a towering 5’8″, I felt small in front of them.

In Amethi, I stayed at a guesthouse which was austere but the hospitality freaked me out. The cook stuffed us with the tastiest food possible. The tehzeeb, I realized, was not limited to Lucknow alone.

Lucknow brought back a sense of belonging, though, frankly, I did not remember a thing from my childhood. Still, it felt like home. Tunde kebab and kulfi at Aminabad, walk at Hazratganj, sightseeing at Bada Imambargah, crossing Cantt, kulfi at Chhappan Bhog, Chikankari shopping at Chowk, Walk in Ambedkar Park, and kulfi (again!) at Nishatganj – spread over 5 days. Courtesy from the most unexpected of quarters. Masha-Allah! Being disappointed with the ‘sandstonification’ of Lucknow. And still being enchanted with how Laxman ka Teela became Teele wali Masjid!

restore, bada imambargah, lucknow, uttar pradesh, india
much needed restoration work going on…

I had thought that the beauty of Bhutan brought out the poetess and thinker in me. But I realize it happens to me every time I travel somewhere.

 

History comes alive, Battles of yore resound

The walls conceal mysteries infinite, I realize as I walk up the stone steps;

The India of today, not very different

Similar battles, similar mysteries, I realize as I walk down the stone steps.

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