I am still trying to pinpoint what was so special about Benares. I am not the most religious person around even though I believe in God. In fact, during my 3 day stay in Benares, I did not visit even a single temple. It's not that I am particularly fond of bustling crowds and noisy streets either while Benares has too much of those two combinations. All I did was walk along the chain of ghats along the Ganges and the narrow streets that were as quiet as the roads were noisy. But I guess the place just grows on you in imperceptible ways. History was written and re-written on these very streets that I strolled and in some sense I was part of it. No character or figure was greater than the city. Mystics, philosophers and artists were born, achieved greatness and became footnotes but the city lived on, fresher and more vibrant than ever. The city absorbed their wisdom and talents letting them live unacknowledged through the hundreds that were born into this city as the ashes of the earlier generations were absorbed into the river.
A few images typical as they may be define the city. The knot-haired 'sadhus' were the most vocal as they did their best Indian mystic act in order to earn cash from the enthusiastic foreign tourists. The rising sun set a silver tone to the Ganges as the first fishermen began setting out on their boats and the occasional temple bell chimed in the background. Swarms of people roved the brilliantly colourful bazaars on foot, on cycle rickshaws, on motorbikes and every form of transport conceivable. The fantastically maintained cleanliness of the Benares Hindu University (BHU) was a relief to the eyes after the claustrophobia of the big city. It's probably one of the most beautiful campuses I've ever seen. The Ramnagar fort, the decrepit Maharaja of Benares' palace across the river is also a place worthy of a visit. Don't know how long it will last if it is maintained in the same fashion as it is now. It was still a serene, beautiful place and worth the trip on the floating bridge (supported by barrels that float on the Ganges) that leads to it from the Benares side. And of the 'bajra' (houseboat) trip that we had in the evening thanks to my brother-in-law long settled in Benares, I cannot even begin describing. As the Ganga rocked the boat to her gentle rhythm and the lighted 'diyas' make their presence known in the fading light, it was the quintessential much heard of Benares experience and I have no complaints about it because it was as genuine a feeling of spirituality as anyone could've asked for.