If I take a vague look at our history, people from our mythology, the Mughals, the Marathas, the Munshi Premchands and even Modiji, all of them have checked off Varanasi from their top ten places to visit and rightly so. There is something magnetically luring about Banaras that makes you visit this place over and over again.
The city upon entering feels a bit cramped for space. The narrow lanes and sharp turns make you feel like one is trying to exit a maze. And you just keep wondering if this was a thing of the past. Well, one would never know, there must be a lot of changes made to the spiritual capital of India since 800 BCE but there is a constant loop of bells ringing from the temples throughout your route, which never misses your ears. There are 23,000 of them present and in Banaras, you are always a stone's throw away from a temple, which gives an understanding on how connected this place has been to religion ever since the Ganges start flowing, the banks on which the city is located came to be.
To get around the city I would recommend the e-rickshaws, which are competing to outgrow the number of temples. The sweet noiseless vehicles are always available to take you anywhere and their sluggishness helps you get a better look at what is around. If you ever take public transportation you will find that most of the locals are super chatty and are always waiting to drag you in their conversation and the best part is how proud and bookishly accurate, they are with their Hindi. I was passively engaged in a conversation with a couple of locals and I was stunned by how nonchalantly he used complicated heavy Hindi words in his conversation that it felt like someone from my Hindi textbook had come alive.
The most recommended activity in Varanasi for a tourist is to take a boat ride along the ghats of the river Ganga. However, before getting into the boat don't forget to buy a cup of lemon tea sold right there; it puts you in a great mood for the ride. Once you get on the boat and if you find yourself an ideal guide, he could actually explain to you the significance of all the 88 ghats present there. These ghats have been built over the years separately and every ghat looks very distinct from the other and all of them have a story of their own. The most interesting part is that some ghats have been dedicated to people from myths like Shiva and Raja Harishchandra and some ghats have been named after writers like Tulsi Das and Munshi Premchand giving us a glimpse of how time has passed in this really old city.
At 7 pm all the boats halt at the Dasawamedh Ghat for the Ganga 'Aarti', where chosen priests perform a special ritual offering prayers to the river Ganga. This ritual has been conducted every day at the same from centuries and the huge number of people that are present and the devotion that was displayed gave me a clearer picture of what faith means to people in this country.
When it comes to food, Varanasi swears by its street delicacies on the banks of the river. It's been eight months since I have been there, and I haven't yet had 'golgappe' that has topped the ones I had in Varanasi. There is a special tomato chat, I believe is only available here and I couldn't help but wonder how something that is so flavoursome can come from just tomatoes. For desserts, I would say just find a stall that sells some thandai and thank this article later and if you are up for it have the thandai with some bhang and your night will take a few interesting turns and while you're at it, don't forget to end your day with the very popular Banarasi paan, which is totally worth all the mentions in Bollywood movies.
Banaras has very spiritual image attached to it since most people are visiting it as a pilgrimage, and if you are a religious person there is hardly any need to sell this place to you but if you aren't I would just say go there to experience what religion in all its glory looks like and how far you are from it.