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Varanasi Guide

 

Varanasi is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in India. Located on the banks of the Ganges River, this holy city attracts numerous travelers and pilgrims throughout the year.

Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India and is home to many Hindu historic buildings. The most popular one is the Kashi Vishwanath Temple which is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, a devotional representation of the god.

Highlights

  • Varanasi is regarded as the spiritual capital of India and the city draws many Hindu pilgrims who come to cleanse their souls in the Ganges River.
  • The Ganga Aarti, a religious ritual dedicated to the Ganges, is performed every evening at the Dasaswamedh Ghat by a group of young pandits or priests.
  • Taking a boat ride down the Ganges allows you to observe the local way of life along the banks of the river.
  • Varanasi is home to many famous ghats or steps that lead down to the river.
  • Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, a devotional representation of Lord Shiva.
  • The Dashashwamedh Ghat is situated near the Vishwanath Temple and is where the famous Ganga Aarti takes place every evening.
  • The New Vishwanath Temple is home to the tallest temple tower in the world, Shikhara.

Varanasi: The Spiritual Capital of India

Varanasi is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism and is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh along the western banks of the Ganges River. Regarded as the spiritual capital of India, this city draws many religious pilgrims who come to bathe in the Ganges River’s sacred waters and perform funeral rites.

It is believed by many that anyone who dies in Varanasi will attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of death and re-birth. Bathing in the Ganges River is also said to wash away all sins.

Varanasi often called the ‘City of Temples’ and is home to more than 2000 temples which are located in every nook and corner of the city. Most of these temples date back to medieval times.

Varanasi is also famous for its Ghats or steps built on the banks of the Ganges River. They are used as the location of many rituals including ritual bathing and burning the bodies of the dead. Yoga, blessings, massages, and games of cricket are also common activities performed by the river's edge.

Varanasi’s Evening Aarti

The ritual of Ganga Aarti occurs every evening in Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges at the holy Dasaswamedh Ghat, near Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The ritual is performed on a stage by a group of young pandits, or studying priests, all draped in saffron-colored robes with their prayer plates spread out before them.

The ritual begins with the blowing of a conch shell and continues with the waving of incense sticks in elaborate patterns and the swinging of large flaming lamps.

The movement of the lamps by the priests is synchronized with the rhythmic chanting of hymns and the clang of cymbals. To get a good spot to view the aarti, many people start arriving at the ghats as early as 5 pm.

Boat Rides Along the River

Taking a boat ride down the Ganges during sunrise or sunset is one of the main attractions in Varanasi. Boat rides give visitors the unique opportunity to observe the Hindu way of life along the riverbanks.

Taking a morning cruise allows travelers to witness the sunrise and the busy shores as everyone wakes up to perform their early morning chores. The evening cruise gives you a unique view of the city as the sun slowly sets and the Ganga Aarti begins.

The best boat route is from the Dasashvamedha to Manikarnika Ghat. This trip takes around 3 hours. During the journey, your guide will tell stories of the local culture and city while you view the many forts, palaces, and temples along the river’s edge.

History of Varanasi

Varanasi is a city with a long history and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The founding of Varanasi is said to have begun 2500 years ago when Lord Shiva married the goddess Parvati and chose to make this city their home.

By 1500 BC, the Aryan people migrated to the city from Asia and began the trade of silk, muslin, ivory, and perfume. Varanasi then became the capital of the kingdom of Kashi during the time of the Buddha, who gave his first sermon nearby at Sarnath Temple.

Varanasi subsequently declined during three centuries of Muslim occupation, beginning in 1194 AD. At this time, many of the city’s Hindu temples were destroyed and scholars fled to other parts of the country. In the 16th century, the Mughal emperor Akbar allowed Hindus to participate in some religious and cultural activities.

In 1910, the British incorporated Varanasi into a new Indian state with Ramnagar, which is a city located on the opposite side of the Ganges. In 1947, after India’s independence, Varanasi became part of the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Varanasi Weather and Best Time to Visit

Varanasi has a humid subtropical climate and the weather here is warm all year round.

Winter in Varanasi occurs between November and February. During this time, the temperatures range between 9°C (48°F) and 29°C (84°F) and there is very little rain.

The hot season or summer in Varanasi is usually from April to June. Temperatures during this time will range between 22°C (72°F) and 40°C (104°F).

