Above and Beyond the Usual

Above and Beyond the Usual
A hot air balloon taking off

Moving around in the labyrinth that Varanasi is, we come back with a peculiar sense of the world and its activities

Simrran Gill
December 12 , 2021
03 Min Read

A sudden jolt, a loud thud and an absolute stillness around. After about ten seconds — and the settlement of my initial trepidation — I could hear the rustling of leaves, a few branches breaking and the locals’ commotion. No, I was not in an accident, but over the Varanasi skyline trying to find a spacious landing spot. Never had I imagined that my maiden flight in a hot air balloon would land on top of a tree. But I’m told that this is the beauty of it — not knowing where you would land. While we were in the air and busy finding a soft spot for the landing, our on-ground crew was navigating the maze-like streets, attempting to beat the traffic and reaching the landing spot before us — all of it while tracing us mid-air. 

The hot air balloons being prepped


In a city that never sleeps, I woke up before the crack of dawn to make my way across the ghats, to the take-off site. The process to get a hot air balloon up and running is an elaborate and a tedious one — their arrival, spreading them out, filling up with air, firing them up and finally getting them up in the air. My pilot, Hans, was a friendly, quiet old one. The initial few minutes were filled with smiles, chatter and the cacophony of the city. 

A saffron- clad priest spotted in the market

But as we progressed higher up, a layer of silence engulfed us — and it is in that exact moment that one could have an epiphany of sorts. There was a strange kind of stillness in that moment. All I could hear were the reverberating chants from the temples below — and in fleeting moments, my own thoughts. If I have to put it into words, the experience was almost unreal. 

Remains of an old haveli in the bylanes

Post the early morning flight, it was time to tour Varanasi — or Banaras, as I and some locals still prefer to call it — traditionally, on foot. The city is madness. Don’t get me wrong, I mean the good kind — the kind that overwhelms you and makes you realise that your existence is just a matter of time. Remember the epiphany I was talking about? I guess it makes sense now. We started with a glass of kesar lassi loaded with dry fruits at the famed Blue Lassi shop and ended with a delectable dinner at the Guleria Kothi. And along the way we managed to unravel a few historical, cultural, traditional, architectural and gastronomical secrets. 

Feeding the seagulls during a boat ride

I chose to go for a quiet boat ride along the ghats the next morning — on the occasion of Dev Deepawali. Beelined with pilgrims, devotees and saffron-clad priests, the river and the activities around made for a true-blue Indian experience. Although mistier than usual, one could clearly see the deep-residing faith in people’s hearts and minds. I topped off my thoughts with a hearty kachori-and-jalebi breakfast and let my mind take its own course, oscillating between the flavours of my breakfast and my beliefs. I bid adieu to the city that afternoon, but only with a promise to be back soon to this whirlwind of a city. 

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