Varanasi or Banaras is one of the oldest cities in India. This ancient city, inhabited continuously for some 2,800 years (and counting), is one of the holiest places for Hindus. There are several places to visit in Varanasi. This city has found its place in the Buddhist scriptures as well as the epic of Mahabharata. In the Pali language, Varanasi was called Banarasi hence it got the name ‘Banaras’. Varanasi is also called ‘Kashi’ or the city of spiritual light. Kashi is the place where Shiva and Parvati stood when the “time started ticking”.
This ancient city of India is located on the holiest river of India -The Ganga. This relation is unique and has attracted thousands of pilgrims. One theory also goes that Varanasi is located on the land between the river Varuna and Assi hence the name Varanasi. This town also has its place in history with many events and incidents being related to it. From time immemorial Varanasi has been the centre of education, religion, art and culture.
For every visitor, Varanasi has different experiences to offer. The shimmering red and golden water of the Ganges when rays of dawn fall on them, the high banks, the temples, the Ashrams, the pavilions all are an experience in themselves. There are numerous things to do in Varanasi.
Chanting of Mantras, the hymns along with the fragrance of incense fills the air with mysticism that entrails every person. The refreshing dip in the Ganges with the splashing of water along the ghats– in Varanasi discovery and experience takes to the ultimate bliss. Tourists in Varanasi are from all over the world.
Not only for its temples, Ghats and Ganges Banaras has produced many exponents of art, music, literature and crafts. These people were not different from others but it was the tradition of Banaras that moulded them in the way they came out to be.
Why only the luminaries, Varanasi has excelled in the art of silk weaving. The Banarasi silk sarees and brocades are cherished as collector’s items across the world.
As an eternal city with a rich and vibrant past, it has no exquisitely carved palaces, no impregnable fort no architectural splendour but still, the city has an inherent charm of its own.
The ghats dotted with temples, the maze of alleys along the ghats, whatever Varanasi has is enough to attract the visitor again and again. The city which did not die even after being plundered many times in is a true sense a fascinating area to wander around.
Religious Places to visit in Varanasi
1. The Ghats of Varanasi
In this ancient city of pilgrimage, the bathing ghats are the main attraction. People flock here in large numbers every day to take bath and worship in the temples built beside the river bank. Centuries-old tradition to offer puja to the rising Sun is still maintained. Visiting Ganga is one of the top things to do in Varanasi.
2. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple / Gyanvapi Mosque
This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is popularly known as the golden Temple due to the Gold plating done on its 15.5-meter high spire. One tonne of gold donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh has been used in the gold plating of the spire. The temple was destroyed in the various invasions and was rebuilt in 1776 by Rani Ahilyabai of Indore. It is one of the famous places to see in Varanasi.
3. Durga Temple
Built-in the 8th century, the Durga temple is one of the most important temples in Varanasi. This temple is built in Nagara Style. The shikhara of the temple is formed by many small spires which are built one on top of the other.
4. Bharat Mata Temple
This temple is dedicated to Mother India. Just one kilometre from the Varanasi station. The temple is built in the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth which was built by Babu Shiv Prasad Gupt. This temple was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936 so that the citizens could respect Mother India in statue form. The statute is built in marble. The statue is a replica of undivided India in three-dimension which has the mountains, plains and oceans in the right proportion.
5. Tulsi Manas Temple
This temple is dedicated to Lord Rama. The temple is built in the place where Goswami Tulsidas composed the epic ‘Ramacharitramanas’ which provides us with a detailed description of the history and deeds of Lord Rama. Tulsi Manas Temple was constructed by a philanthropist family in 1964.
6. Nepali Temple
The King of Nepal had built this temple on Lalita ghat in Nepali style. The Nepali temple is also called the ‘Kathwala temple’. The temple has some magnificent woodwork. Tourists from all over the world come just to see this temple which has no comparison with any other temple in India. It is one of the famous places in Varanasi.
The workers who carved this temple out were brought from Nepal. The wood used in the temple is also found in Nepal. The speciality of this wood is that termites do not eat this wood.
Museums in Varanasi
1. Ram Nagar Durg
2 km from the Kashi Hindu university, across the Ganges is located the ancestral house in the fort which was built by the former rulers of Kashi. In one of the sections of the fort is the museum which displays the royalty which was once part of the kingdom. This museum gives an insight into the grandeur which once prevailed in the fort. On the Ramnagar Pandav road is a beautiful Durga temple. This temple has very delicate and intricate carving done on stone. These carvings are worth giving a look.
2. Bharat Kala Museum
The Kashi Hindu university has a museum which has a very rich collection of precious and rare historical artefacts, statues, pictures, paintings and manuscripts. This small but very well maintained museum gives an overview of the ancient city of Varanasi. Entry into the museum is free but check out the timings.
About ten km from Varanasi is the place where Lord Buddha after enlightenment gave his first sermon or as the Buddhists say set the wheel of dharma or law rolling. Today Sarnath is considered as one of the richest places to have antiques since the Ashoka period to the 12th century. Suggested reading on the Buddhist places in Uttar Pradesh.
Chunargarh of ‘Chandrakanta’, the classic novel by Babu Devakinandan Khatri is 40 km from the city of Varanasi. Today the place is known as Chunar. Along one of the meanders of the Ganges, where the Kaimur Hills are taking a North face, are built the imposing fort of Chunar.
In 1360 Feroz Shah built this town to guard the eastern side of his Delhi sultanate. Jaunpur is located 65 km from Varanasi. Jaunpur is bisected by the river Gomti and the two sides are connected by the massive Akbari Bridge. This bridge was designed by an Afghan and was built in the 16th century. The fifteen stone arches of the bridge have withstood earthquakes and floods. On the southern end of the bridge is the sculptures of a lion tussling with an elephant. This marked the provincial milestone. Other places to visit in Jaunpur are Sheetla Chowkia Dham, Yamdagni Ashram, Atla Mosque and Char Anguli ki Masjid.
