Also called Kashi or Banaras, Varanasi is one of the oldest and holiest cities in India. Known as the abode of Lord Shiva, Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Hindus from around the globe visit Varanasi at least once in their lifetime. Varanasi is also home to Sarnath making it a pilgrimage for both Buddhists and Jains living across many countries.
Till date, you can see locals living an ancient way of life despite the distractions of modern frills. From its labyrinthine narrow lanes to vibrant ghats; from its delicious food to the holiest of temples, Varanasi offers a vivacious kaleidoscope of rich culture, history, religion and spiritual way of life.
It is also believed that taking the last breath in Varanasi releases one from the unending cycle of birth and death. Therefore, many people spend their last days in the holy city in the hope of attaining moksha. You can see most places in Varanasi on foot. For other places, there are plenty of cabs, e rickshaws and tuk-tuks available.
1. Lose Yourself On A Temple Trail
Kashi Vishwanath Temple which is devoted to Lord Shiva is the most important temple of Varanasi. Being one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, it is one of the holiest of Shiva temple in the world. The devotees make a beeline here every day to offer prayers and perform rituals. The temple even finds mention in ancient Hindu text Skanda Purana.
There are a lot of hidden temples in and around Varanasi. Some of the important temples of Varanasi are Nepali Temple, Mrityunjay Mahadev Mandir, Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple, Kaal Bhairav Temple, Sankata Devi Temple, Birla temple, Shri Tilbhandeshwar Mahadev Mandir, Sankat Mochan Temple, Vyas Temple, Tulsi Manas Temple, etc.
2. Go Ghat Hopping
The ghats of Varanasi are its soul. There is so much to see and observe on Varanasi ghats. A mere stroll on the ghats is a sensory delight. The most important ghats are Dashahwamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Assi Ghat, etc. You can also see Hindus performing rituals, ceremonies, Surya Namaskars and even final rites.
3. Discover The Buddhist Past Of Varanasi
Sarnath is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the world. Lord Buddha gave his first sermon in Sarnath. There are many monasteries, ancient stupas, ruins of Jain temple, etc in and around Sarnath.
4. Explore Old Buildings Of Varanasi
Ramnagar Fort is an ancient fort that was built in sandstone. It was constructed in the 18th century. It is located on the banks of Ganga opposite the Tulsi ghat. There are many more old buildings in the lanes and ghats of Varanasi.
5. Perform A Ritual
People come to Varanasi from near and far to perform rituals like mundan, pind daan, final rites, etc. The local pandits will assist you in the same for a fee.
6. Go Slurp Happy On A Food Trail
Varanasi is heaven for vegetarian food lovers. The tamatar chaat, matar choora, palak chaat of Kashi Chaat Bhandar are world-famous. The thandai and lassi rule the beverages of Varanasi. And don’t forget to taste Mallaiyo, this tasty one is only found in Varanasi. You can also indulge in lip-smacking vegetarian western food at some of the chic Cafes of Varanasi.
7. Enjoy The Grand Festivals
The festivals of Varanasi are larger than life. Dev Deepawali is one of the grandest festivals of Varanasi. It is believed by the Hindus that the Gods themselves descend on the ghats of Varanasi to take a holy bath. Mud lamps are lighted on all the ghats of the Varanasi, making it a once in a lifetime experience. The other festival which is celebrated with much fanfare in Varanasi is Maha Shiv Ratri.
8. Attend The Ethereal Subah-E-Benaras
Every morning, the Assi ghat comes alive with the Subah-E-Benaras event. The morning aarti will send you into a spiritual coma as the devotees recite ancient mantras followed up by morning aarti. What better way to start your day when in Varanasi? It is less crowded than the evening aarti. It also offers better photo opportunities for the photographers since you can see the aarti from a close distance in the morning event.
9. Participate In The Evening Ganga Aarti
Every evening, crowds of thousands jostle to catch a glimpse of the daily Ganga aarti. Local boys, dressed in their sartorial best perform the aarti to the sounds of conch shells and mantras. The smell of marigold flowers and incense sticks add to its aura. Arrive early on the ghat in order to secure a good vantage point. This event is a big leveler as people from all caste, creed, class, religion, ethnicity, and gender mingle together on the same platform.
10. Let The Music Hypnotize You
The pleasure of listening to classical music on the ghats, homes or boats of Banaras is an unparalleled experience. Many local operators provide that service. Varanasi is known for its Benaras Gharana of vocal Hindustani classical music.
11. See Life Passing By On A Boat Ride
Whether you take an early morning or evening boat ride, it is sure to delight you with its sights. The boat ride offers a glimpse of the daily life on the ghats of Varanasi from the Ganga river. You can also enjoy the luxury and music aboard the Alaknanda Cruise. You can also watch the evening Ganga Aarti from the boat.
12. Watch A Wrestling Match At The Akhada
You can enjoy watching a wrestling session at one of the akhadas of Kashi. Located on the Assi ghat, the best time to watch a kushti at akhada is morning. The pahalwan (wrestlers) of akhada are friendly to visitors.
13. Go On A Shopping Spree
Make sure you carry an extra bag to fill it up with the exotic souvenirs of Varanasi. Whether it is the beautifully carved wooden toys, the exquisite Banarasi sari, or religious paraphernalia, there is a lot you can buy in Varanasi.
14. Explore The Street Art Of Varanasi
The walls of Varanasi have paintings of beautiful images inspired by Lord Shiva, Varanasi, and Hinduism. Keep your eyes peeled as your cab driver takes you around the city.
15. Practice Your Photography
Varanasi is a photographer’s paradise. There are amazing subjects to click in all the corners of this ancient city. It is the best place to hone your photography skills.
Best Time To Visit
Winter is the best time to visit Varanasi. October to February is good. The other months are too hot. July and August are the rainy months.
- Try to time your visit during Dev Deepawali.
- Varanasi is an apt background for photo-shoots.
- Walk around the narrow lanes of Varanasi to discover some hidden gems.