Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities of the world, is situated on
the north bank of Ganga and is located midway between Delhi and
Calcutta. it is known as the religious and cultural capital of India.
Its known history dates back to about 3500 hundred years, during which
it has continuously been populated. However, Hindus believe that the
city is eternal. Varanasi has also been known as Kashi and Benares, but
its present name is restoration of an ancient name meaning the city
between two rivers - the Varuna and Asi. For the pious Hindu the city
has always had a special place.
Varanasi is one of the largest cities in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Products of the city include shawls, saris, gold-embroidered cloth,
hand-hammered brassware, and heavy gold and silver jewellery. Varanasi
is especially known for its fine silk fabrics. It is also home to the
Diesel Locomotive Works of Indian Railways, one of the largest
locomotive manufacturing plants in the World.
The Ganges or the Ganga River is one of the greatest attractions of
Varanasi. Devout Hindus make pilgrimages from all parts of India to
bathe in the Ganges, whose water they believe to be sacred. Along the
river, stairways have been set-up, known as ghats, from which people can
bathe before saying their daily prayers. Every year, over a million
pilgrims visit the city. Varanasi is also known for its large temples
and its monasteries and palaces.
The city is also a seat of learning. It has several universities and
colleges teaching varied subjects from engineering and medicine to dance
and music. Banaras Hindu University, a university of world repute, is
Sarnath, the place where Buddha delivered his first sermon after
attaining enlightenment, is just a few kilometers away. The Stupa, a
Buddhist Monument, erected by King Ashok in the third century BC is
still a major attraction for Buddhist Pilgrims from all over the world.
The numerous ghats along the bank of the Ganges present a varied scene
from dawn to dusk. A ghat is a series of well-paved steps that lead to
the water. A ghat in Varanasi usually has small temples built into its
side, while the larger structures, housing the powerful gods and
goddesses from the Hindu pantheon, form a formidable backdrop to the
serene beauty of the meandering river. These ghats numbering more than a
hundred, with their entourage of temples, form the axis on which the
city developed. For centuries, the Hindus considered it very auspicious
to bathe at the ghats of Varanasi. Everyday at dawn thousands of
pilgrims can be seen offering salutations to the Sun God in waist-deep
water, secure in their conviction that the muddy waters of the Ganges
will wash away all the accumulated sins of their life. The oil lamps
(diyas) and flowers set afloat on the river at dusk make a fascinating
There are five important ghats in Varanasi where the pilgrims flock to
take a bath-the Assi, Dasawamedha, Barnasangam, Panchganga, and
Manikarnika. Each ghat has its own history and its own following. Many
of the ghats were built and owned by the royal families of India; the
Maharaja of Benaras built the Kali (or Sivala) Ghat, Maharaja Man Singh
built the Mansarovar Ghat, while Ahilyabai Ghat is named after that
legendary Queen Ahilyabai of Indore.
The best time to visit the ghats is at the break of dawn, when pilgrims
perform the Surya Pranam immersed waist deep in the waters of the holy
The best way to catch the essence of Varanasi is to travel down the
Ganges by boat at six o'clock in the morning. Boats can be hired by the
hour from the main steps of the Dasawamedha Ghat. The steady creek of
ancient oars, the slap of wet garments, incessant chatter of the bathers
amid a tinkling of scattered temple bells, watching Varanasi from the
environs of a gently swaying boat is truly an experience worth
Although Varanasi is famous as a Hindu pilgrimage center, one cannot
ignore its distinct Muslim heritage. The powerful Sultans of Delhi and
later the emperors of the Mughal dynasty were instrumental in
constructing several mosques, and this predominantly Hindu city
gradually attained a degree of cosmopolitanism. Aurangzeb, the last of
the mighty Mughals, hastened this process of evolution and the mosques
that he built still stand today. The great mosque of Varanasi, Gyanvyapi
Masjid, has minarets towering 71 m above the Ganges and is an integral
part of the city's skyline.
There is also the Golden Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple
today sits across the road from its original site. The present temple
was built in 1776 by Rani Ahilyabai, while three and a quarter ton of
gold plating on the towers were provided by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of
Lahore. Next to the temple is the Well of Knowledge, where, as legend
goes, the original Shiva lingam lies hidden.
