Kashi, Banaras, Varanasi – many names, many colors and much soul. Lose yourself in the alleys of the holy city to find yourself.
Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest living cities, is growing every day. In its bewildering maze of alleys, you’ll hear the soulful sounds of singing, chanting, and praying. These narrow confused paths attract travel lovers from all over the world. Might sound ironic, but people come here to attain peace on their India trip in this crowded and busy city. Also known as Kashi and Banaras, Varanasi might be the only city where death is also celebrated.
Alive as a centre for learning for these long years, the city has found itself at the centre of many sacred beliefs. It is believed that the Ganges have the power to wash away sins, and those who are fortunate to die in Varanasi will attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth. The holy river is also believed to originate from the tresses of Lord Shiva.
The city geographically lies in the northern plains on the banks of holy river Ganges, in the state of Uttar Pradesh of India. The best time to visit Varanasi on your India trip is from October-March for the pleasant weather, January being the coldest.
Top attractions in the City
Sunrise boat ride on the Ganges
‘Gold on the Ganga’ is what the miraculous sight of the sunrise looks like from the ghats. It is accompanied with chants of the morning Ganga Aarti. Take a boat ride to know more about the city and the ghats. Waking up early is worth it in Varanasi, the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Hindus.
Attend Subeh-e-Banaras at Assi
Sunrise views are followed up with yoga blended with soothing classical music at Assi Ghat. Your body and mind will attain a state of peace which is very unique to Varanasi. Just an hour or two in serenity is magical.
Eat Out in Every Street
Balance out the spiciest of snacks with the sweeter side of Kashi. Start the mornings with puri-sabzi with jalebis, fried idlis dipped in chutneys with lassi. In the evenings, binge out on samosas and longlattas. Read about the amazing food culture and dishes to try in Varanasi here.
Visit the Main Temples
Although the city has temples after every two steps, these temples are really worth visiting: Kashi Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva on the western bank, Kathwala Temple, Monkey Temple or Tulsi Manas Mandir. Crowded with deities, a visit will help understand the faith of the people.
A Day in Sarnath
Get a whole day free with Lord Buddha. Coming out from the loud, crowded Hindu temples, spend a day in the silence of Sarnath where Lord Buddha gave preached his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. Visit the place, look at the Stupa, know more at the museum there and check for the other beautifully designed Buddha Temples all in the Sarnath area.
Know the Kingdom at Ramnagar Fort
How did the Indian Kings and Queens live? If this is your question, then check out the Ramnagar Fort, 14 kms from Varanasi. An alluring structure of history is worth a view today.
Walk the Ghats
Eighty-eight ghats need time for exploration. Each ghat has its own importance and stories. Take a walk through the ghats – most are for bathing and puja ceremonies, while two ghats are used exclusively as cremation sites. Stop and make time for the Burning Ghats – Manikarnika or Harishchandra. Get an answer to many questions of your life as you see those bodies turning to ash. You will find meaning in your life through these walks through the ghats.
Evening Ganga Aarti and Ghat Sandhya
Evening Ganga Aarti is another magnificent attraction. Lighting lamps (diyas) of different sizes with chants and clapping create a unque ambience. It brightens the darkness and prepares you for the night. Followed up any of your evenings with Ghat Sandhya at Reva Ghat. Look for classical dance performances at this ghat.
Visit the Bharat Mata Mandir (Mother India temple)
Unlike all the other temples of Varanasi, this temple does not have any idols of Gods and Goddesses. Rather, it depicts the love for the country. It has a big map of India made from marble and represents the hills, mountains, rivers, plains, coasts and oceans. This temple was built to admire the country as it was built before the Partition of India.
Shopping for Handicrafts in Varanasi
Colorful silk sarees, wooden bangles, thread and jute weave bags, pretty silk stoles are some of the special things that should be on your shopping list. Or maybe some wooden souvenirs. Walk through the alleys, learn how they are made and the lives of laborers, and pick your favorites to take back with you.
How to Reach Varanasi
Varanasi Airport or Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport is connected to major Indian cities. Also now many International destinations have direct connections to the Varanasi Airport.
The city is easily accessible via train and has three railway stations that connect with different parts of the country. The three stations are Varanasi Junction, Kashi and Maduadih. Also, visitors can find trains to/from Mughalsarai, around 10km from the main city.
Also, Varanasi is well connected to major road networks. It has good public and private road transport connections.
Where to Stay in Varanasi
You can get classy stays in good locations to budget options like homestays and guesthouses in the city. Popular areas of stay for tourists are in Godowlia, Assi or Kedar Ghat Regions. Most 3* and above categories of hotels are in Cantonment area with all the best services.
Places to visit near Varanasi
Chunar Fort and Nearby Waterfalls
Another historic beauty, Chunar Fort has been the attraction for years. Even rulers have been fans! Also visit many nearby attractive natural waterfalls.
The city is known for the confluence of two holiest rivers of India, making it the king of pilgrimage centers according to Hindu Mythology. It is best to visit during the Kumbh Mela, which happens once in 12 years in the city.
Bodh Gaya is the place where Lord Buddha gained enlightenment under the Mahabodhi Tree. It is a sacred place. Also, visit Dungeshwari and Barbara Caves.
Handy Tips for Visiting Varanasi:
- The city is more exciting to explore on a cycle- rickshaw, tuk-tuk (battery rickshaw) or on foot.
- While walking through the Ghats, watch the cremations, and capture the scene in your mind. Because capturing it on camera is not allowed.
- Be careful of the bulls/ cows and their shit too.
- Keep your valuables safe.
- Be careful when you try ‘bhaang’. Also, drugs are not legal in any part of India. Thus be safe and avoid such activities.
- Hygiene and safety are still lacking in the city. Stay safe and careful. Also, avoid exploring the city late at night.
- Varanasi is best to visit it during festivals. Some festivals which will enhance your experience of visiting the city are- Dev Deepawali, Holi, Mahashivratri, Naag Panchami.
Come, visit and know the city – Kashi, Banaras, Varanasi – call it what you like. It’s full of color, culture and spirituality. Lose yourself in the alleys and in the magic of the city on your India trip.
Author: Bhawna Mohinani, The Ghummakads