Varansi, also known as Banaras, Benaras, Benares or Kashi, is a popular holy city of India, located in the central region of the Ganges valley in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It is one of the oldest cities in India and is also widely regarded as the spiritual capital of India. It is believed that Kashi was founded by Shiva, one of 3 principal deities, along with Brahma and Vishnu. The city of Varanasi has some 2000 temples including the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Shiva which is revered as one of the holiest sites amongst Hindus. The city high religious significance for many other religions too. Buddha is believed to have founded Buddhism here around 528 BCE when he gave his first sermon.
Varanasi is also famous for its more than 88 ghats, which are riverfront steps leading to the banks of the river Ganga (Ganges). Most of the ghats are puja and ceremony ghats, while 2 ghats are used exclusively for cremation. Hindus believe that dying here and getting cremated along the banks of the holy Ganga river allows one to break the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation. Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of the top attractions in Varanasi. This is where the famous Ganga aarti takes place every evening. According to Hindu mythology, Brahma created the ghat to welcome Shiva.
Much has been said about Varanasi by many including Mark Twain who said ‘Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together’. And as per Lonely Planet ‘Brace yourself. You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and un-apologetically indiscreet places on Earth’.
HOW TO REACH VARANASI
BY PLANE (LAL BAHADUR SHASTRI AIRPORT, IATA CODE: VNS)
There are direct international fights to Varanasi from Dubai, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Kathmandu.
Within India, Varanasi is well connected with direct flights from many major Indian cities – New Delhi, Mumbai(Bombay), Chennai (Madras), Kolkata (Calcutta), Dehradun, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Agra, Khajuraho, Hyderabad, Bengaluru (Bangalore), Bhubaneswar and Gaya.
Varanasi is well connected with all major cities in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and adjoining states by state run buses. There are Volvo buses also available which are considered to be relatively more comfortable. You can check availability of buses and book tickets at redbus.in
Distance between New Delhi and Varanasi is about 830 kms and takes an average of 14 to 15 hours by bus including breaks.
Varanasi is connected to major cities across India by train. From the railway station, you can hire a taxi to get around. The bus stand and railway station in Varanasi are quite close to each other at a walkable distance unless you have lots of luggage. You can check which trains go to Varanasi and find availability of seats at irctc.co.in
GETTING AROUND IN VARANASI
Like many other Indian cities, you can get a cycle rickshaw for shorter distances.
Taxis and auto rickshaws are available in Varanasi. When arriving by train, prepaid booth for taxis and auto-rickshaws are located right outside the railway station. Shared autos are also available on some routes, and do keep in mind that autos and taxis are not allowed in some areas during specific hours so be mindful of that. e.g. Taxis and rickshaws cannot access the Dashashwamedh ghat between 9 am and 9pm – some part of it has to be covered on foot. These vehicles also cannot enter some narrow lanes of the old town, so you might have to walk around a little bit if going there.
Recently, Uber and Ola have also started services in Varanasi. Taxis offering half/ full day tour packages are also available there.
WHERE TO STAY IN VARANASI
Varanasi has a complete range of stay options for each budget and liking. All of them are tuned to the reason why most people visit this city.
BEST VARANASI HOTELS AND APARTMENTS
Radisson Hotel Varanasi. Check rates and availability!
Hotel Madin. Check rates and availability!
Hotel Surya Kaiser Palace. Check rates and availability!
Stay Banaras – A Boutique Hotel. Check rates and availability!
Sojourn Apartment. Check rates and availability!
BEST VARANASI HOSTELS
Mad Squad Hostel. Check prices and availability!
The Pathwalker’s Habitat. Check rates and availability!
International Travellers’ Hostel. Check rates and availability!
Mother Hostel. Check rates and availability!
Moustache Hostel Varanasi. Check rates and availability!
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Varanasi is in the winter months and the shoulder months adjoining the winter, i.e. from October to April.
During summers it gets really hot, crossing 40 degrees Celcius very frequently, thus making it difficult to enjoy the outdoors. Monsoons are hot and humid too.
SAMPLE VARANASI ITINERARY
If you are tight on time, you can cover Varanasi in 1 day (early morning to late evening). If you are like most people arriving into Varanasi at noon or into late afternoon, 2 days is enough to explore the city.
DAY 1, ARRIVAL
02:10 pm – Arrival at Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport/ Railway Station
03:00 pm – Taxi to Hotel
03:10 pm – Check-in, rest
05:00 pm – Explore the ghats around – Chousatti Ghat, Darbhanga Ghat and Munshi Ghat, after which stroll to Dashashwamedh Ghat
05:30 pm – See evening Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat
07:00 pm – Dinner (a nearby famous option is Keshari Ruchikar Byanjan)
08:30 pm – Back to Hotel
05:30 am – Take a boat trip along the river Ganges. Starting before sunrise is best. Explore nearby Ghats especially Manikarnika ghat, where cremation of dead bodies has not yet started in early morning and you can click pictures. No photos are allowed when the bodies are burning.
07:30 am – End your boat ride at Manikarnika Ghat and head to Kachaudi Gali for breakfast
08:30 am – Take a stroll till Panchganga Ghat
09:30 am – Walk over to Bhonsale Ghat
10:30 am – Walk over till Manikarnika Ghat and watch the rituals
11:30 am – Keep walking along the ghats to Prayag Ghat
12:30 pm – Get back to hotel for a short rest
02:30 pm – Lunch
04:00 pm – Head to Assi Ghat area and chill out at one of the many cafes.
05:30 pm – Walk over to Assi Ghat and enjoy the evening aarti.
07:00 pm – Dinner
08:30 pm – Back to Hotel
DAY 3 DEPARTURE
09:00 am – Pack up
10:00 am – Relaxed Breakfast
11:00 am – Check out
11:15 am – Leave for Airport/ Station