This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Twinkle Siwach. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

A Day Trip To The City Of Culture And Education: Kashi, Varanasi

More from Twinkle Siwach

Like each year, this year too started with many promises, the checklist, and then places to visit. A random plan to visit Varanasi was finally materialised. I would say two to three days are enough to explore the city. The ghats and attending night aartis—when everything blossoms in the sky as there are lights and prayers with the chanting of mantras all around—are a must-visit.

Boats queued up for the evening rides at Dashashwamedh Ghat.

As I decided to head towards Varanasi, it was only a one-day visit, and yet I could cover and witness so much from the hubbub of the lives in the city, to newspaper printing, to thread weaving, to saree handloom workers, to murti workers, and of course, visiting the ghats.

I had started from Delhi by an early morning flight. From the airport to the main city, it took me around 45 minutes. It was less than expected, as the city was yet to awake, and, hence, the roads were empty, and the markets were closed. I was intrigued by the tiny mohallas and gallis, reminded of the movies that often shoot riot scenes in such gallis that are dingy and narrow with houses built on top of each other. By this time, my stomach shrunken with hunger, and I had to fulfill my desire for the famous aloo-palak sabzi (potato spinach vegetable) and poori (fried wheat bread). I am not at all a tea-totaler but I took a cup of tea too served in a kulhad (an earthenware cup) to build a taste for banarasi chai. In that one cup of chai, I could hear so many stories across generations about the city’s culture, and roz mara ki zindangi (everyday life).

The next few hours were spent meeting adolescents, where we sat and discussed their opinion on politics, education, infrastructure, Swachhta Abhiyaan, Delhi’s pollution, and “say no to crackers”. They shared how crackers are an intrinsic part of celebrating Diwali, and that Diwali wouldn’t be the same if there are no lights and no noise. However, they were concerned about the rise in air pollution and looked convinced about taking up a campaign to reduce the use of crackers over the years. They also suggested, or rather asked, why we don’t ban the companies making the crackers? Laughing, one of them added, “Didi we often joke about the Supreme Court ban on crackers after 10 pm, we ask among each other what will Supreme Court do to us if we light up the fire in the cracker at 9:55 pm and the cracker bursts at 10:01 pm?” We all giggled, but they also said, “Didi, Diwali toh patako se hi banti hai, par hum baat karenge sabse (Diwali is a festival of crackers, but we will talk around to spread the campaign)”.

Taking a walk in the city, one could sense the history submerged in the buildings and temples. Around the Kashi Vishwanath temple, there are police check posts and increased security personnel as Diwali neared —the temple is the highest wealth depository, after the Pashupati Balaji temple, the locals told me. They also shared that temple footfalls have increased over years, and most of the tourists are from abroad and South India, as the temple has a great significance and populace in history.[1]

Kashi Vishwanath is one of the most famous temples of Lord Shiva. Considered the holiest temple of Shiva, it is located on the western banks of the holy river, the Ganga. The temple has been mentioned in the puranas (Hindu philosophy) and has a history of demolition and reconstruction. A visit to the temple followed by a bath in the river Ganga is considered to be a way of leading one’s life towards moksha (liberation). Around 3,000 devotees come daily to the temple, and 10,0000 on special occasions.Varanasi, is the third most popular choice for foreign tourists after Agra and Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh, whereas for domestic tourists, Allahabad remains the most popular spot. In fact, Allahabad will be hosting the Kumbh Mela in December 2019.

Walking towards Dashashwamedh Ghat, one of the most visited ghats, one can explore the market on both sides of the road amidst uninterrupted motor horns. As I was walking down the lane, there was a group of men coming down the other side,with a procession for a dead monkey, who was covered with roses and marigolds, in a rickshaw, followed by songs and beating drums. The sight of a dead monkey’s procession astounded me; I began thinking about the miserable unnoticed deaths of human lives, however, I was told that the procession was done as the monkey had died an accidental death—electric shock by cable wires. Death otherwise, is not so unusual in the city, I thought, looking at the bundles of wood around every corner.

Mundan ceremony at the Assi Ghat after taking a dip in the Ganga water.

I walked ahead only to stop by the Kashi chat shop, generations-old and famous for decades. The paani-puri are filled with hot, boiled peas, served with a bowl of paani. If you are a gol-gappa lover and you have tasted Kolkatta puchkas, even banarasi paani-puri can fail you. You will understand this, only when you have tasted it otherwise, ‘you have no idea what you are missing on in life’, as my fellow friend would say it while sipping the masala nimbu chai at the ghat.

The ghat is a sight: people busy taking dips in the Ganga’s waters, of kirtaans, of young couples sitting in the corners, of blossoming love, and pandits doing the puja. The ghat seemed to be much cleaner than what I had imagined, however, I was told that regular visits of the mantris (ministers) had led to the immediate and quick shine in the city. I was also told that big machines clean the Ganga overnight. The locals also showed me the marks on the ghat where the water reaches during the monsoon every year.

There is a different calmness in here.
The Serenity at the Assi Ghat.

Walking inside Kashi, you will hear astonishing sounds of printing and rolling machines. Get into the lanes and you will observe women and home-based workers busy stitching clothes, making idols, weaving threads and sarees in the handlooms. The Banarasi sarees are bright and beautiful. The workers get only two hundred rupees per saree. It takes around four hours for a non-Banarasi saree imprint and weaving, whereas a pure Banarasi silk weaving would take around 25 days per saree, and even workers demand around ₹1800-₹1900 for them. The input cost is also higher in the production of the pure Banarasi silk saree. The same households in this area have been involved in the production of the sarees for generations.

Buying from here would cost me ₹700. A salesman told me: “Madam yeh silk nahi hai, uske jaisa lagta hai, asli silk me mehnat aur paisa dono jyada lagta hai (Madam, this is not pure silk, the actual silk cost and labour input is much higher than what we invest here)”. He also showed the strings of the actual gold and silver thread, which he unpacked while talking, “Yeh parivaar ka hai, isse sambhal ke rakha hai, asli hai (This belongs to the family, generations old, still pure and shiny).”

As far as my interaction with men (shopkeepers, cab drivers, and restaurants staff) was concerned, they approached me in an earnest and respectful manner. A cab driver had shown immense concern for the late flight I had to catch and the number of hours I had to spend waiting. Yet, not many women were wandering the streets. Around the ghats, I did see school boys wandering around but, comparatively, hardly girls were out. Most of them covered their faces while driving scooter or cycles.

Idol making and painting by a young girl along with her family.

When I interacted with one of the idol makers, she was very shy. Her sister, who is married in the same town, often comes over to help during the festive celebrations when they manufacture idols in bulk so that they can sell and earn more. Their mother died of illness. Their father had great knowledge of the wholesale rates and when and who to sell the product. However, the earnings are not sufficient for the family to bear their daily expenses for the entire year.

The city overall was a wonderful day’s experience.

You must be to comment.

More from Twinkle Siwach

Similar Posts

By Kunwar Nitin Pratap Gurjar

By Aqsa Shaikh

By India Development Review (IDR)

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below