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Varanasi Overview

Ganga aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat of Varanasi, Ashoka Holidays

Ruins of votive stupas at Sarnath, Ashoka Holidays

Summarise the city :

Spiritual pocket of India

Best time to visit (High & peak months) :
October - March

Experiences :
Temples, Stupas, Ganges, museums 

City calling code :
+91-542

Recommended no. of days for a tourist :
1-2 days

Best buys :
Banarasi saris, cushion covers, bed sheets, wall hangings

Essentials to be carried along :
Sun Block, Sun Glasses, Comfortable Cotton wear, woolens for winters (November-February).

All about the city : 
Learning and spirituality are as inextricable from each other as they are from Varanasi, the city that is hailed as the oldest continuously inhabited city of the world. Unsurprisingly many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians once resided or reside in Varanasi. Kabir, Tulsidas, Munshi Premchandra, Jai Shankar Prasad, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad  Bismillah Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar to name a few are all masters of their fields and need no introduction.

The magnetic charm of the city continues to attract the tourists, with the same intensity as these eminent personalities, who throng the city fascinated by its religious and spiritual lifestyle. It is one of the most sacred places for the Hindus who believe that the city was founded by Lord Shiva himself some 5,000 years ago; and for the Buddhists as Lord Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath that is very near to Varanasi.

The name Varanasi has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi, for it lies between the confluence of Varuna and the Ganges to its north and that of Assi and the Ganges to its south. It is the only place where the river Ganges is uttarvahini i.e. flows from south to north. Ganges is revered as a goddess and is devoutly called ‘Ganga Maiyya’. It seems that life at Varanasi revolves around the river. It is said that death in Kashi ensures liberation of the soul. Here, the day breaks with people marching to the ghats of Ganges to take a holy dip and then pray at any of the various temples nearest to them. The day closes and evening falls in to see a huge gathering at the ghats to participate in the Ganga aarti.  Offerings of flowers and oil lit lamps floating on the water make a wonderful sight.

While still preserving its antiquity, the city has developed some really nice hotels to keep its guests comfortable, upholding the eternal Indian custom of Atithi devo bhav (Guest is God). When in Varanasi, do try the very famous Banarasi paan (beetle leaf); sweet piping hot jalebis; salty kachauris washing them down with a glass of milk that is boiled in big utensils and offered in an earthen glass. Boat ride in Ganges is must to complete your experience of the city.
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Varanasi Tourist attractions

Name (suggested time required to see the place)DescriptionEntrance charges (if any) for Foreigner Close Day (if any) Open / Close time
Vishwanath Temple 

The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the presiding deity of the city. This is one of the 12 jyotirlings of Shiva and is considered one of the holiest places in India.The present temple was built at the orders of Queen Ahalya Bai of Indore in 1776. The enormous gold (about 800 kg) that covers the top of the temple was donated 50 years later by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh of Punjab. Earlier there were a many more Shiva temples in the vicinity of this temple. Sadly they were razed by the muslim invaders. Aurangzeb continued the tradition of demolition. He pulled down the temple here and raised Gyanvapi Mosque.

Adjacent to the temple is Gyan vapi well which is said to contain the shivlinga of the original Vishwanath temple that was destroyed by Aurangzeb in the 17th century. The waters from it are said to bring enlightenment.

Cameras and mobile phones are required to be deposited before entering the temple premises. Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple.

Entry to foreigners is restricted No close days

4am – 9 pm


Closed between 11:30 am - 1:30 pm

Aarti timings are 4 am and 8 pm

Other Temples

The holy city has many other temples also. The Tulsi Manas mandir is a modern marble temple. The walls of the temple are engraved with verses and scenes from Ramcharitmanas, hindi version of Ramayana, written by Tulsidas ji who lived here. The dioramas here make it different from other temples.

Then there is a Durga temple (non hindus are not allowed in the inner sanctum), Bharat Mata temple that has a marble relief map of Indian sub continent. 

