"Few cities in the world have had so many foreign visitors over centuries than Banaras. They have come from practically all over the world and for different reasons. When I have asked some foreign visitors as to why they had opted to come and stay in this crowded and polluted city, one com-mon answer that I heard has been: 'I don't know. But once I have come here I feel I have arrived'. This idea has, of course, been put differently by different persons, like 'I felt I have come home', or 'this city has an attraction I cannot explain, but I would not like to leave it now', etc-etc. And so many foreigners have not gone back, and others (one or two whom I know) return to the city time and again. After heaving such ex-planations what can you say except what is commonly said of Banaras that 'the city is full of mysteries' is true.
But on the other hand visitors have come for more solid reasons. The first foreign visitor to have come here was probably the Chinese traveller Fasian, who came in search of Buddhist manuscripts. So did his more well- known follower Xuangxang (Hiuen Tsang.) During the fifth century when Fasian came to the seventh when Xuanxang came, there were in fact, a num-ber of other Chinese pilgrims like I-tsing. They all came primarily as Buddhist pilgrims. After that came the Muslim invaders beginning with Ahmad Niyaltagin (1033), followed by the far more plunderous and cruel Shahabuddin and Qutubuddin in the twelfth century. Just imagine the irony, that after the people coming to Banaras in search of words of peace, now the marauders come to kill, loot and plunder. Then, of course, came other Muslims who, in course of time, were not looked upon as foreigners, but as people whom India, in its old liberal tradition assimilated in her society adopting many of their ways and aspects of culture. By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the west had started looking to India for profit, mainly through trade and subse-quently through creation of principalities and empires. It was natural that this new, changed culture should create an impetus for traders, artists, adventurers, misionaries and just curious travellers to come to India and whose itinerary almost invariably included the city of Banares. When people in different professions and with different tastes came, it was natural that their interaction with the city and its people should be almost as varied as themselves. And so we find that the literature on 'Benares through foreign Eyes' is as diverse as it is plentiful.
Some of these short sketches have been published in the Foreign Field, the Indian Methodist Times, and At Home and Abroad. Most of them, however, now appear in print for the first time. A few of the chapters have been written specially for young people. I wish to express my indebtedness to the Rev. WALTER SEED, of Windsor, for seeing these pages through the press; and I must not forget to thank Mr. Saeed, of Benares, for his splendid photographs.
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