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SOUND OFF! M. JAYARAMAN reminisces about his trip to Varanasi and bemoans the lack of civic facilities in the city

Recently, we, a large group of over 100 people went on a pilgrimage to Varanasi and a host of other places. The party also included a group of cooks, with utensils and provisions.

The journey schedule was altered slightly, as the train was rescheduled by a day, owing to heavy rains in Andhra Pradesh. We had assembled at Chennai Central station and were forced to spend a night at the waiting hall. We proceeded for Allahabad the next day.We were provided accommodation at the Shringeri Math in Allahabad. In the evening, we went on a sight seeing trip. Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth place, Anand Bhavan is a sprawling mansion with several rooms and sprawling lawns. I wondered how a person with such a luxurious living could renounce it for the sake of the nation and take up cudgels against a foreign regime and court arrest.

We were taken to Varanasi in a packed bus and accommodation was provided in a palatial house with several rooms. A Sastrigal and his heirs owned the house. We were also provided space for cooking. We had coffee, breakfast, meals and meals in the house itself. In the evening, we visited a host of places of interest in and around Varanasi. We also managed to hitch a boat ride consisting of a tour of the ghats in Varanasi. We performed the ceremonies associated with the ghats. The museum, on the other side of the Ganga is worth a visit for the countless ivory works on display.

On Deepavali day, we woke early in the morning and took our bath in the Ganga to experience, the ‘actual Gangasnanam’. The traditional lehyam and sweets were also offered to us. The crowds were massive and security checks rigorous. However, despite its ancient beauty, Varanasi is a city bursting at its seams. Adequate sanitation facilities are not provided. Cattle roam around in busy traffic intersections and pose a threat to pedestrians. Tea shops are situated near stinking drains. The Ganga has also been polluted a great deal.

At some ghats, half burnt dead bodies are thrown into the river. The outskirts of the city are cleaner and better organised. The attempts made by the panda (priests) to fleece money also left me dismayed.

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