During the monsoon season, the weather in this city is mostly cloudy with a high chance of rain. This season occurs between June and September. The total average rainfall during this period is 948 mm (37.3 inches).

December to March is the best time to visit Varanasi when the temperatures are cooler and there is almost no rain. However, many travelers visit the city at this time causing higher travel expenses and larger crowds.

Top 6 Attractions in Varanasi

Name Address Attractions Opening Time
Sarnath 10 kilometers north-east of Varanasi The Dhamekh Stupa, the Chaukhandi Stupa, the Dharmarajika Stupa, and the Mulagandhakuti Vihara Buddhist Temple 9 am to 5 pm
Kashi Vishwanath Temple Lahori Tola, Varanasi Smaller shrines dedicated to other deities, Shivalinga, and Gyaan Vapi 3 am to 11 pm
Dasaswamedh Ghat Dashashwamedh Ghat Rd, Ghats of Varanasi, Godowlia, Varanasi Sunrise, sunset, and evening Ganga Aarti 24 hours
Ramnagar Fort Mirzapur - Varanasi Road, Purana, Ramnagar, Uttar Pradesh 2 temples and a museum containing royal items 10 am to 5 pm
Assi Ghat Shivala, Varanasi Sunset, sunrise, and Shivalingam 24 hours
New Vishwanath Temple Banaras Hindu University Campus, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 9 temples and the tallest temple tower in the world, Shikhara 4 am to 11 am and 12 pm to 7 pm

1. Sarnath

Sarnath is a popular religious destination for Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains and is located 10 kilometers north-east of Varanasi. Also referred to as Isipatana, this site was mentioned by the Buddha as one of the four places his devout followers should visit.

The city is famous as the site of the Buddha's first teaching after attaining enlightenment in which he spoke of the four noble truths and the teachings associated with it.

There are many historical monuments to see in Sarnath, the Dhamekh Stupa being the most famous. The Dhamekh Stupa was built by the great Mauryan King Ashoka in 249 and marks the spot where the Buddha preached his first lesson.

Other important monuments include the Chaukhandi Stupa, the place where Buddha met his 5 disciples, the Dharmarajika Stupa, the temple that holds the remains of Buddha, and the Mulagandhakuti Vihara Buddhist temple, the place where Lord Buddha spent his first rainy season.

2. Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Situated on the western bank of the Ganges River, Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most popular Hindu temples and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This temple is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, a devotional representation of Lord Shiva, and holds tremendous religious significance.

Throughout its history, this temple has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. It was first destroyed in 1194 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak's army when he defeated the King of Kannauj. The final rebuilding of the temple was in 1780 by the local king, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most revered temples in Varanasi. It is widely believed that a visit to the temple followed by a dip in the Ganges River is the ultimate way to attain liberation or 'Moksha'.

The temple complex consists of many shrines located in a small lane called the Vishwanatha Galli. The main temple is surrounded by shrines dedicated to other deities.

The temple’s main Shivalinga, an abstract representation of Lord Shiva, is made out of black stone and is enshrined in a silver altar. The complex also contains a holy well called Gyaan Vapi which is where the Shivalinga was hidden to protect it from foreign invaders.

3. Dasaswamedh Ghat

Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of the oldest and holiest sets of riverfront steps in Varanasi. This ghat is situated near the Vishwanath Temple and is the location of the famous Ganga Aarti ceremony.

Every year, crowds of Hindu devotees will visit the ghat because of its religious significance. The Dashashwamedh is also surrounded by various Hindu temples and religious sites.

The most popular religious activity that occurs here is the evening Ganga Aarti, a devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering. The offering is made to the goddess Ganga who is also referred to as Maa Ganga.

The Ganga Aarti ritual begins with the blowing of the conch shell and a choreographed performance. Afterward, thousands of earthen lamps are lit and set on the Ganges as a floating offering. The ceremony is accompanied by chanting of songs in praise of the Mother Ganga.

4. Ramnagar Fort

Located on the eastern banks of the Ganges, the Ramnagar Fort is the ancestral home of the Maharaja of Banaras and is the current home of Pelu Bheru Singh, the Maharaja of Varanasi.

The fort was built in 1750 and contains several carved balconies, arcades, towers, open courtyards, and pavilions. The fort also has two stunning temples.

One temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and the other was built to honor Ved Vyasa, the author of the great Indian epic Mahabharata, the longest poem in the world.

