TAXI TRIP SERIES: INDIA, VARANASI 2
Exploring Varanasi with a Bajaj Driver (Part 2- Ends)
After enjoying the masala tea, we continued to drive straight to Varanasi. Having explored the Old Varanasi by the Ganges only, I was happy to see the other part of the city. The road in the city was quite dusty and some facades of the buildings had Indian architecture. On the way, as we were passing some sites, the bajaj driver would tell something about them. The idea of exploring the city with an English-speaking bajaj driver was not bad at all.
I was exposing myself to new things. My visit to Varanasi was an eye-opening experience to Hinduism. I was glad that I made it in Kashi. In my short visit, I saw a lot of new things: the rituals, the tradition, and the culture of the people. It was overwhelming.
“Inside is the Hanuman Temple, “said the driver when we were driving along a high wall. “There are monkeys inside,” he added. Hearing the word monkey, I abruptly panicked. “Are the monkeys everywhere?” I asked him nervously. “Yes, but they are good ones. Don’t worry,” he replied with a grin.
Hanuman Temple or Sankat Mochan Hanuman Mandir was one of the oldest temples in Varanasi. A famous Hindu preacher and poet, Sri Goswami Tulsidas, founded the Temple in the 16th century. The Temple was dedicated to Hanuman, a deity in Hinduism.
The driver accompanied me to enter the Temple. The check by the security officer in the entrance was quite intense. After checking-in, we walked in the courtyard where the monkeys were free roaming around us. They were big and small. “Don’t worry,” the driver said. I protected my camera bag as I was walking. I was thinking of the monkeys in Monkey Forest Ubud, Bali, where they could steal the visitors’ belongings. “They don’t bother us,” the driver tried to convince me again. Walking ahead, I was eyeing some of them.
We arrived at the Temple. Standing in the queue, the visitors waited to be blessed by the priest. An old white-bearded priest in a white gown put the bindi with his finger in between the visitors’ eyebrows. I stood in the queue waiting for my turn. The priest put the red bindi on the middle of my eyebrows. Lowering my head, my hands performed a Namaste gesture. Sadly, I could not take any pictures inside the Temple. We walked back to the bajaj through the courtyard where the monkeys lived. I was glad to leave the courtyard, no more monkeys were around me.
The Durga Temple
In just some-minute drive, we reached the Durga Temple, which was not far from the Hanuman Temple. Painted dark red, the Durga Temple looked impressive from a distance. Rani Babhani, a maharani of Natore, Bengali, constructed the Temple in the 18th century. The Temple was dedicated to Goddess Durga.
Unable to take photos inside, I took off my shoes as I stepped inside the inner courtyard. The driver escorted me. The pavilion of the Temple facing the pond had two floors. In the middle of the inner courtyard was the Main Temple, whose top was visible from a distance.
Whether or not there was a ceremony, the local visitors crowded the Temple on the day. Among the visitors was a Caucasian couple. The woman with long blond hair wore a pretty saree and the blond man wore a silk salwar kameez. They were noticeable. The local visitors looked at them in amazement. “Look at them, they (the couple) follow my faith,” the driver told me proudly. The couple prayed and performed the rituals as the locals did. I recognized the couple at a restaurant by the Ganges where I had dinner at the same restaurant with them. What a small world!
Shri Vishwanath Mandir
Being packed, I could not stay long at the Durga Temple. The driver moved to the Banaras Hindu University, the location of Shri Vishwanath Mandir. Inside the university complex, all buildings had Indian architecture. I didn’t see any modern architectural buildings.
Shri Vishwanath Mandir is one of the tallest temples in India. It is a replica of the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Mandir that Muslim rulers of India demolished several times. The Maratha Empire of India reconstructed the original Shri Kashi Vishwanath Mandir in 1780. The Temple is known as the Golden temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is now situated by the Ganges.
The driver didn’t come with me, he stayed at his bajaj. “I wait here,” he said. The Shri Vishwanath Mandir I was visiting looked gigantic. Light red was the prevailing color of the Temple complex. The white color fully dominated the Main Temple in the middle. The Shri Vishwanath Mandir has attracted the tourists visiting Varanasi. On the day, however, I didn’t spot many foreign tourists.
I walked to the Temple whose construction finished in 1966. Located in a lush green garden, the Temple stood majestically. Failing to take photos inside the Temple, I could not shoot the meticulously carved pillars. I explored part of the pavilions and the hall barefoot.
I left the Temple as it was getting late. In the parking area, I could not identify my bajaj in the row of the similar ones. The driver suddenly showed up and we got into the bajaj.
A City’s Neighborhood
Visiting the home industry of saree sealed my day trip in Varanasi. My past experience in any organized trips showed that the guide would try to make me buy the stuffs.
The driver took me to a crammed neighborhood where his weaver friend lived. Frankly speaking, I was more interested in seeing the neighborhood. Walking in the area, I could tell that Muslims and Hindus lived there. I came across some women in hijab, I didn’t know that there was a small Muslim community in Varanasi. In the densely populated area, I noticed many small children playing on the ground. They replied to my “Hello” greetings.
We entered the house of the driver’s friend. His friend showed me how to weave the fabric by the machine. I asked him to stop it because I had no intention to buy any saree or any pashmina.
The driver was very upset that I bought nothing from his friend. Well, I didn’t buy things I would not use as I had unused pashminas and scarves at home.
In the end, the driver dropped me off at the homestay. I paid him and gave some tips. The day trip left me with a lot of impressions on the history, tradition, and life in Sarnath and Varanasi. I could say it was a quite successful trip.