The city of Varanasi or also known as Banaras, is said to be the oldest city in India at over 3000 years old. Did you know the name Varanasi comes from the two rivers that flow through it? The Varuna and Asi Rivers, between whose streams the city was built. One of the most religious cities in the world, attracting large volumes of visitors on a spiritual pilgrimage to cleanse themselves in the purifying and holy waters of the River Ganges. “Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together” – Mark Twain. Varanasi is also known as the city of temples, famous for its silk Banarasi Sarees and opulent ornate jewellery. Here’s what not to miss when visiting Varanasi India this fascinating city.
Places Not To Be Missed While Visiting Varanasi India
The River Ganges
No matter if you are religious or not, a boat trip at sunrise on the River Ganges is one not to be missed! It’s an early start at 5 am, but worth getting there early as it draws large numbers. I would recommend a guide, as they can assist with the hire of the boat and at a reasonable price! The boat trip isn’t very long, taking around an hour, visiting some of the city’s 87 bathing or puja ceremony ghats. Traveling alongside the river’s edge you can see some of the many historical and architectural bathing ghats, and then further down the river to witness the ceremonial/Pyres ghats. “Did you know that the Pyres are burning 24/7 because the city is believed to be so sacred, the demand for funerals here is high”.
In the evening witness the Ganga Arti Puja ceremony by the Dashashwamedh ghat. The ceremony starts at 6 pm, but worth getting there around 5 pm as it draws in a large crowd of both locals and visitors alike. There are platforms to sit on for free or you can pay a little for a chair, or for a larger amount you can sit up in the balcony of the nearby restaurant that has a higher vantage point, or perhaps you would like to hire a boat and experience it from the water? On this occasion and my first visit, I opted to sit on the platform. I was taken back by the amount of people that attended the event and was pleased to have had such an optimum viewing vantage point. The event is free, but donations are welcomed and collected towards the end of the ceremony. The ceremony is performed by Brahmin disciples to honor the holy river, gods and deities. Throughout the choreographed ceremony there is dancing with fire, lamps filled with incense and Conch Shell blowing. Afterwards you can see the many votive candles filled with wishes from the many pilgrims, dance along the waters of the Ganges. The experience is an assault on the senses, but well worth visiting and embracing this truly unique and colourful ritual. The event takes place every evening.
Varanasi the city of temples is said to have 23,000 temples, with at least 20 of these being famous. The New Vishvanath Temple is situated in the Banaras Hindu University and is open to everyone no matter what faith. There are adornments to the gods and deities over two levels. On occasion you can also see some Buddhist prayer and musicians playing on the top floor. The modern building is ornate on the outside with a decorative roof and inside marble floors. The gardens are lined with trees and outside the entrance there are shops on both sides, selling a number of craft items and refreshments.
The Benares or Banarasi Sarees are well known as a work of art from the Uttar Pradesh state. Made by handloom weaving with a Jala. A complex mechanism hung above the loom. Varanasi has been long known for its Banarasi Silk Sarees and today includes Brocades. Did you know that the Moghals brought the craftsmanship to India from Persia? So ladies don’t forget to try on some beautiful and silky sarees while visiting Varanasi India.
Getting To Varanasi
Visiting Varanasi India couldn’t be easier, from New Delhi it is only a one hour flight with SpiceJet. Or for budget travelers there is also a train, which runs overnight from New Delhi and a tourist bus.
I found that accommodation while visiting Varanasi India can be a hit or a miss. In the end, I stayed at the budget and central Ganges Grand Hotel. Which was ideally located, only 10 minutes walk from the Dashashwamedh ghat. The hotel has an onsite restaurant. There is also the luxury and well known Ramada and Radisson chain hotels.
I hope I have inspired you to visit this unique and colourful destination. Happy Travels:) x
Disclaimer: All the above comments and opinions are my own.
Thank you to Discover Culture India.