Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Banaras and Kumbh my first hand experience

I recently had a chance to visit Banaras and Kumbh for about 6 days. This is a summary of my experiences there. I had gone there to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas  (PBD -2019) and look around Banaras. The visit to the Kumbh Mela happened serendipitously.

I had come to Banaras almost 18 years back to assess if the Taj group should buy the Nadesar palace, a very large piece of land with a small palace on it. At the time I did visit the Ghats and the Vishwanath mandir  and its precincts and was horrified in the way in which this city was being managed. Air connectivity was limited and the airport very basic. Nonetheless it was evident even to  me who was merely an inexperienced 28 year old junior manager then that the time will come for this holy place. So we recommended to Taj to take over the Nadesar palace and maintain it is a boutique hotel and expanded to a very large deluxe hotel when someone will come to give the city its due. So we structured a lease instead of an out right purchase where in the lessor would get share of the revenue for whatever hotel that would come on it for a long time. The local people told me Nadesar Palace is doing very well now and charging upwards of Rs 50,000 per room night on good days ! 

As I landed I found a very modern airport with excellent connectivity to the city  that seemed capable of dealing much much more than the 18 flights that land now  daily (per the local driver). The airport looks good to take as much as 100 flights a day ! 

Although I stayed with some with some friends I did visit the tent city made in Banaras, for the overseas guests who had come to attend the PBD,  to tide over the shortfall in hotel rooms. The arrangement were outstanding and I could not have believe that this is the same Banaras I visited 18 years back.  The locals I stayed with were more astounded with the PBD event, the tent city and the ring roads. 

Banaras has now  many new facilities including a Trade facilitation centre which can hold many trade shows conferences  This is built in the village where Kabir lived (photos below). 

Once the PBD event was over,  I was eager to see Banaras with my own eyes. Banaras has now  uninterrupted power. In localities where the demand exceeds the capacity to distribute power, temporary arrangements have been made supply more power in those areas in short no excuses where tolerated. Here is a photo showing how the transformer capacity has been boosted using jugaad. This is found in many places and is not an isolated instance.

When I spoke to the locals they said that their  diesel bill for generator has come down to zero. The savings for business establishment was quite significant especially for a low cost City such as 
Banaras and it seemed to have improved the air quality also.

The first thing that struck me as I walk around the crowded areas was that there was no stench anymore. Conservancy staff where cleaning the streets at much greater intervals. Large proportion of the cups, kulhads, plates were being thrown properly in their designated areas. 
While Delhi still wondering what to do to reduce, its pollution Banaras is moved on and is using electric vehicles for mobility a very large portion of these vehicles are electric vehicles which more than suffice and  ideally suited for the small lanes and roads of old Banaras. Photos

The Kashi Vishwanath temple is being introduced to using modern temple management techniques. This ensures that there is more order and the revenues reach the temple rather than the middle man. Bank of Baroda has opened  a facilitation centre near the temple where one can go and pay the fees for any of the pooja or for fast darshan of the temple.  There are priests who take you into the temple and complete the Darshan and bring you  back to the facilitation centre. The government has recognise that the temple complex is too small in relation to the number of people who like to visit this temple and has taken cognizance of the risks of pushing through more people into such a crowded areas and also the inability of the elderly and the infirm to be able to get Darshan of  Kashi Vishwanath so they have acquired land around the temple and are in the process of constructing a large temple complex which will make the entry of people into the temple a very organised matter. Once these changes are made Ma Gange can be viewed from Kashi Vishwanath temple and there will be a long corridor from the temple to the river and all facilities will be there inside the temple for the pilgrims.

It struck me that we need an institute of temple management in India today along the lines of IRMA which was setup to create specific management knowledge in the realm of rural and agricultural management. Pilgrimage and temple economy maybe equal in size to the dairy economy of India or even larger despite the neglect, benign or otherwise for the past 70 years, and requires a specialised body of knowledge for managing the same. There is a serious anomaly in the way in which tourism statistics are computed in India due to the fact that India is practically a continent masquerading as a country (more in this blog).

Expansion of the temple complex may seem like a small matter but the addition of the few acres and superior  management of the movement  of pilgrims and their requirements could double the economy of Varanasi along with the additional infrastructure of the airport and road connectivity.   
I went round the ghats to see for myself if indeed the river is clean in most regards. There is no floating  debris  and no odour and at the Dashashwamedh ghat you could even see the stones in the river during such a crowded season. 

You can see that the waters are getting cleaner. Here is a photo of water collected from middle of the Ganga.

I also visited the Manikarnika ghats where the funerals take place and found that arrangements have been made for proper funerals at these Ghats. Nothing is thrown into the river and seeing this I was surprised that how no one had done this before considering it was such an obvious and simple thing to do. There is something at the funeral ghats of Banaras that makes you realise how transient life is!   Visiting these Ghats was one of the best experiences of my visit to Banaras.


At the end of my trip I did get a chance to attend the Kumbh Mela and decide to extend my trip by one day. The road from Banaras to Prayagraj is being made into 4 lane divided highway which  will perhaps cut the commute time from 3 hours to one and half hours when completed. Work is going on at a frenetic place for its completion ! 

Arrangements at the Kumbh were simply outstanding. Law and order, electricity,  roads and signages,  water and waste management and connectivity was planned and executed very well.  Indrapastham tent city by UP tourism has well appointed tents with very good facilities to ensure that Kumbh attracts high end visitors also !

