The new trade facilitation center in the world’s oldest living city has been in the news since it opened. We even thought it was a potential venue for our Yatra meeting, but we ended up doing it at BHU. My exploration of Banarasi Silk this time took me to a new destination in the city.

We drove past the Munshi Premchand Memorial in his ancestral village of Lamhi. His home has been converted into a museum. The locals will tell you the stories of his characters, all of whom live around the house. I couldn’t stop due to limited time, but I highly recommend stopping here.

Varanasi Trade Facilitation Centre

The Trade Facilitation Centre aims to facilitate trade in Varanasi. We consider Kashgar to be a spiritual destination mainly visited by pilgrims. Instead, Varanasi has always been a trading hub, living at the crossroads where two major trade routes meet. Yes, I’m talking about Uttarapath from Kabul to Dhaka from east to west and Dakshinpath from North to South from Patna to Paitan.

Throughout our scriptures, Kashgar is mentioned as a center of trade. Remember, when he was the ruler of Ayodhya, Raja Harishchandra had to go to Kashgar to sell himself. Closer to our time, the poet San Kabir was the weaver of Kashgar, and the market often appears in his poems.

Streets of Varanasi
Streets of Varanasi

We know about Banarasi Saris and Banarasi Paan, but there are many more things in Varanasi that have been awarded the GI label. Now, the museum at the Center for Trade Facilitation is an ode to all things Banarasi. In a way, it’s a celebration of Kashgar, Varanasi or Banaras. The only museum I’ve seen that celebrates the city is the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai. But Kashgar is so alive with so many art forms in its folds.

Varanasi Trade Facilitation Centre

At first glance, the red sandstone center looks like another building in Derry Rutchins. The faint silhouette then creates the impression of the shimmering Shikhara Temple and reminds you that you are in Varanasi. This is a huge public space that can accommodate a lot of people both indoors and out.

Varanasi from five Bharat Ratna winners
Varanasi from five Bharat Ratna winners

My admiration for the whole place is its design. The elements of Varanasi – whether it’s the Buddha or Kabir, or the five Bharat Ratna winners from the city, or its handicrafts or the famous ghats, never go away. I’ve often wondered why we need museums to showcase living traditions, but this space does showcase them in one place and in an accessible way. I also appreciate that many artisans such as building block makers or wooden toy makers are invited to work there and interact with visitors.

The shopping area is great. I can’t say much about the products and how they are priced. When I visited, many of the stores were empty, but that may have been the impact of the pandemic. I’m sure these stores will flourish with many tourists and shoppers once it’s behind us.

Kabir - the poet holy weaver of Kashgar, the center of trade facilitation
Kabir – the poet holy weaver of Kashgar

There are murals and Murtis to capture the essence of the city. When you enter, there is a huge sculpture of Buddha and his philosophy. In the middle is a statue of Kabir, the famous poet and weaver of Kashgar. There is a mural depicting all five Bharat Ratna laureates from Varanasi – Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Bhagwan Das ji. How many cities have you seen celebrating their shining stars?

Trade Promotion Center Handicraft Museum

Weaving of Banaras
Banana Braid at Trade Facilitation Center

The Arts and Crafts Museum showcases the crafts of Varanasi on three floors. This is a beautifully designed museum space. Even before you enter, you are surrounded by colorful and vibrant wall panels, showing you the variety of Banarasi silks. In a way, you’ll be surrounded by the luxury defined by these delicate weaves of the city.

movies in varanasi

A short film about Varanasi can be watched in the auditorium, giving you a 360-degree view of all aspects of the city. It’s a great way to document the elements that fascinate you and then visit them in the alleys of Kashgar.

You stand in the middle and become acquainted with the typical elements that define Kashgar, such as music and musical masters, life in the Ghats, famous Panwallahs, Mithai shops, weavers, wooden toy makers, Minakari jewelers and stone carvers. Although the always-present highlight is its famous alleys, it’s like walking into a living open-air museum.

Standing in the middle is almost surrounded by Kashgar.

Textile Gallery

Aada Jaal Banarasi Saree
Aada Jaal Banarasi Saree

As I said, you enter this space surrounded by fine textiles, which takes you into the world of textiles. There are groups explaining different types of weaving and weaving techniques in Hindi and English. The weaving process is depicted visually and textually.

Gaysar - Damask Buddhist Ritual Clothing
Gaysar – Brocade Buddhist Ritual Clothing

Most notable in this gallery are some of the fine heirloom Banarasi sarees on display. You will see traditional patterns of Kashgar in bright colours such as purple, magenta and the favourite red. You appreciate and understand the subtle changes in the weaving, designs and patterns of the city.

You must see a piece woven with peacock feathers, and a brocade called Gaysar for Buddhist lamas to pray.

Carpet Gallery

The moon and its reflection are woven into the carpet at the Varanasi Trade Facilitation Centre
The moon and its reflection are woven into the rug of the Trade Facilitation Center

This showcases masterpieces such as those showing the moon or telling the story of a king. Various types of rug weaves and patterns are on display, including modern rugs that I don’t understand.

Varanasi Art Gallery

This gallery showcases various products from Varanasi. Although I have written about various art forms in Kashgar, I discovered Terracotta Warriors art here for the first time. This includes the black terracotta pottery I usually associate with Manipur. Next time I will look for it in the market in the city.

Carpentry by Hanuman Murti at the Varanasi Trade Promotion Centre
Hanuman Murthy in Woodworking

The famous Ramnagar Ramlila used the mask.

Delicate pieces of Gulabi Minakari will catch your eye for a long time.

Murtis of Brass and Other Metal Arts showcases old and new works.

Finally, there is the large and charming Ram Darbar.

All products with a GI label are celebrated in this museum.

Black pottery in Varanasi
Black pottery in Varanasi

On the Trade Facilitation Center’s campus, you may meet some artisans who are dedicated to creating works of art. I came across a block maker who was making blocks for a block printer. Another is making small wooden items, including some jewelry. Interacting with them and watching them create is a pleasure and a learning. Great place to take kids. I hope they introduce workshops so people can learn these crafts too.

Kashi Stone Craft
Kashi Stone Craft

Travel Tips for Trade Facilitation Centre in Varanasi

The museum is open from 11:30 to 7:30 all day except Mondays.

There is a nominal admission fee.

Cameras are not allowed, but cell phone photography is allowed.

You can ask a guide to show you around. As of now, this is a free service.

You will need at least a few hours to visit the museum and browse the markets here.

If there are additional exhibitions going on then you need more time.