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Varanasi: Midnight’s chill, majestic ghats

Varanasi vignettes: Life is tough for wanderers and the homeless who struggle to keep warm in Kashi during extreme weather conditions.

lucknow Updated: Jan 15, 2018 15:59 IST
Sudhir Kumar
Sudhir Kumar
Hindustan Times, Varanasi
Varanasi,Winters,Seers
A sadhu stands firm in the cold.(Rajesh Kumar/HT Photo)

It’s around midnight. As the icy winds sweep the iconic Dashashwamedh ghat, a seer Ramu Baba tries to keep himself warm with a thin blanket.

Khalid Ahmad and his four friends are cooking and talking loudly in their temporary plastic tent nearby.

Ramu Baba asks them not to talk loudly. They follow the instructions and go to sleep. The seer looks at the river flowing calmly and fog enveloping the ghat.

“The nights are icy cold. I am a wandering sadhu. I sleep at the ghats under the open sky as I have no place to live. Someone gave me a blanket and a carpet,” he says.

Parasols and a slumbering sadhu at Ganga ghat. (Rajesh Kumar/HT Photo)

“Meditation gives me the strength required to beat the cold. This carpet becomes an ‘asani’ (a mat used for meditation) during day hours and I meditate on it for hours,” the seer adds.

Life is tough for wanderers and the homeless in Kashi during extreme weather conditions. The iconic ghats have been providing shelter to seers, boatmen and the destitute for years.

Madan Manjhi, a boatman, uses one of the boats anchored at the Dashashwamedh ghat as his bed every night. He spreads a mattress and uses a quilt to keep himself warm.

“Though the weather is cold, I sleep on the boat daily. I have no problem as I have a quilt, a blanket and mattresses. I get up early in the morning to attend to the tourists and take them for boating,” he says.

Despite the chill, a few people visit Sheetala ghat with little balls of kneaded flour to feed the fish. The group comes daily during the night after 10 pm and stays here till 11.30 pm.

“These people visit the ghat daily to feed the fish. They usually come after 10 pm and stay here till midnight,” says Gopalji, a local resident.

Homeless people sleeping at Rajendra Prasad ghat. (Rajesh Kumar/HT Photo)

At Rana Mahal ghat, a pilgrim Anil Kumar Dwivedi and his wife sit under a temporary tent to experience the life at the ghats during the night.

“I am on a pilgrimage and wanted to experience the life at ghats during the night. However, I did not find many people here. It is very cold and foggy which is why people are staying away from the ghats. Still, spending time at the ghat was a unique and spiritual experience for us,” Dwivedi says.

A sadhu, who is passing by, comes there and sits with Dwivedi. They engage in a conversation during which Dwivedi reveals he would leave for Gangasagar.

At Assi ghat, people sleep on the benches while a few others make space for themselves on the stairs.

People were seen braving the chill during their visit to Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats to perform the last rites of their loved ones.

Barring a few sadhus, Chet Singh ghat, Tulsi ghat, Hanuman ghat, Pandey ghat, Panchganga ghat and Rajghat wear a deserted look during the night.

People huddle around a bonfire, which is in its dying state. (Rajesh Kumar/HT Photo)

A few steps away from the entrance of Dashashwamedh ghat, Deenu Prasad, a rickshaw-puller, tries to adjust himself on a cycle rickshaw.

“I spend night on the streets as I have no place to live. I cannot afford a room on rent. At 1 am, I dropped a man and will stay here till 4 am. If I get a customer, I will go to Cantonment,” he says.

A seer Baba Heera Lal lit a bonfire near Dashashwamedh ghat where he, along with a group of locals, sat to keep himself warm.

“Spending night in the cold is tough but people find a way to survive,” he says.

First Published: Jan 15, 2018 15:59 IST