Varanasi Travel Guide, all you need to know
Varanasi, the oldest living city in the world, is one of the seven sacred cities of the Hindus. More than a million pilgrims visit each year.
Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India. Also known in history as Kashi (City of Life) and Banaras by the British, Varanasi is an important pilgrimage center for the Hindus. The city finds mention in the great epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. It was a flourishing trade center when Buddha came to Sarnath, to preach his first sermon in 500 BC. It is also a cherished name in the art of silk weaving. The Banarasi silk sarees and brocades are prized all over the world. The renowned American novelist Mark Twain once wrote: "Banaras is older than history, older than tradition older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together".
The city is known worldwide for its many ghats, embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions.
The Luxury tour of Varanasi includes the visit of the Bharat Mata temple with its big marble relief map of India, the Durga temple and the modern marble Tulsi Manas Temple whose walls are engraved with scenes and verses from the Ramcharitmanas, the Hindi version of the Ramayana. Also see the New Viswanath Temple, one of the tallest in India (non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple). Also visit the Banaras Hindu University and its museum and the mosque of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
Places to visit in Varanasi
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples and is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the patron deity of Varanasi. Reconstructed in the 18th century, its gold plating on the 'shikaras' was a gift of the one-eyed Sikh king, Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is also popularly known as the ′Golden Temple′ due the gold plating done on its 15.5-meter high spire. The temple stands on the western bank of the holy River Ganga and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples. The temple was destroyed repeatedly during various invasions but was finally rebuilt in 1776 A.D. by Rani Ahilyabai of Indore. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple has been a living picture of the timeless cultural traditions and highest spiritual values.
Banaras Hindu University
Banaras Hindu University, formerly known as Central Hindu College, is one of the largest residential universities in Asia. It was established in 1916 by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the great nationalist leader. It has well maintained roads (crossing each other at right angle), extensive greenery, a temple and buildings, which are an architectural delight.
Established in 1916 by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the university is one of the largest residential universities in Asia, with large number of students from over 34 nations. It has developed into one of the greatest centres of learning in India. The university has produced many great freedom fighters and nation builders. It has immensely contributed to the progress of the nation through a large number of renowned scholars, artists and scientists.
Sarnath is one of the four most important Buddhist pilgrimage centres of India. After achieving enlightenment at Bodhgaya, Buddha, the 'Awakened One', delivered his first sermon here.
Buddha, the great sage, after attaining enlightenment (Buddha-hood) at Bodh Gaya came to Sarnath and delivered his first sermon. It is one of the four key sites on the Buddhist circuit along with Bodhgaya, Kushinagar and Lumbini in Nepal and attracts followers from around the world, especially on Budha Purnima (Buddha's birthday), when Buddha's life, death and enlightenment are celebrated.
Bharat Mata Mandir
Bharat Mata Mandir is dedicated to Mother India and claims to be the only one of its kind in the world. Inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi, it houses a relief map of India carved out of marble.
Bharat Mata Mandir is located on the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith campus in Varanasi. This temple does not have a traditional statue of Gods or Goddess but has a huge map of undivided India carved in marble. It is dedicated to Mother India and claims to be the only one of its kind in the world
This 18th century Ramnagar Fort, the residence of the Maharaja of Kashi, houses the Veda Vyasa Temple, a museum and the king's residential complex. It is situated on the opposite bank of the Ganges along which the city of Varanasi thrives.
Built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh in 1750, the Ramnagar Fort was constructed with creamy-coloured chunar sandstone in Mughal style of architecture with stunning carved out balconies and open patios. The Ramnagar fort houses a museum displaying a rare collection of vintage cars, bejewelled sedan chairs, ivory work, medieval costumes, gold and silver brocaded royal Palakis (Palanquins in the shape of a lotus flower).
Man Singh Observatory (popularly known as Man Mandir) is located adjacent to Dashashvamedh Ghat of River Ganges. It was built in 1737 A.D by Sawai Jai Singh II - a great astronomer&the founder of Jaipur city. A stunning instance of Mughal-Rajput architecture, the citadel has stone balconied windows and wonderfully decorated ceiling.