In the years to come the Kumbh will drive the economy of the places where it is held  and in the year it is held economists will say that the Kumbh economy cannot be compared to non Kumbh years  and will want to remove the Kumbh effect on the economy of that region ! Some visuals ..

The morale and the effectiveness of the Uttar Pradesh police force has gone up a lot among their own citizenry and more so among the tourist and visitors to the state. This to my mind is a very deep transformation. 

During my many interactions with the the ordinary people it was clear that they now understood the difference between governance and lack of it, leaders who could deliver and those who can't, and between lip service and walking the talk. In fact many of the common people were cribbing that government was insisting on correcting many of the anomalies and implementing the laws in letter and spirit very strictly.  It seemed to me that change in this society was now limited to the pace at which society will adapt to moving to rule of law...
It seemed that this society was now collectively introspecting as to price paid for their past choices as a collective and whether they needed the rule of law or the rule of "their man" having  evidenced the latter for better part of last thirty years ... 
In conclusion  I found a new Uttar Pradesh which is confident  and capable of finding solutions to problems which had kept them behind.  No doubts there are lot of problems and it is a long road ahead but the society seemed to have found the appetite to handle  what's ahead ... as a person who has observed Indian economy for last two and half decades and a participant in India stock market it seem to me that the road to India's social, political, and economic future clearly nows run through Uttar Pradesh ! 

Before you go I leave you with more visuals of the beautiful ghats ! Ganga maiyya ki Jai


  1. Brilliant. I am a great fan of Kashi and your post gives me great satisfaction that good things have been happening to it. I am sharing link of this blog post with all my friends.

  2. Very heartening to hear about all these development. I visited Kashi about a decade ago. Hope to see it again soon.

  3. Thanks a lot for your detailed account. My friends and relatives have rated these developments very highly!!

  4. Thanks a lot for your detailed account. My friends and relatives have rated these developments very highly!!

  5. Painstaking, vivid and perfect picturisation of a mammoth effort. India and kumbh lovingly brought to light. Well done Koushik.

  6. A picturesque description which bring Kashi before your eyes. Thanks for all the photos very meticulously collated. I hope people do appreciate the efforts taken with love and sense of duty.

  7. I am extremely impressed with this fantastic improvement in Banaras. I am going to share this with all my friends here. Thanks.

  8. Good to read such a detailed blog - now I am ever so keen to visit Benaras / Kashi, soon.

  9. Dear Sir, Happy to read your article. Even I am witness of all what you say. I as a Overseas Citizen, got warm welcome and help by Police and public in general. Memorable.
    It was not so good during Repunlic day parade in Delhi. Perhaps, due to different government.

  10. Truly inspiring thanks for the post...i am thinking to trip to Banaras asap...Jai baba Bholenath

  11. Very detailed presentation! Congratulations

  12. Very interesting read.. Have been wanting to visit for a long time.. And with your blog now a lot of it already seems visited... And yes Temple Management Courses... In today's India that should be the way to go.. No retrenchment for a long long time to come...

  13. Good to know such improvement and development in Bananas. Thanks for the interesting and detailed description.

  14. Good to hear about the development... Wanted to visit the city from a long time but had heard so much negative about it.. ..Finally I can visit... Thanks for the information

  15. I too read it with baited breath and wondered if your nationalism was coloring your view. It seems miraculous, incredible. Even so, some photos do reveal trash here and there, so there is room for a higher standard. The trend is encouraging. Long ways to stand up to the glamor of Christendom in Europe, Buddhism in East Asia...

  16. Only good services were provided to NRI's and VIP's. For common people no basic amneties such as water, food even
    Blankets had to be purchased also wash rooms were in filthy status with no access to water.
    I can say rich people will get heaven at kumbh. Hell is obviously for middle class and poor people.

  17. I was in Varanasi last year and I too was surprised at the silent but rapid transformation that was taking place in and around the city. It is just awesome.However, there is always scope for improvement and I believe traffic discipline should be one area which need to be addressed soon.

  18. Excellent arrangement's I am seeing. Very good article in detail u have written. Tempted so much. Thanks

  19. Excellent arrangement's I am seeing. Very good article in detail u have written. Tempted so much. Thanks

  20. Excellent presentation.. Credit must go to the CM.. and PM who were able to get the job done..

  21. This is great change that happened during Modi period ,media idiots don’t show this

  22. Ganga clean? Wow, that is a Dream far away... In 1964, for the National Exhibition in Lausanne, Switzerland, once a 25-year event, I had the privilege to take a ride in the first submarine built by August Picard to the depths of Lake Geneva. The lake looked clean, beautiful shining without floating debris. And, you know what, the bottom all over was full of junk, metal, wood, queried stones, horrible growth and just full of waste. In 1995 they decided to really clean up the lake (1700sqkm; max depth 580meters)and it took them 19 years to stake the claim of a clean lake. So, Ganga lovers, we have hardly any chance for another hundred years unless you start right at the origin of the river and build sewage treatment plants for all cities excreting their wastes into Gangamai. Don't get fooled by jokers who clean their house and throw the junk outside. Clean Ganga? Do it...

  23. this is simply great naration; surprised to see you got so calm places to visit too..