Banaras or Kashi, as known by the older generation, and Varanasi, its modern name, is the spiritual capital of India. Varanasi is one of the oldest city in the world, dating more than 3,000 years.
Varanasi is not only the spiritual center for Hinduism, it is also an important spiritual center for Jains and Buddhists, and is also an important industrial center famous for its silk fabrics, perfumes, and sculptures. Being an old city, significant part of city exists on the banks of River Ganga and in the narrow lanes built thousands of years before. It is this part of Varanasi, the Ghats, which attract tourists, walking on the ghats, watching Ganga flow, and lost in the aroma of chillum.
New city is at par with any other city but remains extremely populated, chaotic and immensely dirty. Inspite of these massive shortcomings, many simply fall in love with the city as nowhere else you will see the combination of chaos, blinding colors, spirituality, and in discreetness. Varanasi has been described as unapologetic and ruthless in some ways. It takes no prisoners might be the phrase.
Key / Quick Facts:
|City Population||~1.4 million|
|Tourist Population||~5 million annually|
|On Tourist Circuit||Yes|
|Weather||Dry, extreme summers & cold winters|
|Best time to go||Early October to March|
|Why Go?||Ghats, Sarnath, Spirituality, Chaos|
|Location of Sites||North, Center, East, South|
|Location of Hotels||North, Center, East|
In Varanasi, but not Varanasi. Technically another town, but it is only 30min drive from center of Varansi, and less if you are in North of Varanasi. Sarnath is where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon, and hence founded Buddhism. It is a very small town which can be explored on foot. Apart from a small tourist center, and again a wonderful museum which cannot be missed, it has remains of Buddha relics, and the Stupa. It is at opposite end of Varanasi in terms of cleanliness and chaos. Extremely peaceful to visit and explore
Bharat Mata Mandir:
This is a unique temple and one of its own kinds. There is no idol as we know of, to worship but a map of India made of marble. Map was made during the freedom movement with an objective to give it a boost and bring patriotism among the people. Map has all the details with raised mountain ranges. It is an enlarged and real life version of 3D map on laptop. It was built in 1936. J
Banaras Hindu University:
Built in 1916, it is one of the largest residential universities in Asia. At the entrance there is an idol of Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom, and learning. Without this idol, the entry gate is like another gate of anyother building and may not be related to the university gate. Once inside the campus, stroll around for two places in particular – iconic Shri Vishwanath Mandir (Temple), and Bharat Kala Bhavan (Museum).
The temple is the tallest temple tower in the world. Entry to this temple is guarded. Camera, phone, bag etc are not allowed inside.
Magnificent museum, known as Bharat Kala Bhavan. It is an archeological and art museum with large collection of sculptures and other artifacts. In particular, it has a large collection of pre-historic and older coins with all details explaining the start, development, and usage of coins in trade. Cameras, phones, bag etc are also not allowed here. If you have interest in coins, then I would recommend carrying paper and pen to take notes.
North Varanasi / Old Railway Station:
Left behind part of the town. Less crowded, go here to see one of the oldest rail bridge built in India. It has two levels. Lower level has rail track while level above is used as road. It is also a railway station which is hardly used compared to the new train station. Start your walk on the ghats from here.
Ghats, the famous part of Varanasi. Not strolling on the ghats is equivalent to not seeing Varanasi. Though walking on the banks of the river, and hoping from one ghat to another at your own pace is required, but what is also equally desired is to explore the inner lanes of the ghats. That’s where the Varanasi lies, where it lives. The inner narrow lanes is the ancient city of Varanasi and houses families living there for generations, and also some unique or good eating places and attractions such Rani Jhansi Birth Place.
Morning Boat Ride:
Best time and place to beat the chaos of the city and enjoy some quite time watching the sunrise on the banks of River Ganga. Boatmen are ready to take you on 30mins – 1hr ride. You can also stop on the banks opposite ghats to get a better view
Little out of town, good two or three hour trip. Ramnagar is an old fort on the other side of River Ganga. You will be crossing the river on Pantaloon Bridge, so be prepared for a bumpy ride J Shared autos are the best and economical way of reaching here. Though not very well kept, but do go here to see the vast collections of arms and dagger of earlier times and also the vintage cars on display. Fort also houses a unique astronomical clock which apart from the year, month, date, time details also shows the astrological position of sun, moon, and planets.
Kashi Vishwanath Mandir:
Another very religious temple in India. Located in small narrow lanes before Dashashwamedh Ghat, it has very high security disallowing you to take bags / cameras / phones etc inside. There are always long queues of worshippers therefore early morning visits might be quicker.Going in big rush during daytime may not allow you to spend time inside and see the temple more carefully.
Hotels and Stay:
All range of hotels exist in Varanasi. Starting from ~Rs. 300 per night or maybe less in the narrow lanes of old city (East) to budget and mid tier (Center) in the developed part of the town to luxury hotels in the cantonment area (North). Basis your preference, you can take a pick.
Connectivity / Reaching Varanasi:
Varanasi can be reached by road, rail, and air. It is well connected by all three. Lying on NH2, road condition will always be good. NH2 is national highway of national importance. It is eight lane and always in good condition. All trains running from north to east or vice versa stop at Varanasi. Trains from other parts of India also stop at Varanasi along the route. Air connectivity is also good. There are frequent flights from the bigger cities of Delhi and Mumbai. And less frequent from other cities.
Commuting within the City:
Shared auto-rickshaw is the cheapest and fastest medium to reach the destination in Varanasi. Depending on the distance, ride can cost anywhere between Rs. 5 – Rs. 20 per person.
Tourist office is located at the below address. Website address is: http://uptourism.gov.in/
UP Government Tourist Office, Urban Haat, Sansakritik Sankul, Chuaka Ghat, Varanasi.
UP Government Tourist Information Counter: Cantt. Railway Station, Varanasi, Near Enquiry Office, Main Hall. Ph : 0542-2506670
E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
One day trip:
Allahabad, Lucknow, Bodh Gaya, Patna, Chitrakoot