If you are looking for prayers and pleasures at the same time, Varanasi is the perfect cocktail for you on your next vacation.
The city is on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, North India, 320 km south-east of the state capital, Lucknow, and 121 km east of Allahabad. It is the spiritual capital of India and the holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism and the perfect blending point of history and religion. So, if you are a major history buff and your spouse or family is religious, Varanasi is the best choice for a family holiday.
PLACES TO VISIT IN VARANASI :
The Ghats of Varanasi is a major tourist point. Its scenic and aesthetic beauty is beyond words especially if you visit them early in the morning on a boat ride in the Ganga. The boatmen would give you a tour of all the ghats plus add little bits of trivia about each one of them. Among the most popular ghats are:
Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to the Vishwanath Temple. This is probably the most spectacular ghat but regrettably also the most crowded and dirty. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it. According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses, during Dasa-Ashwamedha yajna performed here. A group of priests daily perform “Agni Pooja” (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganges, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe. The evening Arati here is a must watch from the boats.
This ghat is mainly used for Hindu cremations. It is said that this cremation ground is never devoid of a burning pyre. According to a legend, in order to keep Lord Shiva from moving around with his devotees, his consort Goddess Parvati hid her earrings (Mani-Karnika) in this ghat, and asked him to find them. So, whenever a body gets cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings. Also, according to ancient texts, the owner of Manikarnika Ghat bought King Harishchandra as a slave and made him work on the Manikarnika at Harishchandra Ghat.
Bengalis will be thrilled to see this ghat and recognize it as one of the shooting locations of Satyajit Ray’s spectacular films about our favorite detective in “Joy Baba Felunath”.
The boatmen would take great pleasure in telling you that this ghat is empty because whoever bathes in this ghat spends their life fighting with others. So if you want to become a world class gangster or a boxing champion; it is suggested you take a dip with your rival.
Other ghats are Digpatiya Ghat, Man-Mandir Ghat, Raja Ghat, Vijaynagar Ghat, Chouki Ghat etc.
After the ghats comes the temples. The estimated number of temples in Varanasi are 23,000 but I am guessing no one has the time to visit all of them. So, it comes down to the most popular ones:
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Located on the Ganges, this is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga Shiva temples in Varanasi. The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout its existence. The Gyanvapi Mosque, which is adjacent to the temple, is the original site of the temple. The area is heavily guarded by forces of Indian Army and is extremely crowded so it may take up your entire morning if you do not rise early to visit the Lord. The narrow lanes leading to the temple are however the real “benaras” and there are a number of fascinating shops on both sides.
The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple
This is situated by the Asi River. The present temple was built in the early 1900s by the educationist and Indian independence figure, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, the founder of Banaras Hindu University. Beware of the mischievous monkeys in this place!!
The Ramnagar Fort
The Ramnagar Fort, located near the Ganges on its eastern bank and opposite the Tulsi Ghat, was built in the 18th century by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh. The fort is a typical example of the Mughal architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and scenic pavilions. At present, the fort is in disrepair. The fort and its “eccentric” museum contains a rare collection of American vintage cars, bejeweled sedan chairs, an impressive weaponry hall, and a rare astrological clock. In addition, manuscripts, especially religious writings, are housed in the Saraswati Bhawan which is a part of a museum within the fort. Because of its scenic location on the banks of the Ganges, it is frequently used as an outdoor shooting location for films. While going to the bank of the river, there is way through a dimly lit tunnel. Look up as you cross it and you can see hundreds of bats on the ceiling which gives this ancient fort a spooky feeling. Apart from a small duration in their smell they are pretty harmless.
Banaras Hindu University
The University is listed as one of the oldest in the country and one of the largest residential universities in Asia. The campus is spread across 1300 acres of land and is beautiful and well maintained to say the least. There is Birla Temple located inside the campus which is also worth a visit. And on your way out don’t forget to order cold coffee in one of the shops. Low priced and yummy…it will be the best you have ever tasted!
PLACES TO VISIT NEAR VARANASI :
Rajdari and Devdari
These two magnificent falls are located in the Chandauli district of Uttar Pradesh, a short distance from Varanasi. These are popular picnic spots and a place of great scenic beauty. While at Rajdari you can actually go near the water and wet your hands and feet, (be very careful though, the current can be dangerous). Devdari is only to be viewed at from a distance, as heavy erosion of the water has cut through the mighty mountains and placed it far away from civilization.
Sarnath is a city located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi near the confluence of the Ganges and the Gomati rivers in Uttar Pradesh. It is a pilgrimage site for both Buddhists and Jains. The deer park in Sarnath is where Gautam Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence. In Singhpur, a village approximately one km away from the site, was the birthplace of Shreyansanath, the Eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism. The Sarnath pillar with the Buddha statue and the museum full of archaeological findings is definitely worth a visit.
Lastly, the best season to visit Varanasi is between October and March when the temperatures is in a comfortable range of 5-15 degrees Celsius. This is a good time to be out sightseeing as the weather is pleasant and very cool. The time to avoid the place would be the summer months which lasts from April to September when hot dry winds or ‘loo’ blow through the city making it quite impossible to be out in the day time sightseeing.
And that’s all you need to know before planning to make a trip down to the place. The other things that are left unsaid here are the things you need to go and find out…those are not to read, but to experience. So, ENJOY!!