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The Ghats The Temples Other Universities Excursions

Excursions around Varanasi

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ll  Surroundings  ll

 

Bhadohi (74 km)

This small town, together with nearby Mirzapur, produces nearly 95% of India's carpets, almost 90% of which are exported.

The story of Bhadohi's rise to fame has its origins in the misfortune that befell a poor Persian weaver. The Persian weaver, along with several others, had been travelling in a caravan which was attacked by dacoits when it was passing through Bhadohi. When the dacoits had finished with their looting anq killing, the weaver found that he had been the only one to survive. All that he had left was his knowledge of carpet-weaving. So, he settled in Bhadohi and began teaching his trade to the villagers. The craft soon spread and, now, Bhadohi carpets are world-famous.       .

Over the years, traditional Persian designs have given way to modern, unconventional designs. But the quality of the carpets remains the same. They are still prized for their thick smoothness and fast colours.

Chunar (37 km)

This historic medieval fort overlooking the Ganga is famous for the struggle for power which took place here between the Afghans and the Mughals, one coming out on top now, then the other. In 1537, Humayun captured Chunar from the Lodis. But another Afghan leader was already posing a threat to the Mughals. The new man on the scene, Sher Khan Suri, who later assumed the title 'Shah', soon occupied Chunar. When Humayun sent his general, Hindu Beg, to take over the fort, Sher Shah withdrew his men from Chunar, pretending subservience. In truth, Sher Shah was only playing for time, for his aim was first to dilute Mughal suspicions and then overthrow the Mughal Empire. He succeeded in dethroning Humayun in the early 16th century, after which the fort remained in Suri's hands, till 1575 when Akbar recaptured it.

There are buses to Chunar from Varanasi. Accommodation is not available.

Jaunpur (58 km)

When the city was founded by Firuz Tughlaq in 1369 A.D., Jaunpur had a number of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples and monasteries. Today, Jaunpur is an important Muslim settlement, with mosques and mausolea dominating the architectural scene.

Jaunpur came to be known as the 'Shiraz of India' under the Sharqi kings who ruled from here for nearly a hundred years. Their kingdom stretched from Aligarh in the west to Tirhut and Bihar in the East - almost the entire area that is now Uttar Pradesh. In that period, they made Jaunpur a prestigious centre

. of culture and learning. The Sharqi kings were also great patrons of art and architecture; they built several mosques in Jaunpur, using material salvaged from the temples they destroyed. The mosques are architecturally unique, exhibiting some features borrowed from the Tughlaq tradition, but still maintaining a distinct style of their own, characterised by two-storeyed arcades, large gateways and unusual-looking minarets.

The Atala Mosque, built in 1480, is the most famous of Jaunpur's mosques and served as the model for the other mosques built later in the city. The original temple on this site was dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Atala Devi.

Other important mosques, all in various stages of preservation, are the imposing Jama Masjid, to the north of which are the tombs of the Sharqi kings, and Khalis-Mukhlis, Lal Darwaza and Jhanji Mosques.

Other monuments to be seen in Jaunpur are: the Fort built by Feroze Shah in 1360 and now in ruins, and the stone bridge built during Akbar's reign (1556-1605) and named Akbari Bridge in his honour.

Jaunpur is also famous for its incense and perfumes.

Mirzapur (74 km)

Mirzapur, on the banks of the river Ganga, has a picturesque river-front with ghats and temples very much like Varanasi. Primitive paintings and line drawings depicting hunting scenes have been discovered in rock-cut caves in Mirzapur district, indicating that the place was inhabited by pre-historic man. Microliths, which originated in the Middle Stone Age, and pottery of the Late Stone Age further reinforce the view that Mirzapur is among the oldest inhabited places in the world.

Mirzapur also has a rich culture - it is famous for the delicate jali or fretwork done in sandstone, its lac bracelets and decorative beads. But it is in carpet­making that Mirzapur has distinguished itself. The biggest weaving centre and prime producer of Persian carpets in India, Mirzapurweaves carpets in vibrant shades of red, electric blue, lush green and cream.

 

Allahabad (125 km)

If Kashi is the ultimate goal of all devout Hindus, Prayag - as Allahabad is known to pilgrims - is the thirtharaja (the king of the places of pilgrimage). Both cities vie with each other in their claim to be 'Hinduism's holiest city' and there is a never-ending flow of pilgrims to both.

If people come to Varanasi to bathe at the ghats along the Ganga, they come to Allahabad for a dip in the Triveni Sangam, in the waters of the three sacred rivers - the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical, invisible Saraswati - which meet here.

The difference between the two holiest of Hindu holies, however, is striking. While Allahabad has evolved into a modern city, actively involved with the political life of the country, without losing any of its religious importance, Varanasi has changed little over the years. Religion still dominates the life of the people of Varanasi, who are little concerned with anything else; and the city continues to live in its riverbank ghats, innumerable temples and narrow alleyways. Not so in Allahabad, though the pilgrim is still the main visitor.

Thousands come to the Sangam every year during the Magh Mela (Dec.-Jan.) to bathe in the sacred waters and wash away their sins. The thousands become lakhs during the Kumbh Mela, held in Allahabad once every 12 years.

In Allahabad, there are several other places of interest too. Anand Bhawan, the ancestral home of the Nehrus, India's first family since Independence, now houses a museum where many personal belongings of the family are preserved; the Bharadwaj Ashram, where Lord Rama is believed to have rested awhile during his exile in the forest, is now part of Allahabad University; the Patalpuri Temple, the oldest temple in U P, has a banyan tree, Akshaya Batt, which is claimed to be immortal - Hiuen Tsang, who visited the temple in the 7th century makes a special mention of this tree; the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan is testimony to the long literary tradition of Allahabad; the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium is a monument of modern Allahabad; and the Allahabad Museum has many historical objects and art treasures, including a collection of paintings by Roerich and, prized Rajasthani miniatures and terra-cottas.