The mention of this town can be seen in the Mahabharata. It is said that the Pandav brothers lived here. Budhha visited this place many times and gave sermons after his enlightenment in the 6th and 9th centuries. Kaushambi developed as a major centre for Buddhism. The ruins of an old fort tells the saga of the towns antiquity. Kaushambi is 185 km from Varanasi. It is one if the historic places to visit in Varanasi.
There are many Shaktipeeths in India. These are the places where the Goddess of power is said to be residing and people worship her viz- Goddess Durga. Vindhyachal is one of such peeths or abode of Shakti. The place is 90 km from Varanasi. The temples of Vindhyavasini Devi, Asthbhuja and Kalikhoh are a must-visit here. It is one of the interesting places to visit in Varanasi.
6. Kaimoor Wildlife Sanctuary
Kaimoor sanctuary, located on the Uttar Pradesh – Bihar border, is spread over an area of 500 sq. km. it is one of the best things to see in Varanasi.
7. Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary
Established in 1997, Chandra Prabha Sanctuary, a small sanctuary sprawling over an area of 78 sq. km, is located on Naugarh and Vijaigarh hillocks in the Vindhya forest range, in Chandauli district. It is one of the famous places to visit in Varanasi.
HOW TO GET THERE
Varanasi has its own airport which is 22 km from the city. The Babatpur airport connects Varanasi with all the major cities in India and recently there has been a proposal to initiate UP Air which will connect the city with other places in the state. Varanasi has the Cant railway station as its main station. This is a major railway junction and connects the city with major places in India.
The nearby Mughal Sarai railway Junction is one of the major railway junctions in the region with almost all the trains from the East, North East and some trains for South and Western region crossing the station. Varanasi is on the national highway number 2 from Calcutta to Delhi.
Thus, the place is well connected by roads to all the corners of the nation. Varanasi provides some good market for many items. People come here for the temples in big number and major inflow of visitors is handled by the bus services from Varanasi to other places in state and outside it.
FAIRS & FESTIVALS
A festive experience like none other awaits you at Ganga Festival at Varanasi.
Celebrated in the month of November-December is the sacred day when the ghats of Varanasi come alive with thousands of brightly lit earthen lamps.
This festival is celebrated with pomp and gaiety in Sarnath. On this day Lord Buddha was born. A large fair is held in Sarnath and the relics of Buddha are taken out in a procession for public viewing on this day. Buddha Purnima is celebrated during the month of May.
Around Dussehra, a fair is held in Nati Imli which celebrates the return of Lord Rama from 14 years of exile. His reunion with his younger brother Bharat is celebrated as Bharat Milap. This festival is attended by the king of Kashi in royal flavour. The festival is attended by at least a million devotees. Held in the month of October / November.
The Ramlila of Ramagar is famous far and wide. The Ramlila is based on the Ramcharitramanas by Tulsidas. The month long festival is usually held during October / November and it sees the performance of many ancient rituals.
This festival again is based on the Ramayana. The episode in the epic where the sister of Ravana tries to influence Lakshmana to marry her but instead Lakshman chops off her nose. On hearing this Ravana vows revenge against the brothers. This incident in the epic is one of the reasons why Sita was abducted by Ravana. The festival is held in Chetganj with much fan fair.
This festival is celebrated to mark the birth of the monkey God Hanuman . The five day-long festivities are held at the Sankat Mochan temple. During this festival, many plays are staged based on the Saraswati, Ram, Krishnalila and Hanuman Charitra.
Though Mahashivratri is celebrated throughout India, Varanasi has some special charm in the celebration the festival. During the festival, a procession is taken out from the Maha-Mritunjaya temple to Kashi Viswanath Temple.
The Dhrupad Mela
In the month of March, a five-day long music festival is organised on the Tulsi Ghats. during the five days, renowned artists from all over the country perform Dhrupad here. This festival is one of the major tourist attractions of Varanasi.
Panch Koshi Parikrama
The procession has got the name because it passes through five places. These five places are Kardmeshwar, Bhimchandi, Rameshwar, Shivpur and Kapildhara. The parikrama has special importance in the ancient parikramas of India. The procession starts and ends at Manikarnika Ghat.
Varanasi or Banaras, since ages, has been famous for the handicraft items. The delicate and intricate work on the sarees, carpets, wooden works are unmatched. The famous Banarasi Silk Sarees and Brocades are every women’s dream.
The local silk weavers produce the silk which are in demand not only in India but across the world these silk items are in great demand. The Bhadohi carpets can match the delicacy of weaving in any part of the world. Banaras has been famous for the ‘Gharanas’ in the Classical Music and Singing. These styles of singing and music have been amply supported by the musical instruments which are manufactured in Varanasi.
Apart from the Silk Sarees, Brocades and Carpets Banaras also offers you Brassware, copperware, Ivoryware, stone inlay work, Glass beads and bangles, wood and clay toys, Zari work and exquisite gold jewellery. The main shopping areas of the city are the City chowk, Godoulia, Vishwanath lane, Gyan Vapi, Thatheri Baazar, Dasashvamedh, Goldhar and Lahurabir. The Emporia and Souvenir shops approved by the UP tourism are good place to look for genuine and good stuff too purchase.
Best time to visit Varanasi
Varanasi has a extreme type of climate. Located besides the Ganges Varanasi can be difficult place to visit during the summers. Summers are very hot and temperatures shoot upto 46 degrees and winter can be cold with mercury dipping down to 5 degrees. This place can be a really bad during the rainy seasons and is advisable not to visit Varanasi during monsoons. The best season to visit Varanasi during September to March.