A spiritual staycation in Benaras

By 09:54 Thursday 23 April 2020 , , ,

A celebration {read: an absolute rager} of divine chaos, Benaras is a quintessential Indian city from the get go. Streets start teeming with people as early as six, a pot of kadak chai bubbles every few metres and the sweet whiff of fresh kachori-jalebi gets the foodie in you all riled up even before you're fully awake. Afternoons are hot and quiet but the city comes alive again post its siesta, with the uplifting chants of the Ganga aarti- a spectacular ritual many decades old. If you ask me, the best way to cover Benaras isn't through a guide-book but experiencing life at its ordinary best: a rickshaw ride, a glass of lassi, a view from the top, an old mansion, a floating diya.

However, there are also going to be instances that will break the magic spell from time to time. The river and the roads are not the cleanest, then there's the sheer commodification of faith and religion and lastly, the constant reminder of death as people flock the city for performing the last rites of the departed. Having said that, it's this very paradox that gives Benaras an edge: making you experience the very hustle-bustle of life on one hand and showing you how it all ends on the other.

The whole experience can be quite overwhelming and it only helps to have a quieter escape to retire to after exploring the city. I found my respite in the lavish Tree Of  Life Resort and Spa, located on the outskirts of Benaras right in the middle of gorgeous mustard fields. The property is tailor-made for nature lovers and spirituality seekers, complete with the most beautiful reading room, an outdoor pool, lush gardens along with a small ghat replica where a private aarti takes place every evening.

The resort comes with spacious and tastefully designed Junior Suites, each with an enchanting mythological theme to further accentuate the spirituality factor. The outdoor sitting area opens up to the well-maintained gardens with the view of the 'kund' {religious pond} at the mini ghat. The en suite bathroom is a treat with lots of closet space and beautiful antique fittings, perfect for a relaxing shower after a day of exploring. The rooms also have an indoor sitting area with a television, and a small desk and wi-fi, for those working on the go. The overall look and feel? Warm, sophisticated and luxurious, sans any pretentiousness.

Though most of our meals happened to be outside while exploring the city, we got enough opportunities to try out and subsequently, love the preparations at AnnTripti, the resort's in-house restaurant. The dining area is nothing less than an Instagram dream and the staff is the nicest, most polite bunch you'll ever meet. 

I absolutely loved my three day stay at the tranquil property and would recommend it to anyone who wants the best of both worlds: the rustic charm of the city and super luxurious hospitality. However, do keep in mind that the resort is slightly isolated and it will take you 30-40 minutes to get to the centre of the city and the points of interest. 

Tarrif: The Junior Suite starts at INR 5000 onwards, depending on the season. For more details click here.

Getting there

There are regular trains running between Delhi and Varanasi. I took the overnight New Delhi-Manduadih Superfast Express that took around 13 hours to complete the journey. The resort was a 45 minute drive from Manduadih railway station and you'll easily find an Ola/Uber for the same.

If you prefer air travel, Varanasi's Lal Bahadur Shastri airport is well connected to all major Indian cities. The resort is an easy 9km away from the airport.

The perfect evening in Benaras: a quick check list

1. Hire a boat from Assi Ghat: Before you mount your boat, indulge in some yummy, coma-inducing lassi at Green Lassi shop at Assi Chowk or the world's best apple pie at Vatika Pizzeria right on the ghat. Start your boat ride from Assi Ghat around 5pm and cross the river to get on the beautiful sandy side for some stunning sunset pictures.

Leave around 5.30pm to get to the aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat. On your way, you will see many other popular ghats like Manikarnika ghat, Raja Harish Chandra ghat, Tulsi ghat etc, each one with a different story about their respective names, which your boatman will tell you all about.

2. Ganga aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat: By 6pm, you should find a good spot at the Dhashwamedh Ghat and settle in to see the aarti from the boat. Until the aarti starts, you'll see the boats being visited by hurried chai-vendors and children selling floating diyas. You'll notice that a whole lot of preparation goes before they start singing and it only adds to all the excitement. The actual aarti too, is quite theatrical and something you won't forget for a long time.

3. Shop at Gowdolia Market: After the aarti, deboard at the Dashashwamedh Ghat and take a walk around the bustling Gowdolia market to pick up some of the nicest {and pocket-friendly} Benarasi sarees and dupattas. I especially liked the shops tucked away in the crowded Vishwanath Gali {named after the world-renowned Kashi Vishwanath temple situated at the end of this lane}. Pro-tip: #1 don't be afraid to bargain #2 avoid this lane during peak temple hours.

4. Get ready for some serious chaat business: Head to the famous Kashi Chaat Bhandar, just a few metres from Gowdolia chowk to try out the famous tamatar ki chaat and paani ke batashe. Pro-tip: things can get pretty hot, keep a water bottle handy.

5. Top your evening off with a paan, Benaras wala: Pick any shop around Gowdolia market to enjoy a classic Benarasi paan with the whole shebang: gulkand, chuna, varq and kathha. It might not be for everyone but is an important ritual to truly call yourself a 'Benaras-return'.

Liked reading this? Read about another one of my favourite Tree of Life properties here.

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