Varanasi known to the devout Hindu as Kashi, is said to have been founded by Shiva, Lord of the Universe, and destructor of the Evil. Its one of the oldest living cities in the world, as also one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India. Its principal attraction is the long string of ghats (riverside settlements) which line the west bank of the Ganges. Ghats are steps which lead down to the river where devout pilgrims take a dip every day in the morning on the river Ganges and offer their morning prayers. Whatever your passions, India offers an overwhelming variety of experiences and visiting the ancient cultures and temples of Varanasi are a memorable part of this historic land.
The River Ganges is a river that is very sacred for the Hindus and visitors to the city will be able to view traditional rituals and bathing at various times of the day. The Eastern bank of the river is flanked via a sand belt that is 300m wide. Beyond that is a green belt, which is a protected area that is reserved for turtle breeding. The western stretch of the river bank is formed in the shape of a crescent and finds itself flanked by a continual stretch of 84 ghats. The ghats were built by Hindu kings that wanted to perish along the Ganges. In addition to the ghats, the kings also built lofty palaces along the riverside. Currently the vast majority of the palaces are now hotels.
Most Famous Ghats of Varanasi
- The Tulsi Ghat: It is Famous for its association with the Hindu poet Tulsidas who lived in the late 16th century.
- Ganga Mahal Ghat: It is an extension of the Asi ghat and includes a palace built by the Maharaja of Benares in early nineteenth century.
- Assi Ghat: This is a popular location for visitors to stay. It has a great deal of internet cafes, restaurants and hotels.
- Manikarnika Ghat: This is the main cremation ghat. This is a must see for visitors. Those visiting here must remain quiet and NEVER take photographs while there.
- Panshgana Ghat: The meeting of the five rivers.
There are those that hold resentment towards tourists and their presence at cremation ceremonies. It is imperative to keep in mind that people are laying their loved ones to rest and you are viewing their funerals. With that in mind, pictures are not to be taken (even if by the river) and you should remain quiet and expressly respectful. Many do not mind if you take pictures from extreme distances. But it is far better to remain cautious and respectful and simply view the traditions and rituals and save picture taking for other times.
Most Famous Temples of Varanasi
The historic and sacred city of Varanasi is also the home of a great deal of religious buildings. Of the most popular of the area are the following:
- Alamagir Mosque: This mosque overlook the Panchganaga Ghat and is ideal for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area.
- Durga Temple: It is a temple devoted to Goddess Durga.
- Gauri Matha Temple: It is a tradition to visit here just before leaving Kashi. It is here were visitors are able to purchase sea shells and offer them to God. It is also the home of the devi that is said to be the sister of the lord Kashi.
- Kaal Bhairav Temple: This temple was dedicated to Kaal Bhairav, a dreaded form of the Lord in Shiva. The avatar symbolizes death. While visiting the temple, it is tradition to purchase black thread, have it sanctified in the shrine and then wear it wither around the neck, on the wrist or arm as protection from evil.
- Napali Hindu Temple: This is a small golden temple that has been in the styling of Nepali architecture.
- Sankat Mochan Temple: This famous Hanuman temple is the home of thousands of monkeys. Due to the tightness in regards to security, it is prohibited for guests to travel inside with the following: mobile phones, keys and more. Due be aware that the monkeys will snatch items from your hands. This is especially true for small packages and food.
When visiting the religious buildings, keep in mind that all forms of shoes must be removed before entering. It is best to wear a sandal or shoe that is easy to remove when embarking on a day of sightseeing that involves the viewing of temples and mosques.
Other Places to visit
Additional attractions that should not be missed when visiting into the city are the following:
- Banaras Hindu University: The campus is very peaceful and brimming with greenery. The University was built during the time of the Indian Freedom struggle and is widely known as the Oxford of the East.
- Chunar Fort: This fort is 2000 years old and has legends history attached to it.
- Man Singh Observatory: The Man Mahal, popularly known as Man Mandir is located adjacent to the famous Dashashvamedh ghat hardly five kilometres from Varanasi railway station.
- Ramnagar Fort: This is the fort of the King of Kashi and was built in 1750 with the Mughal style.
Fairs and Festivals of Varanasi
While visiting the valiant city of Varanasi, India travelers will be able to indulge within a great amount of festivals and more. The following will guide you through the festivals that take place within the city:
- Chhath Pooja (October/November): This is a four day festival for the Sun God Surya AKA Dala. The rituals involved in the festival include: fasting, holy bathing, and abstaining from drinking water (Vratta), offering prayer offerings (prashad), alcohol to the rising and setting of the sun, as well as standing in water for long periods of time.
- Deepavali or Diwali (October): This is a five day festival of lights. The aarti ceremony, ceremonies and special decorations at the ghats.
- Maha Shivaratri (February): This is a Hindu festival that celebrates Lord Shiva who, according to Hindu mythology, lived in Varanasi. During this festival the streets of the city are brimmed with pilgrims as well as parades that are dedicated to Shiva throughout the entire day. This marks the final day of the Dhrupad Mela, which is a festival of “Hindustani” (this is a form of Indian classical music).