Varanasi is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities and is called by many names, including Banaras, Kashi, Mahasmashana, Anandvan and Avimukta. Celebrated for its silk saris, milk sweets and Hindustani classical music and dance Varanasi is a sacred city for many religions.
1. Early morning cruise along the ghats of the Ganges
The tour starts at 5 a.m. with a boat ride from Assi Ghat to Daswamedha Ghat. Catch the sight of the gargantuan Ghats of Varanasi and proceed to visit Kashi Vishwanath and Sankat Mochan Temples. Understand some nuances of the Hindu mythology from an expert local guide. Witness the Hindu rituals being observed early in the morning, the chanting of the shlokas (verses) by the priests, the melodious bhajans (hymns) and the fragrance of the incense that wafts through the mild morning breeze, instantly transporting you to a whole new dimension. Discover the land of literature, art and spirituality, Varanasi on this early morning tour.
Ghats of the Ganges
Address: Assi Ghat, Shivala, 221005 Varanasi, U.P.
2. Dashashwamedha Ghat
Varanasi’s energetic and most colorful ghat (flight of steps leading down to a river). The name indicates that Brahma had 10 (dash) horses (aswa) sacrificed (medha) here. Despite the domineering boat owners, flower sellers, massage practitioners and touts trying to drag you off to a silk shop, it’s a delightful place to linger and watch while soaking up the atmosphere. Every evening at 7 p.m. an extravagant Ganga aarti (worship) ceremony with puja (prayers), fire and dance is staged here. Hundreds of pilgrims, photographers and tourists lease boats to watch the show, as it reveals every evening. Spectators occupy every inch of the Ghats, boats, and even nearby rooftops on hotels, ashrams and gymnasiums.
Address: Dashashwamedh Ghat Rd, Godowlia, 221001 Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Website: Dashashwamedh Ghat
3. Evening Aarti Ceremony at Ganges River
The Evening Aarti Ceremony at Ganges River in Varanasi is undoubtedly a sight you shall cherish for a long time. Brass lamps of around 5 kg are used during the spiritual greeting. Chants, fragrances of flowers and incense creates a blissful environment. The surreal ceremony must be viewed from the Dashaswamedha Ghat. The most enthralling Ganga Aarti at Varanasi is performed at Holy Dashaswamedha Ghat, near Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
The Ganga Aarti commences daily after sunset at around 6:45 p.m. and is joined by thousands of people, both tourists and pilgrims. The ceremony is a profoundly religious experience for Hindus and lasts for about 45 minutes. Starting with the sound of the holy chanting, bells ringing, conch shell blowing, and lamps that are circled around by the seven “pandits” (Hindu priests), accompanied by songs in praise of Mother Ganga. The ‘Ganga Aarti’ song is performed during the aarti. The entire aarti is graciously synchronized, spiritually enhancing and a spirited experience that spellbinds you.
Address: Dashashwamedh Ghat Rd, Godowlia, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001
Website: Dashashwamedh Ghat
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4. Shopping in the alleys of Varanasi
There is an assortment of shops in Varanasi where you can purchase a Banarasi silk sari or a pashmina shawl; however, be alert of tourist guides who often lure undoubting tourists in buying lesser quality merchandise while getting a commission for taking you into a store. Discover your way to Baba Black Sheep in Bhelupura Crossing and U.P. Cottage Emporium run by Nawal Kishore in Tripura Bhairawi for the best quality Benarasi silk merchandise.
But if you want to see how these beautiful Benarasi sarees are made, head over to Sarai Mohana where the weavers of Varanasi are internationally renowned for creating some of the most beautiful masterpieces. The Banarasi sarees made by these waivers are among the finest saris in India, well known for their gold and silver brocade, fine silk and opulent embroidery. These saris are mostly used by Indian bride. In the village of Sarai Mohana, get to know with the craftsmanship of the weavers with their dissimilar design. These weavers work hard on designing these sarees to keep its individuality. The masterpiece of the sari needs 15 days to a one month and sometimes up to six months to complete.
Varanasi is also known for its wooden toys and you can stop by New Agrawal Toys Emporium at Assi Ghat for authentic wooden toys, figurines, jewelry, clothes and furnishings in between their overcrowded three floors. If you are in a mood for buying jewelry, look no further than Suneeta Jewellers at Assi Ghat, where the owner of the store will be glad to show you their sacred symbol collection which in itself is a treasure chest filled with gems that will entice any lover of the mysterious.
Baba Black Sheep
Address: B 12/120 A-9 (Near Kerela Cafe), Bhelupura Crossing, 221010 Varanasi, U.P.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (All Days)
Website: Baba Black Sheep
U.P Cottage Industries
Address: B.5/40C, Shivala Opp Vishal Mega Mart, 221005 Varanasi, U.P.