No entarnce feeNo close days

Tulsi Manas and Durga Mandir: 4 am – 9 pm; closed between 12 noon-2pm and 12noon - 1pm respectively

Bharat Mata Mandir: 7:30 am – 5 pm

Benaras Hindu University

Nationalist Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya gave a formal rock solid shape to the tradition of learning that has always been in the life and blood of this city, by establishing the Benaras Hindu University in the year 1916. Sprawling in an area of 5 sq km, it educates 20,000 students and has around 140 departments. The peaceful lush green university campus is a pleasant respite from the chaos of the city outside.
 

Bharat Kala Bhawan: Inside the peaceful environs of the campus is a treasure house of miniature paintings (11th to 20th century), palm leaf manuscripts, sculptures (300 BC to 1400 AD), textiles and costumes and personal collections. It houses paintings from the likes of Nicholas Roerich (Russian painter who made Himachal his home) and Alice Boner (a swiss painter who made Banaras her home).


Vishwanath temple: The foreign tourists who are not allowed entry in the old Vishwanath temple can happily visit the new Vishwanath temple situated in the centre of the University campus. The temple complex has 7 temples. The base floor has Shiva temple while the first floor has temples dedicated to Durga and Laksmi Narayan. Construction began in 1931 and it took 30 years for it to come in its present shape. Inner walls of the temple are inscribed with extracts from the sacred Hindu texts. Architecturally there is nothing special but its neat and clean tranquil ambience gives enough opportunity to meditate and come closer to God.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

INR 100 

 

 

 

 

 

No entrance fee

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday

 

 

 

 

 

No close days 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Bharat Kala Bhawan: 11am – 4:30 pm

 

 

 

 

Vishwanath temple: 4 am – noon & 1 pm – 9 pm

Aarti at 8 pm

Ramnagar Fort and MuseumJust opposite to the Asi ghat on the other side of Ganges is situated the fort of the Maharajas of Benaras that is now more than 400 years old. Although not very well maintained it showcases the belongings of the royal family, like the clothes, weapons, palanquins, photographs etc. The King of Benaras (though now only in name) still patronises the Ramlila drama festival held every year in the month of October.  9 am to noon and 2-5:30 pm
Ghats on the bank of Ganges 

90 or so ghats (long steps leading to the water of the river that are used for bathing and other purposes) along the river Ganges defines the life and identity of Varanasi. Stretching from the southern Asi ghat to northern Adi keshav Ghat, the ghats cover more than 6 km. Many of these ghats were built under the patronage of erstwhile princely states of Jaipur, Indore, Gwalior, Bihar, Nepal and others. Traditionally each ghat in Varanasi has its own distinctive color. Most of them are bathing ghats except for the two cremation ghats – Harishchandra and Manikarnika 

Asi ghat: marks the confluence of rivers Asi and Ganges. It is Varansi’s southern most ghat. Notice the shivlinga  beneath the papal tree here. 

Tulsi Ghat: It was here that Tulsidas ji composed the great Indian Epic Ramcharitmanas in 16th century. His house and temple still stand nearby.

Anandmayi ghat: here is an ashram founded by a female Bengali saint.

Dasashvamedha Ghat: This centrally located ghat is named so because, as per legend, 10 horses were sacrificed here by Lord Brahma. The daily evening aarti here is spectacular. Amidst the spontaneous chanting of mantras the devotees make collective candlelit offerings. Behind is the Vishwanath lane that takes one to the pristine Vishwanath temple.

Man Mandir ghat: King Jai Singh II of Jaipur, built one of his Jantar Mantars near it. The sundial can be seen from here.  

   
Boat RideA boat ride at dawn when the ghats and for that matter everything is swathed in the soft light of the sun is a must do on your visit to Benaras. It appears as if the entire city marches to the ghats to begin their day on a holy note – doing yoga, taking ritual dips, offering flowers and incense sticks to the river. River Ganges is worshipped as goddess with the power to cleanse all our earthly sins. The most fascinating ride is from Dasashwamedh ghat to Manikarnika ghat.     
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Getting there

