City of Varanasi / वाराणसी

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Varanasi

Varanasi (map), once known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a city at the banks of the Ganges river. Being the most sacred city in Hinduism and Jainism, and important in the history of Buddhism, Varanasi is India’s most important pilgrimage destination.

Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with settlements dating back to the 11th century BC. Many Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi brings salvation/nirvana and so they make the trip to the city when they realise that they are close to death.

The scene of pilgrims doing their devotions in the River Ganga at sunrise set against the backdrop of the centuries-old temples is probably one of the most impressive sights in the world.

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Varanasi is not a city with distinct tourist destinations; the experience is in watching the spectacle of life and death on the river and meandering through the alleys of the old city. Note that many streets are too narrow to be reached by cycle-rickshaw, auto-rickshaw, and car and therefore, you may have to walk a bit to reach your destination. >> *List of tourist attractions in Varanasi

Ghats and the River Ganges. The River Ganga is a sacred river for the Hindus and you will see traditional rituals and bathing occurring at all times of the day. The western crescent-shaped bank of the River Ganga is flanked by a continuous stretch of 84 ghats, or series of steps leading down to the river, stretching for 6.8km.

These ghats were built by Hindu kings who wanted to die along the Ganges, and they built lofty palaces along the river, most of which are now hotels, to spend their final days. You can walk along the river and see all of the ghats, but the best option for viewing the ghats is to charter a boat and see them from the river.

Boat rides – Very popular, especially at sunrise and sunset. The most popular sunset ride is to start at Dasaswamedh Ghat or one of the many ghats along the river and head up to Manikarnika Ghat to see the cremations, then down to Dasaswamedh just after sunset to watch the evening aarti ceremony from the boat. Sunrise is another magical time for a ride, when the ghats are filled with Hindus bathing and starting their day – one of the most famous sights in India.

*Assi Ghat (map). A popular place for tourists, long-term students and researchers to stay, with many hotels, restaurants, and internet cafes nearby.

*Manikarnika Ghat (map) the main cremation ghat; a must-see, but remain quiet and never take photographs.

*Dashashwamedh Ghat (map) known as the ‘main’ ghat, this is the site of the large evening aarti ceremony. The ceremony starts right after the sunset and lasts for around 45 minutes.

Kedar Ghat (map) brightly painted in stripes and busy with bathers, very photogenic.

Harishchandra Ghat (map) the cremation place where Raja Harishchandra did the last rituals of his son.

*Alamagir Mosque (map). Overlooking Panchganga Ghat, it’s a great place for a bird’s eye view of the area.

The *Bharat Mata Mandir (map) temple at Varanasi is the only temple dedicated to Mother India. It is located in the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth campus. The most peculiar thing about the Bharat Mata Temple is that instead of the customary gods and goddesses, it houses a relief map of India, carved out of marble.

*Durga Temple (map). Built in 18th century, Durga temple is made as a tribute to Goddess Durga. It is also one of the well known temples in Varanasi.

*Sarnath (map). It is believed that in Sarnath Buddha gave his first sermon to his disciples after getting enlightenment. There is also a Museum in Sarnath (map). The exact location is also known as Deer Park. Sarnath is 13 km from Varanasi and is very peaceful. Several Asian countries have built Buddhist temples there following their own ancient architectural traditions.

Shri Kashi Vishwanth Temple (The Golden Temple, wiki, map). Security is tight making entrance difficult and sometimes completely off limits to foreigners. No bags, cellphones or pens are allowed.

*Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple (Sankatmochan Mandir, map). Sankat Mochan Temple is dedicated to the Lord Hanuman. This temple is also called as the Monkey temple because of the presence of lot of monkeys inside the premises. It is one of the holy temples of the Lord Hanuman and the main location for Hindus for their many religious as well as cultural festivals.

*Banaras Hindu University (map) a very green and peaceful campus. Few actually know that this University was built during Indian freedom struggle and is known as Oxford of the East. This is the largest residential university of Asia, having approx. 124 independent departments. You can also visit Bharat Kala Bhavan, a museum of Art and Archeology inside the university.

Gowdalia Chowk, Gowdalia. One of the most busy shopping areas in Varanasi. Products that are available here include silk and zari sarees, salwar suits, garments, bags and handicrafts.

Chunar Fort (15 km southwest of Varanasi, map). A more than 2,000-year-old fort.

The most interesting area to stay is around the ghats, which are the main attractions for foreigners and are close to the religious attractions. However, this area is extremely noisy and many accommodation choices here are subpar, so do some research before you book. Cheaper hotels and hostels can be found around the “Assi ghat” and train station areas, check hot water and wifi for yourself.

 !  There is, rather understandably, some resentment at tourists tresspasing up to the cremation ghats for raucous sightseeing at the funeral ceremonies of loved ones. Behave respectfully and do not take photographs of cremations, even from the river. You can take photographs if it is from a distance; most do not mind. There are touts who for a fee will “stop minding”. Note that if it is the family that objects then you have to respect it but not if local touts object in the interest of extracting money.

Public transport

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 BUS >   Redbus • Travelyaari • Buskiraya • Makemytrip • myticketbuddy. + Raj National Express • KPN Travels

While you can’t take a cross-country bus ride across India, buses are the second most-popular way of travelling across states and the only cheap way of reaching many places not on the rail network (e.g. Dharamsala).

 RAIL >   There are multiple daily services to cities including Delhi (13 hours), Agra (13 hours), *Lucknow (7 hours), *Mumbai (25-27 hours), *Kolkata (12-14 hours) and Siliguri (14-16 hours). irctc.co.in >> Railways were introduced in India in 1853, more than one and half a century ago by the British, and today India boasts of the biggest network of railway lines in the world, and the rail system is very efficient, if rarely on schedule. It is one of the safest ways of travel in India. *Rail travel in India

 AIRPORTS >   Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport – in Babatpur 25 km northwest of the city center. Chhatrapati Shivaji AirportIndira Gandhi Airport • Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Airport • Dabolim Airport. >> + IndiGo AirlinesSpiceJetJet AirwaysAir Asia IndiaAir IndiaDiscover India.

 WATERWAYS >   –

::: Source: Kalki

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