Varanasi (or Banaras as famously known by all Indians), is one of the seven holy cities for Hindus. It is exhausting, remarkable, cheerful and full of energy and extravaganza. For the first-timers, here are a few things which you should not miss out on and make out the most of the trip.
For the First Timers to Varanasi
How to reach Varanasi?
Air– Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport which is just 25 km from the centre of the city is the closest airport to reach Varanasi. Auto, bus, and cabs are an easy commute from the terminal.
Road– The roads to Varanasi are wonderful. The city is connected through major cities of Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring states. With the availability of both air-conditioned and non-air conditioned buses as well as cabs make it a hassle-free ride to the holy city of Varanasi.
Rail– Trains from all over the country connect to Varanasi on a regular basis. Mughal Sarai Railway Station, just 10 km away from the city centre, gives connectivity options from multiple places.
Best Time to Visit Varanasi
October to March is the best time to visit Varanasi. The vacation starts with a five day Ganga festival which is held in November every year.
And did you know? Varanasi is one among the Top Destinations in India for Photographers.
Places to See and Things to Do in Varanasi
Here is a brief of the top things/places that can’t be afforded to be missed out-
1 Assi Ghat – a major spiritual attraction
Locate far south, Assi Ghat is a place where pilgrims pray to Lord Shiva. The worshipping of a huge lingam situated under a peepal tree is done here. The magnificent aarti and the ancient ghats make a mark on the banks of Kashi and make it vivid and captive.
2Dashashwamedh Ghat – the ghat with a history
This ghat is believed to gain its name ‘Dashashwamedh’ from a story in Hindu mythology; where it is said that in a yajna (a ritualistic sacrifice in Hinduism held to achieve a specific objective) held here by Lord Brahma, he sacrificed ten horses (das/dash means ten, Ashwa means horse).
The evening aartis on the ghat attract tourists and pilgrims from all over the world. The heavy brass lamps, chants, aroma of flowers and incense sticks feel like a heavenly blessing. This ghat is always on the top of the list as it captivates the tourists by its flamboyant aartis and is indeed the best place to dawdle in this city full of chaos.
Note: Never miss out the boat rides in the Ganges
3 Manikarnika Ghat – where life meets death
Manikarnika Ghat is one of the holiest among the sacred riverfronts alongside the river Ganga.
If you ask an elder around a century ago, an exclaimed fantasy would be to get cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat as it is believed that getting cremated here will get you moksh (Moksh or Moksha is a term in Hinduism and few other religions which refer to the ultimate release or liberation.)
The Manikarnika Kund is said to be dug by Lord Vishnu for the sacred bath of Lord Shiva and Parvati while having a bath, a bead from Shiva’s earring fell into the Kund, hence the name Manikarnika (Mani means ‘jewel’, Karnika means ‘ear’).
The sun sets, the pyres glow and you can witness the candle-lit flower bowls float on the waters; this is how a typical day at Manikarnika ends.
Note: The queue doesn’t end for a person even after death at the Manikarnika Ghat 😉
4 Kashi Vishwanath Temple- The only Jyotirling in Uttar Pradesh
The place is most loved by the elders as well as the infants, this temple dedicated to Lord Shiva stands on the western banks of river Ganga. ‘Vishwanath’ which means the ruler of the world, and Varanasi was also known as Kashi, thus the name ‘Kashi Vishwanath’.
Hindus from all over the world try to visit the temple at least once in their lifetime. Inspired by the architecture of this temple, many temples have been constructed on the same pattern.
5 Tulsi Manas temple – the origin of Ramayana
This temple is of great importance in Hinduism as the ancient Hindu epic ‘Ramcharitmanas’ was originally written here by Hindu poet-saint, reformer and philosopher Goswami Tulsidas in the 16th century.
This historic temple is situated on the Sankat Mochan road, 250 meters south of Durga Kund, and 1.3 km from Banaras Hindu University.
The temple also houses lovely figurines depicting different characters or scenes from the epic and various Hindu Mythology stories.
6 Ramnagar Fort and museum – The Dusshehra fort
This lofty and stately 18th-century Sandstone fort is situated on the banks of Ganga river, opposite the Tulsi ghat which is 14 km from Varanasi. The Ramnagar Fort was built in the year 1750 by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh.
Ramnagar Fort is a beautiful concoction of the Indian and Islamic architecture. It houses several alluring and attractive buildings like the audience hall, Durga temple, Hanuman temple, Chhinnamastika temple and the Vyas temple.
The beautifully carved balconies, open courtyards and the pavilions make it a must on the list. This is a house to many rare collections such as vintage American cars, a huge astronomical clock, ivory works, and medieval costumes. The fort finds major tourist attraction on Dusshehra as masses gather to see the extravagant celebrations.
The major attraction here is the sunset that can be cherished more than anything.
7 Chunar fort – The fort of dynasties
The Chunar Fort is situated on the banks of river Ganga in Mirzapur district, at a distance of 45 km from Varanasi. At a height of 280 feet above sea level, this lofty fort still stands tall. It is said to be built by the king of Ujjain –Vikramaditya for his brother Bharthari, who lived here his entire life and took a Samadhi here itself.
This fort has been ruled by dynasties all over ranging from the Maharaja Vikramaditya in 56 BC, the Mughals in the 16th century and the British from 1772 who used this fort as a warehouse to store arms and weapons. Major attractions at Chunar Fort is the Samadhi of Bharthari, the Sonwa Madap built by the king of Nepal and the hanging place which was a capital place of punishment.
8 Sarnath – The Buddhist attraction
Situated 13 km from Varanasi, Sarnath attracts Buddhists from all over the world and India too. This is the most famous pilgrimage site of Buddhists. A perfect place to find peace after travelling the dazzling ghats and the crumbled gullies of Kashi.
The first sermon by Buddha was given here when he came to Sarnath seeking for his former companions, after achieving enlightenment at Bodhgaya. Famous places of attraction here include the Chaukhandi stupa, archaeological museum, Ashoka pillar, Dhamekh Stupa and Monastery ruins.
9 Godowlia market – the market for all
Nestled in the heart of buzzing Maheshpur town, Godowlia market is swarming with local traders, selling all kinds of stuff at affordable prices, provided that you are a good bargainer.
The cramped streets are packed with stores and stalls selling household essentials, ethnic jewellery, handmade shawls and zari garments, bangles and trinkets. The essence of camphor all around will get you drunk on the divine.
10 Banaras silk emporium – the silk of India
Situated on the cantonment road, this market always tops the list of all the tourists over the world. Famous for its ‘Banaras Silk’ sarees, at affordable prices and impeccable quality, this place is a must visit for the festive season shopping.
We hope a tour of Varanasi will introduce you to the sublime and the divine. Watch the video below for some soul search inspiration in Varanasi.