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The Ganga Mahal Ghat never fails to capture the imagination of first-time visitors to the holy city of Varanasi. What else can one do other than marvel at the majestic stone brown building that soars into the blue skies while the fortress-like facade looks down benevolently upon the Ganges, it's bathing pilgrims and the dreamy boats! Watch out for the exquisite stone carvings that reflect Rajput architecture.
Ghats are a series of steps that lie along the banks of a river. In the city of Varanasi, life revolves around these sacred steps because here is where pilgrims take a dip in the River Ganges to wash away a lifetime of sins. While some ghats are more subdued than the others which are colorful, prominent and backed by magnificent sandstone buildings, all of them have an equally intriguing story to tell. Tourists mostly tend to traverse between Panchganga Ghat in the north and Assi Ghat in the south, however there are many beyond these. A fascinating kaleidoscope of human activity awaits you here - women washing clothes, pilgrims taking a dip, cattle cooling off, dogs scouring the area for food, young boys playing cricket or diving into the river, funeral pyre flames rising into the skies ceaselessly, dread-locked sadhus meditating, boatmen soliciting customers, vendors selling flowers and Western tourists filming this Carnival of Life that plays out day-after day in this City of Shiva.
Varanasi is rightly associated with being a city steeped in musical traditions, and what better place to pursue this than at the Shanti Niketan Institute of Music and Culture. Located along the tranquil Ram Ghat, this school offers both basic and advanced courses to those inclined towards Indian classical dance, vocals and musical instruments. It's not uncommon to bump into foreign students who spend long hours grasping the finer nuances of these fascinating art forms. Live concerts each evening are a common occurrence too so make sure to catch one of those while in the city!
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.
Believed to be set upon the confluence of 5 sacred rivers namely Ganga, Saraswati, Yamuna, Kirana and Dhutapapa, the Panchganga Ghat is relatively quieter than its counterparts but this makes it no less special. One of India's most venerated poets Tulsidas put together his masterpiece Vinay-Patrikahere right here. Several thousand years later not much has changed and one often finds pilgrims taking a holy dip in the river during full moon nights - this makes for a unforgettable spectacle! Easily identified even from afar by the looming outline of the Alamgir Mosque, Panchganga serves as one of the main entrances to the aforesaid mosque, the Bindu Madhava Temple, Shri Matha and Shri Laxmi Narayan Temple.
Mehta Art Gallery is located in the heart of Varanasi in Sigra. It is run by Amit Kumar who invites the locals as well as tourists to explore the ancient history and culture of India. The gallery has a gathering room and a meditation room where you can indulge in spirituality. Paintings, Books and other artistic piece of work can be marvelled here. The gallery is open to suggestions and invites its visitors to contribute in whatever way possible.