The Assi ghat that we stepped on to was cleaner than the ghat that I remembered from my days in Varanasi. A parking space for private vehicles had been built at the end of the road, right where one steps off the road and on to the stone steps of the ghat. The space was already crowded with several small, and medium sized vehicles. We turned left, with myself in the lead, and others following, talking excitedly all the time. I held the hands of my daughters with Vaishali close behind. The narrow, stone alleyway leading up to the main ghat was stringed with small shops selling curios, incense sticks, Shiva lingams, handicrafts, hand made mats for sitting down on the ghats while performing rituals, and a myriad other things.
The girls peered inside the shops with curiosity, before their attention was caught by a group of stray monkeys who were roaming around the ghat, chattering, scratching their sides, picking lice from the coats of their young ones, and rummaging around to find something to eat. Some generous natives, and some tourists, were offering them peanuts, or sweetmeats, or fruits, which the monkeys accepted gleefully, and chattered even more. No one, however, seemed to be afraid of the monkeys, since they were a regular feature at the ghat, and their long association with humans had rendered them more civilised than can be said of several humans.
‘Monkey, monkey’, Shubhi-Meethi, my daughters pointed towards the long tailed mammals, and shouted in excitement; excited, obviously at finding another chattering group of mammals besides us!
There were also a few restaurants along the ghat, serving ethnic as well as cosmopolitan cuisine. One could as easily order a pizza and an espresso coffee here as any of the local, mouth-watering dishes like kachori, khasta, samosa, or litti-chokha.
‘Back in the days’, I told my daughters,’ I often used to come here and have a pizza and a coffee.’
I pointed towards the restaurant, Pizzeria, where I had spent so many evenings, munching pizza slices, and watching the Ganga aarti, the customary fire worship of the river that is undertaken by priests of the temples which jostle for space on the various ghats of Varanasi. The girls looked up, following my finger, as did Vaishali, to see the quaint, and small restaurant, built in a small fenced off area of the ghat.
‘Most of the ghats are private property’, I told the girls, sensing the question that had arisen in their minds,’ they belong to the houses which are built here, or the hotels or the temples which dot the banks of the Ganges.’
They nodded in understanding, and continued to look around, while at the same time listening to what I am saying. Their Papa, they knew, was the best guide when they are on a vacation, since I always made it a point to give as much information, in as interesting a manner as possible to the kids.
‘We have to go ahead,’ I shouted so that everyone could hear me, ‘to the Tulsi ghat. Someone should meet us there, or we will see the bajra, the motor-boat, that has been hired for our ride.’ A few people nodded their understanding, the rest were just content in following the others.
To be continued……
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