AirRailRoad
Benaras has its own airport which is 22 km from the city. The Babatpur airport connects Varanasi with Delhi, Mumbai, Khajuraho and also to Nepal. There are flights from Lucknow and Kolkata for Varanasi but not vice versa.The city is well connected with other major cities of the country. Besides the Varanasi junction one can find more train options from the Mughalsarai station which is just at a distance of 17 km from here.   Varanasi is 286 km from Lucknow, 565 km from Agra, 128 km from Allahabad, 330 km from Kanpur, 246 km from Patna, and just 10 km from Sarnath
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Varanasi Festivals

Name of festivalDates / MonthsFestival details with link for more information
Dev Deepavali or Ganga MahotasavOctober/November (15 days after Deepavali i.e. on Kartik Purnima)Dev Deepavali is the festival wherein people lit thousands of diyas (small earthen lamps) on the banks of Ganges to welcome the descend of God’s on the earth. The scene at Ghats is amazing. The Uttar Pradesh tourism organizes a 4 days Ganga Mahotasav enhancing the festivities. Artists from all over the country are invited to perform at the ghats adding to the celebrations.
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Excursions from Varanasi

Excursion (distance in kms)Description

Sarnath (10 km NE of Varanasi /20 min)


Museum is open between 10am – 5 pm; Friday closed


Mahabodhini temple: 4 am – 8 pm; closed between 11:30 am– 1:30 pm


Prayer timings: 6 pm 

 

As Kashi or Varanasi is to Hindus so is Sarnath to the Buddhist. It is among the four most important places related to Lord Buddha’s life, other three being Bodhgaya, Kushinagar and Lumbini (in Nepal). Sarnath is where Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. In the 3rd century BC king Ashok the Great got stupas, monasteries and pillar constructed at this place. Chinese traveler Xuang Zang has reported about the 100 m high stupa that existed here and also that 1500 monks stayed in the monasteries. But the place received the same treatment at the hands of muslim invaders as the temples in India. It was only in 1835 when British archaeologists excavated the place that Sarnath was known to the modern world.
The most remarkable structure at Sarnath is the cylindrical Dhamek Stupa, 28 mts in diameter at the base and 43.6 mts in height, built partly of stone and partly of brick. The stone facing the lower part is adorned with delicate floral carvings of Gupta origin. This 5th century stupa is a commemorative stupa pointing the place where Buddha preached the first sermon. Nearby is the Ashok Pillar with an edict engraved on it. Only the base remains, the lion capital that formed its top is now exhibited in the archaeological museum. Just outside is Digambar Jain temple.

Dharmrajika Stupa: It is one of the Pre Ashokan stupa. Now only the foundations remain, as the rest of it was transferred to Varanasi to be used as building material.
Chaukhandi stupa is a lofty mound of brick – work whose square edifice is surrounded by an octagonal tower that was built in the honor of Mughal Emperor Humanyun. It is the place where Buddha met his disciples.


Mulgandha Kuti Vihar and deer park: It is a modern temple (1931) built by Mahabodhi society. It has excellent frescoes by Kosetsu Nosu japan’s (foremost painter) and is a rich repository of Buddhist literature.
Sarnath Archaeological museum: It houses the prestige of India, i.e. its National Emblem, the lion capital of the Ashokan Pillar. It exhibits various other pieces of prime importance and hence is considered one of the richest museums in the country.


A Bodhi Tree: In the complex stands a Bodhi tree that was planted here, from the cuttings of the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, by Anagarika Dharmpala (man who revived Buddhism after a long period of decline).

Chunar (40 km/ 1 hr)Located 40 km from Benaras, this place is not only scenic it also has a must-see fort. It was established by Maharaja Vikramaditya of Ujjain and was also owned by Mughals and British in the later years of its history.
Vindhyachal (90 km/ 2 hrs)90 km from Varanasi, it’s the abode of the Shakti peeth (seat for Goddess of power) and a beautiful place to trek and chill.
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Suggested Holidays

Holiday NameNo. Of days Destinations Covered & Highlights
Best of North India20 days / 19 nightsDelhi - Varanasi - Khajuraho - Gwalior - Agra - Jaipur - Ranthambore - Pushkar - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jaisalmer - Bikaner - Mandawa - Delhi
Golden Triangle with Varanasi and Khajuraho 10 days/9nightsDelhi - Varanasi - Khajuraho - Gwalior - Agra - Jaipur - Delhi
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