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If there was ever a word to describe the concept and layout of Bharat Mata Mandir, it is INIMITABLE. This one isn't an ode to the legacies of Laxmi, Shiva, Ganesha, Hanuman or Ram; it is the ultimate tribute to Mother India (Bharat Mata). Upon entering, one is stunned into silence with the sunken-level three-dimensional relief map of undivided India, carved from marble and with every proportion in place. The range of Himalayas protruding upwards particularly catches the eye, so do the smaller mountain ranges and oceans along the west coast. Brainchild of the artistic duo of Babu Shiv Prashad Gupta and Shri Durga Prashad Khatri, this matchless work of art was built in 1936 and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi.
Named after Varuna, the Vedic god of water and the sea, this river is a small tributary of the mighty Ganges. The river flows into the Ganges at the northern side of Varanasi, and there are believable theories that the city got its name because of the convergence of two rivers Varuna and Assi. This small and gentle river carves a simple landscape in the northern neighborhoods of the city before reaching out for the confluence.
Nestled in the heart of the buzzing Maheshpur town, Godowlia Market is swarming with local traders selling all kinds of stuff at great bargains. Found at a short distance from the nearest railway station, it is labeled as one of the busiest open markets of the city, and quite rightly so. The cramped lanes are packed with stalls selling household essentials, ethnic jewelry, handmade shawls and zari garments, among other intricately designed apparel. Post a tiring shopping spree at Godowlia, one may choose the visit the serene Kashi Temple lying a few blocks ahead.
A bustling market in the heart of the holy city, Vishwanath Gali is where you can find all things local and traditional. While the market largely caters to pilgrims headed to the nearby Kashi Vishwanath Temple, it is also buzzing with a number of shops that sell Banarasi sarees, dress materials, religious books, statues and jewelry. Particularly popular with foreign tourists are brass items and the Rudraksha mala.
Perched on the terrace of the magnificent Man Mahal Palace, Jantar Mantar is Varanasi's prime observatory, designed to the likes of the ones found in New Delhi and Jaipur. Constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh in they year 1737, the science museum showcases various milestones of India achieved in the field of astrology and science. Apart from serving its main purpose of helping determine stars and planet positions, it also helps to measure altitude, local standard time and the sun position.
Wooden carvings adorn the walls of this small beautiful temple, built by the King of Nepal, at the Lalitha Ghat. Reminiscent of a rich tradition of craftsmanship, the temple creates awe in the eyes of every visitor. The setting is peaceful and calm with a natural silence lingering around the place. Inside the shrine is the Pasupathi Nath Shiva Linga, which is worshiped by devotees. There is a nominal entry fee to visit the Nepali temple, which goes to the welfare trust of the temple.
Carving one of the world's mostly populated river beds, River Ganges, believed to be arising directly from Lord Shiva's head, is the holy mother for North India. The ancient city of Varanasi is one of the most prolific gifts of this stunning river which ranks top among the world's big rivers in the amount of water discharge. The 7 kilometer (4.34 mile) stretch of the ghats along River Ganges is a major site of sacred rituals in Hindu tradition; Dasashwamedh Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat being the most popular. Originating from Himalayan glaciers, this river is considered as one of the largest in India and surely is a ravishing sight in spite of the devouring pollution.
Pointing to a time when horse sacrifice was common, the translation of the name Dasashwamedh says 'the place where ten horses were sacrificed'. Hindu mythology says the creator Brahma did a sacrifice here to let Lord Shiva get back to Varanasi; and thus it is one of the most auspicious sites for Hindus all over the world. This is the site of the stunning Ganga Aarti, which is performed daily on the raised platforms on the ghat with seven priests doing choreographed ritualistic offerings to mother Ganga. Considered as the most important ghat along the banks of Ganga, a large number of guesthouses and restaurants are located around the area. The main burning ghat, Manikarnika is towards the north. One of the most ancient sites in the city, Dasaswamedh Ghat is a legendary sight filled with tourists and pilgrims.
According to Hindu tradition, people cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat after death will be freed from the chain of life and death. That explains the chaos, mystery, indifference, noise and everything surrounding this area which is said to be the abode of Lord Shiva. The name Manikarnika goes back to the story where Shiva dropped his earrings at the well here during his transcendental dance and it came to know as Manikarnika Kund. The cremations take place without break and fills the air with the smell of burning flesh which is surprisingly not repulsive. Foreigners from all around the globe watch the activities here with much intrigue and the locals take it with compassion though not without a fragment of disdain. The apparent indifferent face of death is reinforced with the underlying philosophy of material transition and is something that has to be experienced.
The exalted Kashi Vishwanath Temple finds itself mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures, and was actually built in 490 CE but fell prey to successive demolitions by the Mughal invaders all through the centuries. The present temple was built in 1790 by the warrior queen Ahilyabhai Holkar who was aggrieved by the wanton destruction of age-old sacred structures. Hindus believe that a dip in the river Ganges and a visit to this temple serves to break free from the cycle of rebirth. Also referred to as Golden Temple because of the spire which was made from pure gold donated by Maharaja Ranjith Singh, this temple is a must-visit. The main deity here is a black lingam upon which devotees pour blessed water. Foreigners have to register their passports to enter the premises as security has been beefed up in recent years due to the looming terrorist threat. Mobile phones, cameras and bags of all visitors have to be deposited at any of the shops that line the entrance, while police urge crowds to hurry and keep moving. The experience is most intense, intriguing and divine.
Alternately known as Aurangzeb Mosque or Dharahara Mosque, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)- protected Alamgir Mosque enjoys a superb location along the relatively quieter Panchganga Ghat which is sacred to Hindu bathers. A steep climb will lead you up to one of Varanasi's most celebrated landmarks which pretty much defines the skyline with its spectacular brown minarets. Built by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb upon the site of the Bindu Madhava Temple, legend has it that this structure was actually much taller than its present state, and the Emperor enjoyed views all across to Delhi! While there is no way of verifying this, there remains no doubt that this mosque is a must-visit especially for its unusual architecture manifesting both Hindu and Mughal elements. Its proximity to the nearby Shri Laxmi Narayan Mandir and the newer Bindu Mahadev Temple reflects the co-existence of 2 major world religions - Hinduism and Islam.
This rectangular pond beside the Durga Temple and Anand Bagh Park is a major land mark in the holy city of Varanasi. Landscaped by the the supreme aesthetics of the Durga temple, Durga Kund is visually appealing. The reflection of the stunning red structure of the temple bestows charm to the water in the pond which is otherwise dull. Built in the 18th Century by a Queen of Bengal, the pond was once used by devotees for a dip.