Dates: 30th September – 4rd October
Magic may be the only word that best describes the pageantry and fanfare that revolves around Durga Puja. In fact, even a month before the colourful mayhem begins, the atmosphere around many cities in India is infused with excitement and frenzy of preparations for the Puja.
Though Kolkata is without doubt the most vibrant destination to catch the authentic festivities, I decided to visit Varanasi for a change. After all, Bengali Tola’s by-lanes and the ghats are packed with Bengalis who leave no stone unturned in celebrating Durga Puja in style. A rickshaw ride around the old city, near Gowdowliya Chowk or a visit to the Durga temple, is all one needs to experience the festivities.
Large and elaborate pandals spring up in different areas of the city, the idol looms over the crowd and loudspeakers crackle with spiritual songs throughout. People gather here to pray, meet others and savour the delicacies at the food stalls scattered around the pandal. While this is exciting in itself, stay till the visarjan on the last day when an emotional community bids adieu to their protector by submerging the idols in the Ganges.
Recommended Stay Options:
Ganpati Guest House: A refurbished 100-year-old haveli, Ganpati Guest House on Meer Ghat is one of the most popular and economical accommodations on the ghats. Indian themed graffiti splashed walls, a fountain in the courtyard, typical Varanasi style slow service on the rooftop cafe, well furnished rooms and the friendly staff are the main draws of this place. The guesthouse is a short walk away from Bengali Tola.
ph 0542 2390059, Meer Ghat
Hotel Alka: Another Meer Ghat favourite, Alka has a beehive like feel with several floors packed with a large number of rooms, all with basic facilities. Try and choose a top floor room for a private balcony with a view to the Ganga. The rooms are very clean, though not characterful, but serve the purpose well for budget travellers. This too is a 10-minute walk from Bengali Tola.
0542 2398445, D3/23, Meer Ghat, Lahori Tola
Ask the rickshaw to take you for a short pandal hopping route through Hathua Market, Shri Durga Puja Sewa Samiti at Sanatan Dharm Inter College, Baba Machhodranath Durgotsav Samiti and the Jaitpura pandal of Ma Bagheshwari Durga Puja Club is also very famous.