Varanasi – Gateway to Spirituality

Varanasi Airport Directory (VNS)
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Continuously inhabited for nearly five thousand years, Varanasi is one of the saptapuris or seven holy cities believed to grant moksha or salvation. Located between the rivers Varuna and Asi that drain into the Ganga, Varanasi is sacred to Lord Shiva and Parvati. It is also called Kashi or the City of Light after the Kashi Vishwanath temple, one of India's twelve jyotirlingas. Its sacred bathing and burning ghats, its gallis, its mystics and mendicants, cultural and culinary traditions make the city a fascinating microcosm of India.

Best time to visit Varanasi 

November to February is the best time to explore Varanasi.

Most spoken languages in Varanasi

  • Hindi
  • Bhojpuri

How to reach Varanasi 

  • Flights to Varanasi:Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport is the nearest airport, located 18km north-west from the city. IndiGo operates more than 50 weekly flights between Varanasi and other key locations.
  • By train:The Varanasi railway station connects the city to major cities of India via various rail.
  • By bus:Varanasi is well-connected to the neighbouring states and all prime cities of Uttar Pradesh by state-run buses and private buses.
  • Getting around/local transport in Varanasi: Cabs or taxis are convenient transportation modes to travel around the city. While the streets of the town can be best visited on foot, and boats are the perfect means to explore ghats.
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Places to visit in Varanasi

 
  • Ghats of Varanasi: There are countless places to visit in Varanasi. The entire stretch from Ramnagar to Rajghat is shaped like Shiva's bow strung by the sandbank of the Ganga. While there are nearly a hundred ghats, there are only four points in Varanasi where roads reach the riverbank – Dasashwamedh, Harishchandra, Assi and Raj Ghat. Most Varanasi ghats bear royal patrons' names who built temples, mansions and dharamsalas for pilgrims – Scindia, Bhonsle, Peshwa, Holkar to Maharajas of Darbhanga, Vijianagaram and Nepal. Rana Mahal Ghat is associated with Maharana Pratap of Chittorgarh, while Raja Man Singh of Amber built Manmandir ghat. The Queen of Amethi established Lali Ghat while Chauki Ghat was constructed for chaukidaars (guards) by a queen from Calcutta. Sri Math was where Kabir Das lived while Tulsi Das wrote the Ramcharitmanas at Tulsi Ghat. The sacred Panchaganga Ghat is the confluence of five rivers – the Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Karuna and Dhootpara. Dashashwamedh Ghat was where King Dasarath performed the putra-kameshthi yagna to beget children. Several ghats are named after prominent temples or deities – Annapurna, Brahma, Hanuman, Rama, Kshameshwar, Kali, Chousatti (after the Chousath Yogini temple) and Bhimeshwar, locally called Kashi Karwat as its lopsided. When Goddess Parvati lost her mani karnika (jewelled earrings), a furious Lord Shiva cursed Manikarnika Ghat to be the haunt of the dead. Ironically, this is where people burn the deceased's bodies before consigning their ashes to the Ganga for salvation.
  • Temple in Varanasi: Besides the ghats, Varanasi temples are a must-visit for tourists. The most important shrines are Kashi Vishwanath, Sankat Mochan, Kaalbhairav and Vishalakshi Temple, where Goddess Sati's earrings fell.
  • Banaras Hindu University (BHU): Spread over 1,350 acres with over 128 departments, BHU is one of the world's three largest residential universities! It is also among the top tourist places in Varanasi. Stately buildings line the wide roads as the statue of founder Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya greets visitors in front of the New Vishwanath Temple built by him. Nearby, Bharat Kala Bhavan is a rich repository of art and heritage.
  • Ramnagar fort: Take the pontoon bridge to Ramnagar fort built-in 1742 by Maharaja Balwant Singh to see its collection of royal carriages, unique weapons, and exquisite artefacts besides the legendary Ramnagar Clock made in 1872. At the Saraswati Bhavan Museum in Ramnagar fort, don't miss the coins mutilated by Maharaja Prabhu Narain Singh, who tossed coins high in the air and shot them with a rifle as practice. It earned him a citation from King Leopold II. Outside Ramnagar Fort, a narrow lane from Lal Bahadur Shastri's statue takes you to the paternal home of India's second Prime Minister.
  • Centre for Yoga, Ayurveda and Meditation: Besides, there are plenty of things to do in Varanasi. It is also a renowned centre for yoga, Ayurveda and meditation, where you can take up courses offered by various institutes.

Places to eat in Varanasi

Shree Rajbandhu Sweets, Kachori gali
Shree Rajbandhu Sweets, Kachori gali

Legendary sweetshop serving Varanasi’s famous lal peda, besides gulab jamun, jalebi, motichur laddoo and spicy deep-fried snacks. Don’t be alarmed by the police presence – they are on duty to protect the Kashi Vishwanath shrine!

 

 

 

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Kashi Chat Bhandar, Godaulia Chowk
Kashi Chat Bhandar, Godaulia Chowk

Feast on a wide variety of snacks – tomato chaat, papdi chaat, dahi papdi chaat, palak papdi chaat, as well as gulab jamun and kulfi.

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Madhur Milan, Dasashwamedha Ghat
Madhur Milan, Dasashwamedha Ghat

Great local joint for kachoris (thick puri stuffed with spiced lentil), served with aloo rassa (think potato gravy) and hot jalebis to round it off

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Lakshmi Chai Wala, Chowk
Lakshmi Chai Wala, Chowk

The best place to try the local Varanasi snack safed makhhan toast – thick, local bread toasted over live coal and slathered with a generous helping of creamy butter, chased with local kulhad tea.