There is another temple in this holy city-a temple dedicated not to the
gods, but to Mother India. The Bharat Mata temple, as it is known, does
not have idols or images of gods and goddesses: what it has is a marble
relief map of Independent India. The father of the nation, Mahatma
Gandhi, inaugurated the temple.
Benaras Hindu University is the largest residential university in Asia,
a center of Sanskrit, Indian art, culture, and music. This university
covers an area of 2000 acres, and was gifted by the king of Varanasi, a
scholar of Sanskrit and Hindu philosopher himself. The university is
around 10 km from the railway station.
Of the numerous temples that dot this ancient city, the important ones
are the Durga Temple, Tulsi Manas Mandir, Vinayaka Temple, Annapurna
Temple, Kal Bhairav, Jateshwar Mahadeo, and Maha Mritunjaya Temple.
PLACES AROUND VARANASI
A tourist to Varanasi must make it a point to visit the Ramnagar Fort
and Sarnath, both situated on the outskirts of this city. The former,
situated on the opposite bank of the Ganges, is the residential palace
of the former Maharaja of Varanasi. The hall of public audience (Durbar
Hall) and the royal museum housing collections of palanquins, elephant
saddles, arms, furniture, costumes, etc., are of great interest. At the
other end of the city is Sarnath. Here in the fabled deer park, where
the Buddha preached his sermon enshrining the principles of his teaching
into laws. There is a stupa and a large complex of ruined monasteries.
Nearby also stands the Ashoka Pillar commemorating the Mauryan emperor's
visit to the place more than 2,000 years back. The archeological museum
located nearby holds a rich collection of items belonging to the Kushan
and Gupta periods as well as from the Ashokan era.
One may also undertake quite a few enjoyable excursions from Varanasi.
The fort of Chunar, about 37 km away, is famous for its close
association with the Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri. Kusumi Forest (8 km)
and the Rajdari and Deodari Falls in the Chandraprabha forest (70 km)
are beautiful picnic spots.
FAIRS AND FESTIVALS
The festive magic never ends in Varanasi. If Poornima cleanses, Maha
Shivratri blesses. If Holika-Dahan is a celebration, Dhrupad Mela is a
revelation…. One does not require making his itinerary according to the
dates and months of the festivals. One can come and enjoy the festive
season anytime of the year here.
Benarasi mithais (sweets) and the famous Benarasi paan (betel leaf) are
two specialties that can be found in this magical city. Both are very
dear to the people-traditional and crucial to the social system-far
beyond the simple act of cooking, preparing, and eating.
Milk-based sweets are flavored with cardamon, saffron, essence of rose
extract, a garnish of nuts, and a fine layer of edible silver foil.
Layers of fresh cream lovingly embrace dry fruits that are hidden in the
interiors of malai paan. Thickened milk is left out in the dew overnight
and then flavored with saffron. This mix is then beaten to a stiff
froth-it would put any soufflé to shame. Nimmish is undisputedly a
delicacy only for the well to do and that too only in winter. The
Benarasi paan is a very heavily flavored betel leaf smeared with catechu
(a tannin rich powder called katha), lime paste (chuna), and wrapped
around shredded betel nut (supari) and often cardamom pod, aniseed and
tobacco. Secured by a clove pierced through the folds of the betel leaf,
sweetening agents, peppermint, menthol, and local aphrodisiacs are also
added to this elaborate package. Given the acclaimed digestive qualities
of all ingredients, it is a perfect way to round off a good and
wholesome Indian meal (though most people have a paan safely tucked away
into the recesses of their mouth perpetually).
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodation is not a problem in Varanasi. Hotels ranging from high-end
to economy class are all available. Many of them have magnificent views
of the Ganges in exclusive suites.
HOW TO REACH
BY AIR - Varanasi is well connected by air to several cities in India.
It is on the popular daily tourist service Delhi-Agra-Khajuraho-Varanasi
BY RAIL - Varanasi has two railway stations-Kashi and Varanasi Junction
(also Cantonment Station). We would provide you all India tourist permit
vehicles for the local transportations and also for the intercity drives