Assi Ghat Zone

One of Varanasi’s most notable and famous features are its ghats, a series of waterfront temples and steps along the Ganges River. The Assi Ghat is the 80th and southernmost ghat in Varanasi, It is a famous attraction for tourists and the location of many festivals. Tourist amenities, such as boat rides on the Ganges, restaurants and cafes, and talent shows abound on this ghat. The studio explored this Ghat and its surrounding areas as one of the three focus zones and identified a series of strengths, weaknesses, and concerns.

The Assi nala is a small river that weaves through the residential neighborhoods behind the Assi Ghat and eventually feeds into the Ganges. At certain points, it is no wider than a small creek, but it broadens at the mouth to form a sizeable intersection with the Ganges. Once revered as a holy river, it has now become known as a ‘nala’, or drain. However, with some cleanup efforts, it could easily become a beautiful green space and serve as a natural retreat in an otherwise crowded residential area.

Strengths

Accessibility to Ghats

Riverfront of Religious Significance

The nala’s greatest potential lies in the pedestrian trail that runs alongside it, which leads directly from the community plaza to the Assi Ghat. The trail provided escape from the heat under the shade of the trees and from the coolness provided by the river. It was immediately evident that this trail had enormous potential as a space for residents and tourists alike to enjoy.
The ghats themselves represent an eternal draw to the city. Tourists and religious pilgrims flock to the riverfront to witness the Aarti ceremonies, bathe in the Ganges, or participate in religious burial rituals. In this sense, investing in neighborhood improvements will see an almost immediate return on investment, as the area is crowded year-round with visitors.
The Assi Ghat is a large open space at the foot of the wide staircase leading down to the river, as well as multiple platforms along the steps that can host both public performances and religious ceremonies. Further south just beyond the Ghat, a large public plaza borders the brand new Sant Ravidas Smarak Park. This community space is a great advantage for tourists and residents alike: its shaded and accessible platforms are convenient gathering spaces for locals, and a dock at the bottom of the stairs boasts Varanasi’s largest river cruise boat.
The Assi Ghat neighborhood contains an abundance of small temples, restaurants, vendors, and lodging to accommodate tourists. With no shortage of amenities, visitors are provided with a comfortable experience and authentic local flavors that will enhance their trip to Varanasi.

Community Spaces

Hotels and Restaurants

Concerns

Sewage

Dumping of Solid Waste

Narrow Streets

Sewage management is a separate and dangerous issue on multiple levels. The aging sewer infrastructure allows cross-contamination between ground water and sewer water pipes. Many of the sewer pipes flow directly into the Assi and Ganges rivers without receiving treatment. A proposed sewage treatment plant has been delayed indefinitely due to political arguments. Drains that run along the streets are uncovered, attracting disease-carrying insects and filling with trash.
Piles of trash, ranging from individual objects left in drains to enormous mountains on street corners, invade every part of the neighborhood. The consequences of this issue are serious: spread of disease, destruction of animal habitats, clogging of the sewage system, and creating an unpleasant environment. The banks of the nala have become a makeshift landfill. Dumping of physical trash, sewage, and chemical pollutants has taken the Assi from a significant and holy river to a mere ‘nala’-- a drain.
The streets of Varanasi are crowded at all times, and it is common to see cows, two-wheelers, buses, and pedestrians sharing the same narrow road. The noise pollution caused by this chaos not only has a negative effect on residential quality of life, but the crowded streets also present a major hazard to pedestrians. Foreigners who are unaccustomed to the traffic are at higher risk of accidents, but even locals narrowly avoid accidents on a daily basis.
Preliminary data collection on noise levels in the Assi Ghat zone proved the levels to be above the acceptable range. The incessant passage of cars, auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers, as well as animal noises and typical residential chatter, all contribute to this effect. Extended exposure to this level of noise decreases both hearing ability and quality of life.
Although many small temples exist in the neighborhood, there is no evident signage or wayfinding to help tourists find these attractions that are ‘off the beaten path’. While tourists may come to Varanasi for the ghats, it is important that they are able to find the other points of interest that give Varanasi its character. Local attractions give visitors great insight into the daily lives of residents and are sources of great beauty and culture.
The Assi Ghat area is home to several man-made pools known as ‘kunds’. These spaces, often located near temples or religious sites, are ideal spaces for community gathering and water collection. Unfortunately, they have been neglected, and are no longer receiving water flow from the Ganges. Instead, they have become collection points for leaves and trash. This abandonment makes residents feel neglected by local government, who they claim to be responsible for maintenance.

Noise Pollution

Lack of Tourist Information

Kunds Not Maintained

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