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.
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.