Varanasi Travel Guide- India’s spiritual capital India. Nestled on the banks of the Ganges (Ganga) river in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi exhibits the true essence of India. For over 2000 years, Varanasi has been a center of learning and civilization.
Varanasi is one of those places where you can find a perfect balance between ancient and modern civilization & you need to make it a topmost destination for your next India tour plan.
BANARAS RICH STORY
Also known as Benares, Banaras, or Kashi, Varanasi is claimed to be one of the oldest livelihood cities in the world. A famous American writer, Mark Twain once penned down that “ ‘Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.
Once you’re in Varanasi, you’ll experience crowd and queue, temples everywhere, old traditional buildings, narrow lanes, cows, etc and that’s the beauty of Varanasi. The trip to Varanasi is incomplete if you do not attend the Ganga aarti performed by priests at the Ghats which looks immensely beautiful.
When we think of Varanasi, we think of Ghats, Banarasi silk sarees, temples, and foods. But, with 5 years of Modi’s rule, Varanasi has evolved a lot, after all, it is his own constituency.
In Varanasi, for the first time, our PM Modi has inaugurated India’s first multi-modal terminal on the Ganga river, ring roads, rail overbridges has been made, and how can forget about Swachh Bharat Abhiyan which made the Ghats of Varanasi even more beautiful. In addition to that, Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital has been set up.
BEST SEASON TO VISIT
As the city lies at an elevation of 80.71 meters above sea level, you will find the place extremely dry and humid. However, when it comes to culture and religious rituals, the city is at its best throughout the year.
Varanasi in Summer
Summer in Varanasi starts in April and ends in the month of June. The temperature ranges between 32-degree Celsius to 45-degree Celsius. During summer, you will experience the hot dry winds commonly known as “loo”. While the summer season is off-season, therefore you will find great deals on hotels and you will get to explore the temples without crowds.
Varanasi in Monsoon
From July to September, the people of Varanasi experience a frequent shower. The temperature ranges from 24 degrees Celsius to 32 degrees Celsius during the Monsoon season. If you’re planning your trip during this time of the season, you may find it difficult to explore various places as the rain can hamper your travel plans. The temperature drops but the humidity will be high. However, you may find the evening cool and refreshing.
Varanasi in Winter
Winter is said to be one of the best seasons to visit Varanasi. It starts in October and ends in March. The mornings are pleasant and the nights are cold and the temperature ranges between 5 degrees Celsius to 15 degrees Celsius. Additionally, during the winter season, there are various religious festivals happen and one of them is the Diwali festival. During this season, it will be delightful to watch the festive mood of the city.
WHY VISIT VARANASI
As mentioned above, Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India and is the home of Hinduism. Therefore, it is not just a tourist place, it is a significant place for Hindus. Varanasi is known for its temples, the city of Lord Shiva, and the holy River Ganges runs where Ganga aarti is performed every evening. A lot of pilgrims, tourists, and photo enthusiasts visit this sacred place throughout the year.
As the day falls, the ghats of the city become beautiful with lights and earthen lamps. Ganga aarti is performed every day at Dasaswamedh Ghat, located close to Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The evening aarti ceremony which includes offering flowers, circling brass lamps, circling incense sticks offers a spectacular view which you will embrace for a long time.
Furthermore, Varanasi is also referred to as the “City of Music” by UNESCO. The city is famous for its classical music and has given many famous music maestros.
The city also offers various temples and some of them are hundreds of years old. Moreover, it is a great place for those who love exploring architecture.
On the other hand, if you’re a foodie and love to experience food in various places, this city is for you. Varanasi is an excellent place to try some mouth-watering street food.
Street foods of Varanasi represent the true essence of the city’s culture and cuisine. Banarsi Paan is the most recommended when in Varanasi. Try Mallaiyo, Kachori sabzi, Jalebi, Tamatar Chatt, Laung-Lata and you’ll fall in love with the city again and again.
WHERE TO EAT IN VARANASI
Now that you know, the food of Varanasi is itself a whole new experience. Therefore, the trip to Varanasi is incomplete without trying the most recommended food options and places to eat. When I was in Varanasi, I explored a lot of places to try some of the best authentic foods, and trust me these are the best ones.
Varanasi is famous for varieties of chaat: Tamatar Chaat, Dahi Bhalla, and Palak Chaat. Deena Chaat Bhandar near Dashashwamedh Ghat and Kashi Chaat Bhandar at Godowlia Road are the best ones. Moreover, If you want to experience the real taste of Kachori Sabji, head over to Shri Ram Bhandar Chowk, Vishwanath Misthan Bhandar, Chetganj, Shri Ram Bhandar and you’ll know why every Banarasi loves it.
WHAT TO EAT?
Lassi is one of the most popular drinks in Varanasi. To experience one of the finest lassis, go to Pahalwan Lassi Bhandar, and Rajaram Lassi. Blue Lassi Shops near Manikarnika Ghat serve their own style of lassi. In addition to that, try thandai at Baba Thandai, Godowlia and you’ll never regret it.