Built by Sawai Jai Singh II of Jaipur, Mansingh Observatory (popularly known as Man Mandir) is the one of the five observatories built by him across India. It portrays beautiful Mughal-Rajput architecture with painted ceiling and stone balconied windows. These are meant for calculating time, preparing lunar and solar calendar and studying the movements, angles of inclination of the stars, planets and other heavenly bodies.
Bharat Kala Bhawan
Bharat Kala Bhawan is an art and archaeological museum located in Banaras Hindu University Varanasi.
Bharat Kala Bhavan displays India's heritage at its best. Founded with a modest collection, the museum has a record of steady growth and its present holding exceeded 100,000. The collection includes archaeological materials, paintings, textiles, costumes, decorative art, personal collections, Indian philately and literary&archival materials.
Sarnath Museum was completed in 1910 to house, display and study the antiquities. It is the oldest site museum of the Archaeological Survey of India.
The museum at Sarnath (closed on Fridays) is amongst the most important in India. The museum presents an excellent collection of the artefacts related to the Maurayan, Guptan and Kushana era. Besides, the earliest image of the Buddha, found at Sarnath and images of several Hindu Gods and Goddesses are other belongings of the museum. The main attraction of the Sarnath Archaeological Museum is the Ashokan Pillar. It has four back-to-back lions, which has been adopted as the National symbol of India.
Early Morning Boat Ride
In the morning take a boat ride on River Ganges to view the sunrise. Observe the Hindu way of life along the banks of the River Ganges (Ghats). Watch people come down to river in the early morning, taking a bath in the mother Ganga, performing rituals, worshiping the Sun is a unique experience.
Varanasi is one of the holiest and most fascinating places in India. Varanasi's unique culture is associated to the River Ganges, where life and death intermingle. The best way to experience Varanasi is to take an early morning boat ride down the Ganges. Witness the activities at the ghats where the living flock pray with the belief that bathing in the waters of the sacred river would result in the remission of their sins, while the ashes of the dead are scattered in the water to break the cycle of reincarnation and let the soul rise to enlightment.
Illuminated Aarti Ceremony with Evening Boat Ride
Evening Aarti is the final ritual of the day when thousands of locals and pilgrims gather together to offer their prayers to the Mother Ganges.
Every evening, an illuminated aarti is performed at Dasahwamedh Ghat. The boat will be halted right at the steps for the best view. The presiding priests stand on a wooden Chauki in the water. To the chant of Sanskrit mantras and the clash of cymbals and drums, the river is worshipped with flowers, incense, sandalwood, milk and vermilion. First the blazing camphor lamp and then the many flamed aarti lamps are raised high and then arched back to the water, the dark river reflecting the golden flames as Ganges accepts the worship. It is the Ganges that gives Varanasi its spiritual resonance.
Lecture on Hinduism by Professors
Lecture by a renowned Hindu scholar who will explain the philosophy of Hinduism. Hinduism is also known as "Sanatan Dharma" or the everlasting religion. It is the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam.
It is also referred to as 'Vaidika Dharma', meaning religion of the Vedas' in the ancient Hindu scriptures. Hinduism is not strictly a religion but is based on the practice of dharma, the code of life. Unlike other religions, Hinduism did not originate from a single person, a single book or a single point in time. The foundations of this oldest surviving religion were laid by ancient Rishis (sages) who taught their disciples the eternal principles of life they had discovered through years of meditation. Hinduism is essentially a way of life than a definitive religion.
Rickshaw ride is a great way to discover a different aspect of Varanasi and experience the energy of the city.
Explore Varanasi in the most unique way with "Rickshaw Ride". Get familiar with roots of the place and sink in the frenzy of its colours, vivacity and irresistible charm. The rickshaw ride offers an insight into the local life.
Yoga is a practice t hat aims to transform body&soul through mental, physical and spiritual discipline. The practice includes yoga postures (Aasans), breathing techniques (pranayams) and meditation.
