Package Name: Varanasi, the Spiritual Capital of India ….and a foodie’s delight !

I landed in Varanasi on 16th Dec. 2015 to join the “Walk of Hope” lead by a great Yogi of modern times, Sri M. Sri M began the ‘aasha yatra’ on foot with a group of people from Kanyakumari in South of India on 12th Jan. 2015 and the group will walk up to Kashmir by May 2016. The purpose of this walk across India is to spread the seeds of love and brotherhood among Indians uniting all religions, caste, and creed so that one day Indians will live in peace, harmony and in the spirit of human brotherhood. I was warned not to expect much from the city and was repeatedly warned of filth on the roads.

Contrary to all information fed to me I was pleasantly surprised by Varanasi’s lightness in energy and the amazing food! I was falling in love with Varanasi slowly but surely as it sank into my consciousness, experience and understanding.

First, we watched the Ganga Aarti on Rajendra Prasad Ghat at 6 pm from a boat tied to other numerous boats carrying devotees and onlookers of the Ganga Aarti. Priests chanted vedic hyms in praise of Mother Ganges and offered prayers to her. As I sat on the boat and watched, the air was filled with incense of flowers and sandalwood, the ghat was lit up against the night sky and the gentle rocking of the boat by the waves of Ganga Mayya soothed and calmed me. It was as though a mother rocked her child on her lap.

The second experience was the melt-in-the-mouth Aaloo Kachodis for breakfast. I had never tasted such tasty Kachodis before and the price just Rs. 5 per piece. The element of surprise was continually hitting me as this place seemed very different from the rest of India, from quality of food, to the fantastic lightness in energy, to its cost of food! Anyways, Sri M helped with his expert insight into Varanasi and I could put all the pieces together and finally solved the jigsaw puzzle of surprises. “Varanasi is the most ancient town of India and the Reigning Monarch here is Lord Shiva, the Lord of Destruction. There is an Auspiciousness and Grandeur in destruction. It is holy! Without destruction the new and fresh cannot arrive. In Varanasi you see destruction and new growth simultaneously, coexisting happily. (This is the place where dead bodies are cremated.) In Sarnath, Lord Buddha preached that the cause of all pain is Desires. And Shiva symbolizes destruction of all desires. There is “Vairag” in the air of Varanasi because the Ultimate cannot be achieved without giving up our desires. The river ganga teaches us happy acceptance of life’s ups and down and to keep going along the flow of life. Ganga Maiyya, despite all pollutants thrown into her has not stopped flowing to finally merge into the sea. Similarly, if we flow with life as it comes without twisting it with our agendas borne from desires, the flow of life will finally take us to the Source, the Ultimate Truth, God. (This was enlightenment indeed for me.) The happy acceptance of the flow of life is seen in the people of Varanasi. They may be poor but are content and often laid back about time. They operate on Varanasi Time! ” So, in a gist, Lord Shiva destroys desires and aids in flowing with life as destined towards a divine goal. And Ganga symbolizes this flow to the Source despite all odds in happy acceptance of all problems on the way!

Visit to the Annapurna Temple and Kashi Vishwanath Temple solved the surprise of abundant tasty food at unbelievable price and the numerous cows and bulls, all very healthy and of coursethe cow dung scattered everywhere! The spot where the temples stand is the holy place where Lord Shiva begged food to Annapoorna Devi, another name for his wife, Goddess Parvati. Annapoorna is the Goddess of feeding people. Nandi is the devoted bull of Lord Shiva and is seen in the Vishwanath temple gazing at his master with love and obedience. So, Annapoorna Devi explains the abundance of good quality food and Nandi explains all the beautiful cows and strong bulls. They must all be his friends! Hence, the quality of milk in Varanasi is next to none in India.

All in all, Varanasi has seen Lord Shiva, and many great saints have walked and continue to walk on this holy land and charge it with a special grace. If you are spiritually inclined Varanasi is a must visit at some point in life. It will surely add to your spiritual life in a mysterious way as ithas done to mine.

As a food lover begin the day with aaloo kachodis and jalebee or puri aaloo. Lunch can be a simple thali in a dhaba (don’t judge the food by the ambience), and dinner can be hot flavoured milk or lassi, soft and spungy rassagullas, or chaat! The options are plenty if you walk around Godowlia Chowk. Walk and explore. The air is light and peaceful and full of incense of flowers and sandalwood. Temple bells keep ringing and some one or the other is absorbed in God’s remembrance, which is which is what, perhaps gives Varanasi its magical touch!