In the last 5 years, Banaras became a destination for backpackers who started coming here in search of budget stays, cheap food and camera worthy moments. The unique culture of Banaras was fascinating. Finding order in chaos and life in death became a routine. Bloggers quoting Mark Twain in their articles and Instagram posts was not rare anymore.
The more Banaras became mainstream, the more people started finding out new things about this city. One of the unique cultural aspects was Dev Dipawali. A festival celebrated in Varanasi 14 days after Dipawali on the night of Kartik Purnima. It is believed the all the 33 Cr gods and goddesses descend to earth and take a dip in Ganga. In the time when Ganges in Varanasi has become an epitome of garbage pollution, wonder if any god would like to bath here. I think, they go to Allahabad instead.
2016 vs 2017
So Dev Dipawali started to find mentions in a few travel blogs and then a few more. Soon it became a part of articles talking about ’10 festivals you should attend in India’. Dev Dipawali was on the top of the list because who wouldn’t want to click pictures of ghats illuminated with million diyas?
Till 2016, Dev Dipawali remained an underdog festival where a few tourists from Bihar and the Bengal would visit, wander between a ghat to another and take a boat ride under the full moon. Came 2017, the era of Internet, its mentions on travel blogs and vlogs became so high that everyone wanted to be a part of this festival. My fascination with this unique culture and Banaras being 3 hour away from Patna made me visit this festival every year. Everytime I visited, I wrote a blog, since I was new in this field, the need to show ‘Offbeat’ was really important. Unknowingly I became a participant in ruining the aura of this festival.
The crowd at Dev Dipawali 2016
The crowd at Dev Dipawali 2017
Here are some pictures giving you an idea on what happened between 2016 and 2017.
To be honest, Dev Dipawali and Banaras administration was never ready to handle such a huge crowd. It was a local festival that didn’t expect this influx of tourists in the first place. Suddenly hostels were completely full, the prices of hotels went up a week in advance and the boat rides starts taking advance booking with a at least INR 800 in advance.
Earlier, the ghats that used to be empty were now filled with people. The tiny lanes and galleries had no place to walk. People pushing, shoving each other, lines moving so slow that walking between Assi Ghat and Tulsi Ghat would now take at-least an hour.
When I was leaving the festival, I found out that the road leading to Assi Ghat had vehicles parked in the most irresponsible way you can imagine. The people of Banaras had problem crossing to another side so they decided to jump over the vehicle and pass. In moments a couple of cars and jeeps got their windows smashed because everyone was walking over the hood and trying to cross the line.
I will be honest when I ask you not to come to Dev Dipawali this year. The festival is mismanaged not because of administration. Banaras is an old city that never expects this level of crowd. Last year, it was just a matter of moments and an unfortunate event would have defamed the entire festival. I can only chuckle and wonder about the owners of those vehicles who decided to park irresponsibly in the middle of the road.
Dev Dipawali is just one of the many examples of what happens when a place or an event becomes mainstream. The examples are spread from Ranthambore to Mcleodganj.
Banaras is an amazing place but only when you have time to experience its beauty. Dev Dipawali will be the worst introduction to this lovely city. If it was so bad in 2017 then I am sure that it will increase tenfold this year. The winters arrive in a week after Dev Dipawali. The migratory birds from Siberia start visiting soon after. No time can be perfect between December and February.