Varanasi food is incomplete without pan. Almost every people in Varanasi is fond of eating pan and you will get to know by seeing the stains on the wall. I was recommended to try pan at Rajendra Prasad Chaurasiya Pan Bhandar.
Varanasi is also famous for Dal Bati Chokha which you can try at Baati Chokha Restaurant in Teliabagh and Malaiyo, famous in the winter season. You can try it at the chowk.
HOW TO REACH?
- By Air- At a distance of 26 km northwest of Varanasi, there is a public airport called Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport at Babatpur. It is well connected to major cities and there are daily domestic flights to and from Varanasi to various cities in India. However other than state-owned airlines, there are various private taxi operators who offer their services from Varanasi to other cities of India.
- By Train- The two major railway station of Varanasi, the Kashi Junction and Varanasi Junction of Varanasi is well connected to major Indian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, etc via rail.
- By Road- Situated at the flat Ganga plains, Varanasi has a wide network of the road. You can hire a private taxi or a cab or self-drive to Varanasi from major nearby cities such as Kanpur, Allahabad, Noida, etc.
GET AROUND IN VARANASI
- Walk- Streets of Varanasi are very narrow, especially in the old part of the city. Therefore, walking on foot is the best way to explore the cities of Varanasi. The ghats and shore are best explored on foot.
- Bicycle Rickshaw- Rickshaw is another one of the most prominent modes of public transport in Varanasi. The smaller distance can easily be covered by bicycle rickshaws as they can easily move in narrow lanes at slow speed. They can easily be available on the main street.
- E-Rickshaw- E-rickshaws are eco-friendly and no noise pollution battery-operated mode of transport which is popular in Varanasi that is available in every street.
- Auto Rickshaw- Auto Rickshaws are another way of getting around the city and are widely available everywhere in Varanasi.
YOUR STAY OPTIONS
Being one of the most popular tourist places in India, Varanasi is packed with a lot of hotels and guesthouses. You can choose from them according to your budget and convenience and can be booked in advance from various travel sites such as make my trip, Goibibo, Oyo rooms, and many more.
Here are some of the best hotels where you can stay:
- Granny’s Inn- It is a beautiful and neat homestay located near Dashashwamedh Ghat and the Vishwanath Mandir.
- Hotel Alka- is a riverside guesthouse with spacious and clean rooms located at Meer Ghat.
- Hotel Ganges View- Situated right near the river of Assi Ghat, Hotel Ganges view is designed in colonial style. The rooms in the hotel are spacious and clean.
PLACES YOU CAN VISIT
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Located on the western banks of the sacred river Ganga, Kashi Vishwanath Temple is considered to be one of the divine temples in India and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is one of the twelve jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. According to Shaiva Philosophy, Kashi Vishwanath temple is a central part of worship for a very long time.
The temple has been destroyed and reconstructed various times in history. The last framework was destroyed by Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal Emperor. The current structure was constructed by the Maratha ruler, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780.
It is believed that a visit to the temple and a bath in the river Ganga lead one on a path to Moksha (liberation). Therefore, Hindus from all over the world try to visit this place once in a lifetime. During special festivals such as Shivaratri, Kashi Naresh (King of Kashi) visits the temple for worship.
As it is one of the most famous temples of Varanasi, it attracts around 3,000 devotees on a daily basis. The small temples around Kashi Vishwanath temple are Kaal Bhairav, Virupaksh Gauri, Avimukteshwara, Vishu, and Vinayaka temple.
Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple
Sankat Mochan Hanuman Mandir was established by famous Hindu preacher and poet-saint Sri Goswami Tulsidas in the early 16th century and is dedicated to the Hindu God Hanuman. Situated on the banks of the Assi river, It is believed that anyone who visits the temple and offers prayer with dedication, Lord Hanuman, the reliever of worries, relieved his/her worries. The temple attracts a lot of devotees every Tuesday and Saturday.
Maa Annapurna Temple
Maa Annapurna Temple is yet another one of the most famous Hindu temples in Varanasi. Annapurna Dei is believed to be the avatar (incarnation) of Goddess Parvati. She is worshipped as the nourishment and provider of food. The temple features two idols of the goddess, one idol is made of gold while the other one is made up of brass. The brass idol can be seen any day of the year. On the other hand to see the gold idol you need to plan your visit on Annakut day i.e, the day before Diwali.
Kaal Bhairav Temple
Kaal Bhairav temple is one of the ancient temples of Varanasi and speaks about the aggressive form of Lord Shiva. Located in Visheshar Ganj, Kaal Bhairav Temple is just 10 minutes away from Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It is believed that Kaal Bhairav is considered as the guardian of the city and one needs permission from the idol before they leave the city.
Durga Kund Temple
Durga Kund Temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga and is situated next to a rectangular pond (Kund). Back in the 18th century, the Durga Kund temple was built by Rani Bhabani of Natore. It is believed that the existing icon of the goddess has appeared on its own in the temple. Durga Kund Temple portrays the famous Nagara style of architecture.