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Baati Chokha, Dasashwamedh Road
Baati Chokha, Dasashwamedh Road

Popular eatery serving UP-Bihari cuisine – litti (baked roundels stuffed with sattu paneer), served with aloo-baingan chokha (potato-eggplant mash) and chutney. It’s worth the wait and don’t go without tasting the kulfi and kheer.

 

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El Parador, Patel Road
El Parador, Patel Road

Nepali-run eatery that serves excellent Tibetan and Nepali fare, besides buffalo steak, grilled chicken, salads, pancakes and apple pie.

 

 

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Tadka, The Mall
Tadka, The Mall

Plush restaurant inside Ramada Plaza JHV with terrific ambience, excellent Indian food and live music like tabla recitals.

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Shopping places in Varanasi

High-end shopping/luxury shopping/shopping malls in Varanasi

  • IP Sigra Mall
  • JHV Mall
  • IP Vijaya Mall
  • PDR Mall

Street shopping in Varanasi

  • Chowk, Gyan Vapi, Vishwanath gali, Thatheri Bazar, Lahurabir, Godoulia, Dashswamedh gali and Golghar being the main shopping precincts.
  • No visit to the city is complete without picking up a Banarasi sari or local specialities such as Banaras ka lal peda, Banarasi pan (betel leaf), Banarasi aloo papad and the beautiful hand-knotted carpets of Mirzapur and Bhadohi.
  • Numerous shops on Chowkhamba lane sell papads, pickles and gajak (a dry sweet made of sesame seeds).
  • The floating markets with intrepid boatmen cum salespeople offering you holy water, religious accoutrements, or knickknacks are other charming features.

Varanasi's strategic location on the Gangetic plain and historical trade routes made it an important market since Mauryan times. Historically, shawls from the north, diamonds and gold from the Deccan, muslin and silk from the east, armaments from Lucknow, food grains from across India and perfumes, horses and elephants, were traded here. Even today, the city is a great place to buy brass and copperware, gold jewellery, shawls, saris, stone inlay work and musical instruments.

Nightlife/party places in Varanasi

The closest Varanasi comes to a party is the annual Ram Leela in October, when theatre performers and musicians stage a theatrical re-enactment of Lord Rama's life. Held across a month with marathon music sessions on blaring loudspeakers, it's usually an all-night affair.

  • For a more traditional party, head to Club Agni at Hotel Siddharth.
  • Most bars and lounges are in the upmarket hotels – Patiala Peg in Hotel Meraden Grand (The Heaven Lounge Bar), Princep Bar at Getaway Hotel Ganges Varanasi Mangi Ferra at Hotel Surya are all options.
  • The last on that list does great hookahs and pizza.

Where to stay in Varanasi

Jukaso Ganges, Guleria Ghat

Jukaso Ganges, Guleria Ghat A 200-year-old riverfront Yadava haveli painstakingly restored by WelcomHeritage into a boutique luxury hotel. Built out of Chunar sandstone, most of the 15 rooms open to a view of the Ganga with a riverside café and an open-to-sky terrace restaurant. The 800-year-old Vishnu idol in the meditation room is stunning.

Suryauday

Suryauday Haveli, Shivala Ghat Locally called Nepali Kothi, it was built by the Nepal kings in the early 20th century as a retreat for the aged. Serves food prepared by a maharaj, so you know its wholesome. An added bonus? Yoga classes get organised on the terrace.

TheClarks

The Clarks Varanasi, The Mall One of the oldest and most well-known hotels in Varanasi, Clarks offers 104 well-furnished rooms with an outdoor pool in a serene garden.

PalaceonRiver

A Palace on River, Rashmi Guest House, Manmandir Ghat A budget riverside hotel, that is adjacent to Man Singh’s Observatory. It offers 16 air-conditioned rooms (some with river view) and the rooftop Dolphin Restaurant.

Places to visit near Varanasi

Sarnath

Just 13km from town at Sarnath, Lord Buddha preached his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, marked by the Dhamekh Stupa. It's a great option to enlighten yourself with Buddhism away from the city of spirituality.

More reasons to visit Varanasi/Top things to do in Varanasi

  • Varanasi is a photographer's delight. Stroll around the ghats at dawn to watch pilgrims and pundits performing rituals, barbers and washermen at work, wrestlers and pehelwans working out. Take a sunrise or sunset tour of the ghats with Varanasi's storytelling boatmen. 
  • Don't miss the daily Ganga Arti at 7 pm – go early to grab a vantage point and witness the ceremonial offering of incense and lamps to the river.
  • At dawn, the Ghats are abuzz with the devotees' activity performing their ablutions in the river or offering prayers to the rising sun and performing other religious rituals. 
  • A boat ride from the Dasaswamedh ghat along the Ghats gives you vantage views of these activities. After the boat cruise on the Ganges, walk through the city's narrow lanes visiting various temples. 

Festivals in Varanasi

Makar Sankranti

This festival is celebrated throughout the country with different names as Pongal, Lohri and others. This is a festival of kites where people fly kites, and the sky gets covered with colourful flying paper.

Mahashivratri

This is an important festival that falls between February or March for those who worship Lord Shiva. People fast and stay awake all through the night. Many rituals and delicacies are famous during this festival.

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