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Holiday Destination: Varanasi #Travelogue#

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By Awanish Shahi:

I ardently recollect those gone by childhood days when my family used to visit numerous holiday destinations during summer vacations. Happy days! photo album archives are memoirs of great times. Life wheel revolved making me a man and that child hood heydays memories blurred. But one place kept me mesmerized, mum, numb and made me to visit again. I visited it after 15 years and again got swept in the ecstasy, jamboree and tranquility of this place, the city of moksha, Varanasi.

Enlightening on Ghats

So after long wait of 15 years I was in Varanasi, through capillary streets I visited my place of stay. I decided to offload my tiredness by taking a sleep and wake up in dawn to start my invasion in Banaras. Waking up at dawn has a mystic feeling and as I was in city of faith itself the morning seemed extremely spiritual and enlightening. I followed a roadmap to visit Assee Ghat and lost the way. The streets were a maze which bewildered me. There is one striking scene at the dawn in the city which is unique, one can spot almost daylight crowd in the dawn here. People chanting mantras, people climbing temple stairs, people thronging the tea stalls with kettle on coal fire propelling steam from the boiling tea and there is something in the place which engrosses you in a mono-dialogue with yourself. I followed an elderly person in the crowd and Eureka! I was on a Ghat. I was dumbstruck at the effervescent scene at the Ghat. The amber horizon, the morning cold breeze creating waves in the Ganga, floating diyas in the rivers, people taking dip in the holy Ganga and worshipping it, the cymbals, the temple bell, the rendition of Aartis, weavers spinning silk and weaving Banarasi sarees and so many others serene views, all amalgamated to create the magic never seen before. I stood dumbstruck boasting my serendipity of witnessing this pure and spiritual play.

Life and Death

Marikarnika Ghat is one such Ghat were people long throughout their life to get them immersed into after they relieve their body. Burning funeral pyres is common scene and people from nook and corner of India come here to die and get a good after life. I realized the greatest truth of being human is that we are mortal and paraphernalia obsession is an illusion.

Heritage city

The city has eminent history which is world known and kudos to Banarasi people who keep it alive and intact. The Viswanath Temple is the central shrine among hundreds of Lord Shiva temples. I lined up in the row to Darshan of the deity. This temple built in 1776 by Maharani Ahilya Devi of Indore has the ‘shivalinga’ 60 cm tall and 90 cm in circumference. By 1 pm in after noon I stepped out from the street of the temple moving ahead to next destination. Some important temples of Varanasi are Durga temple, Tulsi Manas temple, Sankat Mochan temple and the Bharat Mata temple. I got this privilege to visit almost all of these temples. Bharat Kala Bhavan is an archaeological museum built in the campus of the Banaras Hindu University has vast collection of over 100,000 artifacts like paintings decorative arts, Indian philately, textiles, costumes and literary and archival materials.

On the second day of my visit I set out for Ramnagar Fort early in morning after paying a visit to the Assi Ghat of the Ganga again. This fort is barely 14 km from the city situated on the opposite side of the river Ganga. Built in 18 century it is the house of Kashi Naresh. Ramnagar Fort and its museum is the emblem of the grandness of king of Banaras. Kashi Naresh is considered as the patron of Varanasi and in a way is head of Varanasi and devoted in service of people. Ramnagar is famous for Ramlila that is held annually under the aegis of King of Varanasi. Needless to say I was taken aback by the grand heritage this fort possessed and left in noon to visit Chunar. Chunar is 25 km away from the Varanasi city and lies in the district of Mirzapur. By 3 pm I was front of Chunar Fort just beside the river the Ganga. Chunar fort was established by Maharaja Vikrmaditya, the King of Ujjain to remember the stay of his brother Raja Bhartihari who had taken his Samadhi in alive stage and still that Samadhi Sthal is worshiped. This grand fort along with Sonva Mandap, Bavan Khamba and Solar Watch are worth watching. By 7 pm in evening I went on shopping spree to buy pottery for which Chunar is famous to take back as souvenirs for friends and family.

Desi Food

Varanasi is one place where I can shed my food-hygiene sensitivity and go on eating spree. I love gorging on roadside food joints which resemble almost like a part of home and some are in homes too. I started my day with Jalbei, Kachodi and Dahi trio, while roaming in the city I sipped glasses of Lassi and Thandai which were my favorite beverages and in evening delicious chaats and golgappas were perfect evening delight. Varanasi is open hearted in terms of hospitality. Through Pedas, laddoo, Burfi and the local Rabri I discovered my sweet tooth. And the Paan is one undisputed item which resides in the heart of every Banarasi .

So my two day short stay was worth depicting as a travelogue. I decided to come back some day and discover Banaras to its fullest. Varanasi has heart of gold. It gives you a lot, provided the way you take it. I took back good memories, taste of desi food, loads of pottery, handicraft and an enlightened I.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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