Dasaswamedh Ghat is the primary ghat in Varanasi on the River Ganga and as the name implies, it is commonly believed that Lord Brahma performed the ritual of Dasa Ashwamedha (10 horses) sacrifice. It is situated close to Vishwanath Temple and is the impressive Ghat in Varanasi. As mentioned earlier, this is the primary ghat where Ganga aarti is performed every evening. The view and feeling of Ganga aarti cannot be expressed in words.
In addition to that, everyday pilgrims come here to perform various rituals and religious activities. There are a lot of people who visit every day in the morning to meditate at the ghat because of the beautiful environment, fresh air, and a spectacular view of the sun rising. Some also come here daily to offer prayer to their Lord and take a holy bath in the river Ganga.
Assi Ghat is situated on the confluence of the River Ganga and Assi. Situated in the south of the city, Assi Ghat is famous for Shivlingam placed under a peepal tree. The importance of the Assi Ghat can be seen in the Puranas. A large number of tourists come here to witness the spectacular view of the sunset and sunrise at the Ganges. As it is closer to Banaras Hindu University, hence it is frequently visited by students.
Manikarnika ghat in Varanasi is famous for the cremation by the Hindus and is one of the oldest ghats. If you want to witness the cremations and funerals, you can pay your visit to Manikarnika Ghat, but do not take photos.
Watching the funeral can be a difficult and emotional experience. But the more you will understand the Hindu culture, the less difficult it will be. It is believed that, when Lord Shiva was carrying Sati to the Himalayas, the ornament worn on her ear fell down. It is a common belief that those who are cremated here get Moksha.
PLACES NEARBY VARANASI
Located at a distance of 10 km north-east of Varanasi, Sarnath is a pilgrimage place for Buddhists. This is the place where Lord Buddha first preached his teachings after attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya.
In Sarnath, you can also visit the Archaeological Museum which displays an amazing collection of Buddhist Artifacts, Ashokan Lion Capital, Dharma Stupa built by Emperor Ashoka, and many more.
Here are some of the best things which I enjoyed doing in Varanasi:
- As noted, I was blessed to attend the Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat
- Hired a sailor boat and took a boat ride to Ganga River
- Walked along the ghats and spend some time sitting and mesmerizing the beauty of it.
- I experience a variety of local foods and enjoyed it.
Other activities to enjoy in Varanasi
- Explore the Bazaars through the narrow streets. The streets offer clothes, instruments, glass beads, wooden toys, flutes, Stone Carved Curios, bangles and many more. Buy a famous Banarasi silk saree.
- Take a holy dip in the River Ganga.
- Take yoga and meditation class
- Take a boat ride in River Ganga and enjoy the spectacular view of the sunrise and sunsets.
IS VARANASI WORTH YOUR VISIT?
I personally think Varanasi is a place where you should visit at least once. The vibe of Varanasi is unique. However, if you’re not spiritual and has no interest, you may not find it worth traveling to Varanasi. In addition to that, expect crowds everywhere in Varanasi.
SAFE FOR SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER
A lot of females traveling solo worried about their safety when traveling to Varanasi and I understand why. It’s a place where you’ll find dogs, cows, monkeys, sadhus everywhere, open cremations happen daily, it is busy, and a little bit crazy.
However, In my point of view, it is safe to travel to Varanasi as a solo female traveler. You need to take the right precautions just like you take when you travel to other destinations.
Don’t go off with strangers guys, don’t go out at night alone, don’t try special lassi, be alert during festival times, dress conservatively, beware of scams, don’t try bhang alone. Be brave & strong, and experience the beauty of Varanasi and it will pay you back with some awesome memories.
SOME DO’S & DONT’S ( VARANASI CULTURE)
- Go for a boat ride along the Ganges river.
- Walk around the Ghats.
- Enjoy Varanasi from above. There are many rooftop restaurants and hotels which will give an awesome view of Varanasi from above. Some of the places are Alka Hotel, Temple Hotel, and Ganpati Guest House.
- Explore the gully (small passage) of Varanasi.
- Visit during the festival and experience the madness of Varanasi.
- Take care of your belongings.
- Keep your passport, travel documents, tickets, etc carefully.
- Always Bargain.
- Avoid clicking pictures at Manikarnika ghat and other cremation ghats.
- Avoid clicking pictures when people performing rituals.
- Avoid using Bhang, drug or Marijuana.
- Don’t make fun of rituals.
- Don’t go to an unknown place with strangers.
- Don’t mess with bulls.
- Avoid eating local street food unless you have a strong immune.
- Beware of pickpockets.
Since Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, there are a lot of issues with infrastructure, but the good thing is that it’s growing.
It is a fascinating place but you may find old Varanasi noises, crowded during day time. Varanasi is unique in its own way. Accept this strange and awesome city for what it is. I recommend you visit the official website on Varanasi for more information.