photo essay: varanasi, stories told and untold

No, I did not fall in love with Varanasi at first sight as I had been led to believe would happen by the countless travel glossies and blogs I’d read which eulogised its charms. In fact, I hated it at first sight.

It was crowded, dirty, and noisy. Touts pulled me in desperate attempts in all directions to try and sell me boat rides and Banarasi sarees. Rickshaw drivers were ready to rip me off for a 10-minute canter. The sweetmeat shops had “unsanitary” written all over it in CAPS.

I was booked for three days in Varanasi—the land between the Varuna and Assi tributaries which join the River Ganga, or Ganges in English nomenclature, to form the north and south borders of the city. Its name was corrupted to Benaras during the British Raj.

My heart dreaded the stay as soon as I entered the precincts, pleading: “Let’s just cut the trip short and go back to the serenity and comfort of home.” A small voice in me whispered: “No. Varanasi does not happen every day. Live through it.” Continue reading

in search of buddha’s sarnath: the traveller’s guide

Oftentimes what we are consciously searching for is not what we are subconsciously looking for. Sounds confusing? 🙂

A few weeks ago, I took a train and bus trip from Delhi in search of Varanasi [Benaras], the Kashi of yore. I found Sarnath in Kashi’s place instead. Perhaps this occurred because there is more of the Buddhist in me than the Hindu. Whatever be the case, Sarnath touched a place deep within my core.

May I state from the outset you do not need a guided tour for Sarnath, and that is not what this post aims at being. Sarnath needs to be experienced and understood at a personal level, in one’s own space and rhythm. What I want to share here are my personal travel learnings to help you make the most of your Sarnath experience, and perhaps allow Sarnath to speak to the Buddhist in you too. ❤ Continue reading