The Ganga River flowing through, with stepped ghats on either bank, the chants of religious hymns and hundreds of earthen lamps or diyas twinkling in the dark…this describes the everyday life in Varanasi – one of India’s holiest cities. Its culture, historical edifices and religious significance attract a large number of tourists not only from India, but other countries as well. If you are planning to come to this wonderful city, then here is a guide which will prove quite handy:

When to Visit

Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh is situated in non-Himalayan North India; hence, is subject to subtropical climate. The summers are extremely hot here whereas the monsoon are soaking wet. So, it’s best to come here in the autumn, winter and springs seasons that roughly correspond to the time between October and March.

How to Reach

The easiest way to come here is taking a train as the city has two main railway stations, Varanasi Junction and Manduadih Junction. Several trains connect the holy city to Delhi, such as Shiv Ganga Express (Manduadih Junction) and Kashi Vishwanath Express (Varanasi Junction). About 20 km away from the city, Mughal Sarai Junction is another important railhead for Varanasi. The Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport of Varanasi has direct flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Colombo, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Goa, Bangkok and Jaipur.

What to See

Ramnagar Fort (Photo Credits: Shutterstock)

The most prominent places to visit in Varanasi are ghats, both bathing and burning, temples and historical sites. Following are the must-visit attractions in Varanasi:

  • Dashashwamedh Ghat: Main ghat, built in 1748 by Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao. It is a great spot to gaze at the river and experience the city buzz.
  • Manikarnika Ghat: Downstream from Dashashwamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat is primarily used for Hindu cremations.
  • Assi Ghat: Good place to sit in the morning, when it is relatively quiet, and see the flowing river.
  • Kashi Vishwanath Temple: One of the most important temples of Lord Shiva, it features two pyramidal towers called Shikhara and a dome, all covered in gold paint and detailed carvings.
  • New Vishwanath Temple: Located within the campus of Banaras Hindu University, it depicts a fusion of traditional and modern architecture. Its main highlight is its temple tower, which at 77 metres, is said to be the highest in the world.
  • Gyanvapi Mosque: Just in front of Kashi Vishwanath Temple, the mosque has one side which carries architectural elements of a Hindu temple. Great spot to see the mix of Hindu and Islamic aesthetic elements.
  • Alamgir Mosque: Situated at Panchganga Ghat, the mosque has three bulbous domes and false arches with artistic tracery.
  • Bharat Kala Bhavan: The museum exhibits the history and culture of different parts of the country. Its collection includes paintings, artefacts, costumes, textiles, personal belongings, decorative art and writings.
  • Ramnagar Fort: Built in 1750 on the banks of the Ganga, the humongous fortress features Mughal and Rajput architectural elements. It also houses a museum, exhibiting interesting things like vintage American cigars, ivory, palanquins covered with gold and silver, and an astronomical clock.

Experiences to Have

Evening Ganga Aarti (Photo Credits: Shutterstock)

Exploring the Varanasi temples and visiting the ghats is arguably the most popular things to do. Apart from this, there are numerous activities to make a trip to Varanasi fruitful:

  • Attending the Evening Aarti: Hosted at Dashashwamedh Ghat every evening, the Ganga Aarti is one ceremony you must definitely attend. Large fire lamps are lit, and the priests wave them in all directions as they stand on slightly raised platforms, accompanied by the loud chanting of hymns.
  • Boating: All ghats have steps leading to the river; some also double up as boat stands or terminals. You can enjoy a boat ride on the Ganga River for a soothing experience. Do so in the morning to enjoy the peace or in the evening to see the river twinkling with hundreds of diyas.

Where to Stay

Being a major pilgrimage and tourist destination, Varanasi remains swamped with visitors round the year. Therefore, there are hordes of guesthouses, lodges, dharamshalas and hotels in Varanasi that offer accommodation. If you are looking for a comfortable stay within your budget, you can stay at FabHotel Saumendra in Sarnath. It features airy rooms with flat-screen TV and air conditioning, a classy restaurant, and facilities like free Wi-Fi and breakfast.

What to Buy

Banarasi Sari (Photo Credits: Wikipedia)

Being a culturally rich destination, Varanasi is a great place to buy handicrafts. Banarasi saris are famous all over the country for their incredible designs, and you should buy at least one while here. Idols of Hindu deities, cassettes, CDs and books containing religious hymns and songs, and ritual objects can also be bought here.

What to Eat

Banarasi Paan (Photo Credits: Hindustan Times)

Varanasi is renowned for its traditional Indian street food, which contains a lot of breakfast items, both sweet and savoury. Kachori Sabzi, Chhena Dahi Vada, Makkhan Malai, Choora Matar, Thandai, Lassi, Gol Gappe with yoghurt and chutney, Laiyya Chana, Baati Chokha and Tamatar Chaat are some much-loved delicacies of Varanasi. However, one thing you must not leave the city without trying is the iconic Banarasi paan, a mix of several spices and sweeteners, wrapped in a betel leaf. So, keep this guide handy whenever you plan a trip to this sacred destination for a memorable time.