I was born and brought up in the galis of Kasi. I had experienced them since I gained a kind of consciousness of my environs. Yet, I started understanding them only when I had reached an age of fifteen. I remember the year because I was taking my board exam for high school then. Agrasen Mahajani School is deep inside Chaukhambha Lane, near Chowk Police Station. It was the centre for the exam for the students of Bengali Tola Inter College that year. The entrance of the gali is shown in the image below.
My father used to drop me there for the exam that was scheduled around the festival of Holi (not so strangely, my next board exam was also scheduled in a similar manner by the enemies of celebrations, and at the same centre). I was not acquainted with the network of galis of the pakki mahal then. Since childhood, I had gone up to the galis around the Kashi Vishwanath Temple with my grandfather, never beyond. On my own, I could journey straight from Kedar Ghat to Kashi Vishwanath walking on the main route with no detours possible. When I saw the shops of the gali, the richness of stimuli captivated my senses, especially eyes and nose. I asked my omniscient Amol Mama about the gali and he answered all my questions, including a detailed word-map of how to reach there from Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
My explorations of the galis of pakki mahal started when I had reached class eleventh. There were many factors responsible. My gali experience during the board exam of the previous session and my mama being the immediate catalysts. He had told me long and detailed descriptions of the labyrinths of galis that could take one up to Raj Ghat. Raj Ghat had the famous iron bridge spanning across Gangaji that could be seen from any point on the ghatscape of Kasi. It was calle Dufferin Bridge once and can still be recognized by that name but its modern name is Malviya Bridge. Its new name undoubtedly comes from Mahamana Malviya, the founder of Banaras Hindu University.
Although no word-map has the power to navigate one from Kedar Ghat to Raj Ghat through galis, his descriptions did inspire me to make an attempt. I don’t remember going on my first quest for the right way with any companions (accomplice would be a better word, as it was during the school time that all these explorations were made). I don’t remember how, but I did reach Adampura Road solely through galis. After that I used to ask my friend Arnab to cut classes and accompany me. Others used to go to play cricket or watch movies after cutting classes, but we were drawn towards the captivating galis of Kasi. Our nearly daily journey used to begin near our school in the images below.
The whole neighbourhood facing our school, starting from the gali right after C M Anglo Bengali primary School that dives into the ghat-side galis, is called Bengali tola. The main road that passes by both the schools mentioned above and the gali is shown below.
We used to enter the dense network of galis at Bengali Tola and from there we used to have two choices: entering the Kedar-Dashashwamedh Ghat Lane by going straight through Mansarovar/Narad Ghat area, or pass Shava Shiva Kali Badi and Ganesh Mahaal to enter the same KD Lane at its terminal near Dashashwamedh Ghat. From there, we could either take the main Vishwanath Lane or a by lane that opened near Rajendra Prasad Ghat and met the main lane later. If not in a hurry, we’d take the Vishwanath Gali.
Vishwanath Gali must be seen if one wants to understand what it has in store for them. It has shops selling an amazing variety of things. The products on display draw a huge number of people of all nationalities: buyers and window shoppers alike. I accompanied my parents and friends while they did their shopping. I remember getting toys from the gali. I remember the stainless steel shop that my parents regularly went to; and then, all those shops selling various things related to Hindu ceremonies etc. The only time I bought something from there with my own money, is yet to come. I think the item I may have to buy with my own money will be Indian mouth fresheners.
After passing the whole gali lined by various shops on both sides, one finally reaches the entrance to the temple complex. When we were children, we used to plunge into the complex with our bicycles and all, without a moment’s hesitation. Post-1992, things didn’t remain the same anymore. Today, the whole area is barricaded and has been converted into some sort of military semi-barracks. What to speak of bicycles, one can’t take even one’s mobile or camera beyond the entrance to the temple complex that starts a couple of metres before Annapurnaji’s Temple.
So, as we used to do then, if one passes the Vishwanath Temple and walks straight on, one reaches Lalita Ghat area. It is very famous for its Nepali Temple towards which (once again) Amol mama had directed me. The temple, as Professor Eck mentions, has Pahupatinath as its central deity. Moreover, it has Khajuraho like carvings on its wooden structures. The broad and straight gali, before it reaches the gali to the right that takes one to the temple, passes a flight of steps along which there are innumerable small shrines of gods, many of whom I do not recognize, under a couple of old and tall shady trees.
There is a deceptive turn to the left that looks more like the entrance to a house than that of another gali. As one takes a few steps onwards, there’s an entrance like structure that leads to the Gadhwasi Tola area. I remember very clearly seeing the name of my father’s contemporary and BHU stdent’s union leader Shree Santosh Kapuria’s name on the banner of one of the Durga Puja clubs of the area. The gali rises in gradient and turns left again to finally meet the main Chaukhambha Lane. From there, one keeps going straight, without turning left in the narrower galis, to reach a bifurcation. A narrower gali goes straight and a broader one to the left. One takes the broader gali and passes a temple (of Vallabh Sect, if I remember), and then goes on straight to Prahlad Ghat area, passing Bhargav Bhushan Press on the way. A very narrow gali then takes one to Teliyanala Ghat, a couple of ghats before Raj Ghat. The whole region around this ghat bears a neglected kind of looks. The neighbourhood is not very affluent, and it reflects on both the ghats and the galis.