Over the past couple of centuries, the world has given all manner of epithets for Benaras, among them “The Luminous One,” “The City of Lights,” and “Avimukta (Never Forsaken).” Why? Because the city is a mecca of traditions, so sacred and historically overwhelming. It takes each visitor aside with such intimacy that we often struggle to find the right words for it.
At November Noon, our values and belief systems are rooted knee-deep in our atelier in the city. The artistic and cultural heart of India, Benares is a charming profusion of intimate rituals and festivals stapled onto its holy ghats. Few are the visitors who have not been bewitched by the oldest living city in the world, whose appeal has only heightened with time.
WHEN TO GO
If you can put up with the chilly winds (bring a proper coat or your cosy knits) and want to experience the city at its prime, then October to February is the perfect time to visit. The sights, sounds, and smells are the most colourful during this time and, you will get the perfect opportunity to catch the festive mood of this old town.
WHAT TO EXPERIENCE
Picture this: The ringing of bells from temples chiming the cobblestone streets, millions of earthen lamps glittering the ghats, and the milky moonlight shining bright on the rising Ganges on the darkest night of the year. This is the theatrical setting of Kartik Purnima (full moon night) or Dev Deepawali — which means “The Diwali of the Gods”— one of the biggest and the most popular festivals you can witness in this holy city.
WHAT TO DO
Find Dashaswamedh Ghat and then walk towards Varanasi’s very own Jantar Mantar — the lesser-known 18th-century architectural gem built by Maharaja Jai Singh II. A striking combination of large geometrical forms, this observatory is situated on the rooftop of Man Mahal Palace or Man Mandir constructed by King Amber in 1600 AD. In addition to this, you can take an early morning boat ride on the deeply quiet river of souls — Ganges. Try a cup of masala chai. And, if you have a sweet tooth, dig deep into Benaresi sweets like Rabri and Kalakand. The city comes alive with its street food.
WHAT TO HEAR
Ustad Bismillah Khan’s music. Known as the greatest exponents of Shehnai, Bismillah has embodied the spirit of the Benares unlike any other musician in the country. His old, crumbling haveli, where he spent seven decades until the day he died, is situated in the narrow lanes of Sarai Haraha.
WHAT TO SEE
The biggest marble map you can find of undivided India, comprising Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma (now Myanmar), and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), at Bharat Mata Mandir. Located in the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth campus, it was constructed by Babu Shiv Prasad Gupta between 1918-1924 and was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in1936.