The Ramnagar Fort is also home to a museum known as the Vidya Mandir or Saraswati Bhawan Museum. Here, visitors can see displays of royal items including old guns, traditional cars, armor, swords, daggers, and portraits of the Maharajas.

5. Assi Ghat

Assi Ghat is where the Ganges River meets the Assi River. It is located at the extreme southern end of the city, near the Shivala. This place has immense religious importance and has been mentioned in various legends and sacred Sanskrit writings.

According to the story, Assi Ghat was created when the goddess Durga threw her sword in the river after killing the demon Shumbha-Nishumbha. The spot where she stood became the ghat and since then has been an important ritualistic place in Varanasi.

It is believed that taking a holy dip here during the months of Chaitya and Magh (between January and April) and on eclipses, will grant one the power to get rid of all their mortal sins.

The ghat is also a famous spot to enjoy an amazing view of the sunset and sunrise over the Ganges River.

A massive Shivalingam, an abstract representation of Lord Shiva, can also be found under a Peepal tree near the ghat. Pilgrims often bathe in the river before worshiping Lord Shiva at the Shivalingam.

6. New Vishwanath Temple

The New Vishwanath Temple, also known as Shri Vishwanath Mandir, is one of the most famous temples in Varanasi. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is located inside the Banaras Hindu University.

The original Vishwanath Temple was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times during the reign of the Mughal emperors. The Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya decided to replicate the temple and call it the New Vishwanath Temple to honor the original. The construction took 35 years and was finally completed in 1966.

This temple stands 77 meters tall and is made mostly of marble. Although primarily dedicated to the god Shiva, the complex also consists of nine other temples. The Shiva temple is situated on the ground floor while the Durga and Lakshmi temples are located on the floor above.

The New Vishwanath Temple also contains the tallest temple tower in the world, Shikhara. The marble walls of the tower were carefully engraved with the entire Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse Sanskrit scripture, as well as illustrations from other holy scriptures.

5 Luxury Hotels in Varanasi

Hotel Name Address Facilities Price Per Night
Taj Ganges Grounds, Nadesar Palace, Varanasi A fitness center, massage center, shopping arcade, and Chowk Coffee Shop 16,000 to 23,000 rupees
Ramada Plaza The Mall Rd, Varanasi Cantt, Varanasi Beauty salon, sauna, and an outdoor swimming pool 7,000 to 12,000 rupees
Taj Nadesar Palace Nadesar Palace Grounds Swimming pool, four-hole golf course, fitness center, and Sanskrit classes 45,000 to 65,000 rupees
BrijRama Palace Near Munshi Ghat Over Darbhanga House Ghat, Bangali Tola, Varanasi Sunrise yoga, live classical music, and traditional dance performances 26,000 to 44,000 rupees
Hotel Madin JHV Mall, The Mall Rd, Near JHV Mall, Cantt, Varanasi Gym, swimming pool, foot spa, massage rooms, and a sauna 17,000 to 50,000 rupees

1. Taj Ganges

Spread over 40 acres of tropical gardens, the Taj Ganges is an ancient-style property located in the heart of Varanasi. This hotel was completely renovated in 2010 and is now ready to offer accommodation in 130 rooms.

The Taj Ganges is located 3.7 miles from Varanasi city center, commonly known as The Chowk. It is also 0.6 miles from Varanasi Junction Railway Station and 13 miles from Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport.

All the modern air-conditioned rooms here are equipped with a flat-screen TV, mini-bar, and tea and coffee making facilities. They also enjoy views of the garden, the pool, or the city. Room rates range between 8,000 and 23,000 rupees.

Here, guests can exercise at the fitness center, relax with a massage, and buy souvenirs at the shopping center. The hotel’s Chowk Coffee Shop also serves Indian, Pan-Asian and international dishes.

2. Ramada Plaza

The Ramada Plaza is located in the heart of Varanasi. It is 3 miles from Varanasi City Railway Station, 3.7 miles from Kashi Vishwanath Temple, and 14 miles from the Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport.

The rooms here have modern décor and feature wood-paneled walls and carpeted floors. Each room is equipped with internet access and a TV with cable channels. The marble bathrooms also come with a bathtub and hairdryer. Rooms cost between 7,000 and 12,000 rupees per night.

