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.
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.