Yoga being a gem of Indian culture is not only a way to keep oneself healthy and fit, but it's more of a way of life. Practicing Yoga is important but how it is done is of utmost importance. Every traveller coming to India should take these exclusive Yoga session guided by Yoga Gurus.
Boat Ride on River Ganges
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Southern Temples, Ponds&Poets
A walk through the mystical landscape of poets, sacred temples, holy ponds near Assi ghat, the southernmost embankment of the holy River Ganga.
Walk in the footsteps of 16th century Banaras poet and mystic Pandit Tulsi Das who was the author of the Ram Charit Manas, the sacred Ramayana in Hindi. Learn about the history and special culture of Varanasi while visiting the Southern temple established by him and the location of his traditional home! The walk ends with a special darshan, meaning 'taking sight' of a hidden sun temple behind his home.
The Bengali Tola Riverside Walk
Get an insider's look at the symbiotic life of the riverside people of Varanasi.
Winding through the streets and popping out onto the riverside, get an insider's look at the symbiotic life of the riverside people of Varanasi. Eventually, end up on Bengali Tola, the street of the Bengalis, visiting hidden Mother Goddess Kali shrines and the vistas of life along the riverside. The tour ends at the historic ritual bathing site called Dashaswamedh, the ten-horse sacrifice ghat. Bengali's have immigrated to Varanasi for hundreds of years and eventually a settlement of riverside priests and shopkeepers sprung up. They are immortalized in the Academy Award winning filmmaker Satyajit Ray's Apu Sansar (The World of Apu).
Kashi the City of Light
Come seek the original foundations of the city of light, the place where Shiva holds court!
Beginning at the cosmic centre of the city, Kashi, the city of light, get familiar with rite and ritual by exploring ancient pathways to the temples and mosques of Hindus&Muslims as well as observe the age old cremation rituals of Manikarnika, the burning ghat. The highlight is Varanasi's Kashi Vishwanath Mandir which is said to hold the first of the jyotirlingas, the sacred shafts of light, which self-emanated from the earth, but how many know that this temple has been rebuilt not just once but four times in three different locations, two of which have mosques perched on top! Come seek the original foundations of the city of light.
Please note: Bring your passport to enter the main temple.
Northern Bazaars&Hidden Alleys
Explore the least traversed part of the city and riverside where the great mystic Kabir himself wrote poetry, the 8th century Krishna temple was demolished and a mosque perched on the top.
Enter the lanes of the Northern part of the city get an insight to the shops, temples and lives of people who have never left their street for years. Explore the least traversed part of the city and riverside where the great mystic Kabir himself wrote poetry, the 8th century Krishna temple was demolished and a mosque perched on the top. This bazaar has so many twists and turns that anyone will get confused.
Death&Rebirth Night Walk
Visit Manikarnika, the burning ghat, to see the most profound of Hindu rituals and few others places along the way to understand how Life and Death are two sides of the same coin.
This walk explores the mystical experience of life and beyond in Varanasi at 'Mahashramstana' - the great cremation ground of Shiva. Get traverse from the land of the living to the houses of the dying. If the walk is done during the daytime – participate in a small puja at the Sankata Devi Temple (the goddess of sorrows&a demon slayer). If the walk is done during the night, it will end with a visit of Sankata Devi ritual worship service.
British Colonial History Experience
Learn about the Colonial history of Varanasi.
This adventure focuses on James Princep, the city's most famous British personality, who is largely responsible for how we 'see' Varanasi today. Travel by rickshaw around the colonial areas of Varanasi and hear the stories of battle, service and empire and view the beautiful and stark examples of British Indo-Sarcenaic architecture.
British Colonial History Experience with Lord Cornwallis Excursion
Learn about the Colonial history of Varanasi including the Lord Cornwallis excursion.
Travel around the colonial areas of Varanasi and hear the stories of battle, service and empire and view the beautiful and stark examples of British Indo-Sarcenaic architecture. After the British colonial experience, visit the gravesite of Lord Cornwallis in Ghazipur, which is around 60kms from Varanasi.