Well, that is Varanasi for me.
But during this trip back home, the first expression that came to my mind, while mapping its roads, is that the city should ban four-wheelers and other medium sized vehicles from most of its roads – especially in the second half of the day.
It took me an hour to reach the Ganga’s Rajendra Prasad Ghat from Nai Sadak, a stretch that is some one kilometer long. Places lying in between, Nai Sadak, Dalmandi, Godowlia, all are marketplaces now. And these marketplaces, connected by an ‘insufficiently wide road’, are inundated with shops and street vendors.
And that ‘insufficiently wide road’ is flooded with encroachments – by regular shops – by roadside vendors – by auto-rickshaw drivers – by rickshaw-pullers (and the new addition is Delhi’s ubiquitous battery driven e-rickshaws). People park their vehicles as per their own convenience even if it means hurt-burn for others. In fact, the stretch from main Godowlia crossing to Rajendra Parasd Ghat (or Dashashwamedh Ghat) has a thick divider made of illegally parked two-wheelers (as four-wheelers are not allowed) in the middle of the road.
And Varanasi’s every road busy road has a similar grievance to tell – a grievance that is never heard.
So, while feelings the pangs of moving continuously clutch, brake and accelerator my two-wheeler, the thought came to my mind spontaneously. Yes, it means a lot of noise from many of its ‘responsible’ residents, but they need to pay this price to maintain the city’s heritage with needs of changing times.
The problem of Varanasi roads is exacerbated by their poor upkeep.
Varanasi or Banaras is also notorious as a dirty city with loads of dust and garbage afflicting every part of it. Their prevalence is a telling sign of the administrative apathy the city has been subjected to for decades.
I decided to map some of its main road stretches – from Cantt Railway Station to Banaras Hindu University through Sigra and Bhelupur – from Lahartara to Banaras Hindu University through Manduadih and Sundarpur – from Rathyatra crossing to Dashashwamedh Ghat – from Lahurabir to Dashashwamedh Ghat through Nai Sadak – from Lahurabir to Dashashwamedh Ghat through Maidagin and Chowk – and from Banaras Hindu University to Godowlia through Assi and Sonarpura.
And except on the stretch from Lahartara to Banaras Hindu University through Manduadih and Sundarpur, the experience on every other road was like living a nightmare of being trapped in a traffic hell – coupled with potholed roads and air laden with dust particles.
What I experienced on these roads in last four days, its residents feel it daily. And since they are also responsible for it, we can safely say that many of them, the city residents, have this cycle of exploitation (exploiting someone or being exploited by someone) as part of their daily life now. A ride through these stretches (or in fact through most of the roads of the city) gives a feeling that the whole system governing them has collapsed here.
If Varanasi is still God’s Own City, it is because of its ancient spiritual legacy weaved around Shiva, the Ganga and death. Its spiritual and religious mysticisms draw people from all over the world. If Varanasi is still God’s Own City, it is because of its ageless culture weaved around its simple people. (Yes, exceptions are always there, but then, they are exceptions. Isn’t it?)
Varanasi is also famous for its streets and alleys and is loved for people always thronging them. Varanasi’s crowd, in its lanes, on its roads, is a big draw for many.
But we need to differentiate ‘this’ crowd from the crowds on its various roads that make even walking a difficult proposition. People would, naturally, hate this crowd and it is earning a bad name for the city.
The city is in dire need of good roads and their professional maintenance. And the city is in dire need of decongesting its roads – expecially the ones mentioned above – and any road that crisscrosses its older parts. Banning four-wheelers, say from 4 PM, would be the step in that direction that the administration needs to take, sooner or later.
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/