Phone: +91 093698 22600
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (All days)
New Agrawal Toys Emporium
Address: B 1/158 A, Assi Ghat, Shivala, 221005 Varanasi, U. P.
Phone: +91 093367 34953
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (All days)
Address: B 1/160, Assi Ghat, 221005 Varanasi, U.P.
Phone : +91-542-2314951; +91-9839146944
Website: Suneeta Jewellers
Sarai Mohana Village
Address: Chiraigaon Tehsil, 221007 Varanasi, U.P.
5. Kashi Vishwanath Temple
There are temples at almost every turn in Varanasi, but Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the most celebrated of the lot. It is dedicated to Shiva as Lord of the universe. The current temple was built in 1776 by Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore; while the 800 kg of gold plating on the tower and dome was supplied by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore in 1826.
Due to security and communal issues this temple is heavily guarded by the security personnel. Cameras, mobile phones, any other electronic devices, pointed objects, bags have to be deposited in the lockers after paying nominal fees of USD .30 before entering the passage towards Gate 2. As a foreigner, it will be simple to leave all things at the hotel and keep your passport along with you, if you can and devote special time towards visiting this temple.
Be prepared to walk past long lines of Indians going through metal detector and security check and then enter the temple through a door across the alley after you have deposited your shoes outside.
Once inside, witness an overwhelming sight of Hindus give an offering and touch the lingam (phallic symbol of Shiva), which clarifies one of all sins. Hindus regularly wait in lines for 48 hours to enter on particularly holy days. So, make plans accordingly if you are visiting Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Address: Lahori Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India
Phone: +91 0542 239 2629
Website: Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Festivals to experience in Varanasi:
There isn’t a single month perhaps when Varanasi is not amidst festivities. The city celebrates its festivals with such enthusiastic passion, that it is tough not to get drawn into the fete. Pick any month and figure out what is the festival you want to experience and plan your trip around that festival.
6. Maha Shivaratri (February)
Welcome to the marriage procession (baraat) of Lord Shiva! The city is in hysteria as hundreds of small groups carry adorned Shiva idols in parades to the Shiva temples. As stated in Hindu mythology, this day celebrates Lord Shiva’s nuptial to Goddess Parvati. In true Varanasi style, the day cannot be deprived of bhaang and sweets, which are offered on roadsides to anyone passing by. The parades start in the evenings and the celebrations go on until the wee hours of the morning. An entry into the Kashi Vishwanath temple on this day is almost impossible and should be avoided at all costs unless you are the adventurous type.
Website: Maha Shivaratri
7. Holi (March)
The streets of Varanasi are drenched in color and bhaang (a concoction of cannabis, milk and spices) through the Hindu festival of Holi. You should be valiant enough to enter the crowds in the streets and join in the festivities, though it’s highly recommended that you be a spectator from the rooftop and play Holi only with people you know for safety reasons. The entire streets are laced with multi-colored powder during Holi becomes more bright and exciting. Though carefulness during the festival is suggested, one cannot keep away from the cheery ambiance and the enthusiastic celebrations.
8. Ram Leela (October)
The Ram Leela of Varanasi is an awe-inspiring experience where the month-long festival that involves narrations and portrayals from the epic Ramayana, takes place in the town of Ramnagar. A large ground, a lake and the fort become part of the moving stages. Children, who play the part of the lead roles in the story move from one stage to another with the whole town in tow. The festival is almost holy for the locals here and these children are treated like the Gods for the entire month. If heading towards the holy city of Kashi, join the locals for a truly unique experience.
Website: Ram Leela
9. Dev Deepavali (November)
Come to Varanasi if you want to celebrate Deepavali with the Gods. The fifteenth day of Diwali is when, followers believe, that the Gods descend from the heavens to celebrate the festival on the Ghats. The Ghats are washed, cleaned and the hundreds of people arrive to decorate with Rangolis (powdered patterns) before lighting thousands of clay lamps on the steps to create a spectacular visual treat. The Ganga Mahotsav heralds the festival, and the ghats come alive as a platform to present Varanasi’s performing arts and crafts for four days. Wrestling competitions, traditional games, diverse vegetarian cuisines, music and dance performances are held for the duration of the festival which ends with Dev Deepavali.
Website: Dev Deepavali
A place that is overwhelming and unmatched by all standards
Sometimes when we get lost in the narrow lanes of Varanasi, we discover the hidden beauty of things. That is the effect of this place. Getting around Varanasi and understanding the culture of this mystical place makes you realize our place in this bigger scheme of things.It is difficult to put it in words mostly because you fall short of words, to begin with. You will find some lanes filthy with too many infected animals on the street. The way the locals dump litter onto the streets will be a culture shock and extremely overwhelming. Yet, this place has a charm which is unmatched by any holy place that you would’ve ever visited.
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