At this hotel, guests can book an appointment at the beauty salon, relax in the sauna, or take a dip in the spa bath. There is also an outdoor swimming pool to enjoy. Tadka, the in-house restaurant, offers Indian specialties while The Palate features all-day international buffet spreads.

3. Taj Nadesar Palace

The Taj Nadesar Palace is the former palace of the maharaja of Varanasi turned into a five-star hotel. This property is located amid lush gardens and mango orchards less than a quarter of a mile from the banks of the Ganges River.

Guests here can choose to stay in a palace room, a historical suite, or a royal suite. All rooms feature four-post beds and traditional furnishings, a flat-screen TV, DVD player, and a mini-bar. Room rates range between 45,000 and 65,000 rupees.

Here, guests can enjoy a swimming pool, a four-hole golf course, a fitness center, and Sanskrit classes. The Jiva Spa also provides aromatherapy massages, body scrubs, and other beauty treatments. Boating, guided nature walks, and cultural excursions can also be arranged by the hotel butlers.

4. BrijRama Palace

Built in the 18th century, the BrijRama Palace is a heritage hotel and also one of the oldest structures in Varanasi. The hotel is conveniently perched on banks of the Ganges near the Darbanga Ghaat.

This property overlooks the river and is a stone’s throw away from the popular Dasashwamedh Ghat.

The hotel offers 32 well-appointed rooms all of which are equipped with a flat-screen TV, in-room tea and coffee maker, Wi-Fi, and convenient bathrooms with luxurious bath amenities. Prices range from 26,000 to 44,000 rupees.

Here, guests can experience sunrise yoga under the guidance of trained yoga instructors at the rooftop terrace with a breathtaking view of the Ganges River. Live classical music and traditional dance performances are also available at Bada Angan.

5. Hotel Madin

Located in the popular and peaceful Cantonment area of Varanasi, Hotel Madin offers a refreshing mix of opulent design and traditional local service.

The hotel is 3.4 miles away from the Dasaswamedh Ghat and Kedar Ghat, and 15 miles away from Varanasi’s Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport.

Hotel Madin offers 85 luxurious rooms including a deluxe room, a premium room, an executive suite, and a presidential suite. Rooms are spacious and fitted with touch panels and other modern-day amenities such as a flat-screen TV, a bathtub, and a minibar. Room prices range from 17,000 to 50,000 rupees.

The facilities offered by this hotel include a gym, a swimming pool, foot spa, massage center, and a sauna. The rooftop restaurant Voodoo also serves an expansive menu of international dishes while offering great views of the surrounding area. Guests can also dine at the poolside barbecue and grill.

How to Add Varanasi into a Golden Triangle Itinerary

Most travelers find it easy to add a visit to Varanasi into their golden triangle trip. It is easiest to visit Varanasi after exploring Delhi. After Delhi, many travelers continue their golden triangle path by flying to Jaipur.

From Delhi to Varanasi, there are direct flights available between 6 am and 6 pm and the flight duration is around 1.5 hours. IndiGo and Vistara are our favorite airlines for this segment and flight tickets usually cost around 3,000 rupees.

There are 2 direct flights a day from Varanasi to Jaipur. These flights occur between 3 pm and 4 pm and last for around 2 hours. IndiGo is the best airline for this segment. Tickets cost between 3,500 and 4,000 rupees.

How to get to Varanasi from Lucknow and Agra

From the major cities in Uttar Pradesh such as Lucknow and Agra, there are many methods of transportation to travel to Varanasi. Some of the best ways are by plane, train, or chauffeured car.

By plane

Traveling by plane is the fastest way to get from Lucknow or Agra to Varanasi. From Lucknow, the travel time is around 4 hours while it will take around 2 hours from Agra to arrive in Varanasi.

By train

Traveling by train is cheaper than by plane, but the journey by train is much longer. Typically it takes around 12 hours to travel from Lucknow or Agra to Varanasi by train.

By chauffeured car

The advantages of traveling by a chauffeured car are more comfort and better flexibility in when you leave and where you stop. Driving from Lucknow to Varanasi typically takes around 7 hours while it is around 8 hours from Agra to Varanasi.

Explore Varanasi with Asia Highlights

The holy city of Varanasi is packed with history and beautiful attractions to explore. If you would like to add a visit to Varanasi to your India trip without the hassle of doing all the research and planning yourself, contact Asia Highlights. We can help you make the perfect trip where everything is tailor-made to suit your preferences.