"The Spiritual Capital of India" Varanasi Tourism A city as old as time itself. A city that has stayed in place and watched as the world has turned and the tides have changed. A city that has stood the test of time for thousands of years. In the words of Mark Twain, "Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, And looks twice as old as all of them put together." Varanasi, the city that is more than just the spiritual capital of India. The city which can be aptly described as a melting pot where both life and death come together. The city that you only need to visit once for it to stay with you forever. Varanasi is a very popular pilgrimage point for Hindus, and the older part of Varanasi, which has thrived on the banks of the river Ganga, is an integral part of the very infrastructure of the city, with thousands of people flocking there for salvation and purification. All chaos and noise on the ghats of Varanasi take a pause when the Ganga Aarti takes place in the evening, a ceremony of immense grandeur and opulence, with pandits lining up to perform rituals that are no less than a performance for the senses. The city in and around the ghats has a certain rhythm to it. Narrow maze-like lanes and by-lanes arouse instant intrigue and fascination, while the street art dotting the stretch alongside the ghats makes for a great outpouring of artistic expression. Varanasi also boasts of a marvelous architectural heritage, as can be seen in the scores of temples dotting the city. Varanasi has something to offer to everyone who visits the city - be it the clamor of the station, to navigating the mysterious alleyways, to finding serenity on the banks of the Ganges. Varanasi is India in all her glory, as it has been for thousands of years, and as it will be for a thousand more. Download Varanasi PDF Guide > What's Great? Very easy to reach. Has a wide selection of hotels for every budget. A thriving religious, cultural and historical community. Great food. What's not so Great? Can get very crowded during tourist season. Poor public hygiene.Travel scamsare very common. For Whom Varanasi is the ideal destination for religious tourism, for people who want to experience the intermixed Indian society at its best, for connoisseurs of food and photographers. It is also a good spot for a family vacation. Boating in Varanasi The majesty of the river Ganges can be best appreciated in a boat ride which is a must-have experience if in Varanasi. River Ganges runs through the city and the several ghats connect river to the land. There are numerous big and small boats waiting at the ghats to be hired from morning till sunset. The rides can be customised as per the request, but are generally costlier during the morning popularly known as the Subah-e-Banaras and at the sunset, during the time of Ganga Aarti. Types of Boat Rides A traditional rowing boat is the most common type of boat and a 90-120 minutes ride can cost around 250 INR per person. Rides during sunset, at the time of Ganga aarti and at dawn, are the most famous of all. Kashi Darshan- Ride to Kashi is a popular attraction which takes four hours to complete. Ram Nagar Fort- Another popular ride is the palace of Banaras. It involves a walk on foot and sightseeing of the market. There are also Motorboats to ride around. The cost usually 1500 INR per person. Tips The rowing boat usually carries 6 people at once. If there already are 6 people in a boat, do not try to fit in as the boats are rowed by manual labour and you do not want to strain the labourers. Also, an extra person might overweigh the boat and risk the chances of losing balance. Make sure to carry mosquito repellents as the river is polluted and full of disease-causing flies and mosquitoes. History of Varanasi Popularly known as Kashi or Banaras, the quaintly charming land of Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. It is a centre of Hindu culture and mythology, literature and art. The origin dates back to 2500 years ago when Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati and chose to make the city their abode. Later the Aryans came and inhabited the city and thus began the trade of silk, muslin, ivory and perfumes. During the Afghan invasion and Muslim rule, Varanasi suffered a destructive phase which involved the demolition and destruction of temples. But it's glory was restored during the rule of Mughal emperor, Akbar. Culture of Varanasi: Intermingling of cultures Varanasi has been a part of Indian civilisation since the beginning of time. Successive empires have made this city their trading and cultural hub, and this has brought the city into contact with a broad range of cultures. From the early dynasties like Mauryas and Guptas to the Medieval period of Mughals and later on the British Empire, Varanasi has been subjected to the influence of Greek, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist, Christian and Jain ways of life. A large number of monuments currently standing in and near the city are a testament to this diverse past. Varanasi was also a very wealthy city for a long time, and the grandeur of the Ghats, public spaces and places of worship reflect this. Ganga, the backbone of Varanasi Like all cities of early India, Varanasi evolved into a major hub because it was located on the side of a river. Trade, commerce, worship, living quarters and daily routines in this city have been heavily influenced by the ways of the Ganga. Even today, it is the main source of water for the city and some amount of navigation takes places across this river. It is also the focus of cultural life and large daily congregations at the Ghats, parks and mosques at the banks of the river form the basis of social life. Since it attracts a large number of tourists, the Ganga is also responsible for a large part of the city's revenue in the form of tourism. However, due to the industries located near the Ganga, it is getting increasingly polluted and the quality of water is rapidly declining making the water dangerous for human use. Ganga Aarti At sundown, every evening, Ganga Aarti is performed on the ghats of Varanasi. Although all of them can give you an extraordinary experience, the most magnificent and the spectacular one happens at the Dashashwamedh Ghat. The aarti commences as dawn descends, around 6 PM in winters and 7 PM in summers, to be precise. Devotees usually gather 90 minutes in advance to find themselves a suitable spot. The spectacle is viewed from the ghat steps, from the rooftops of the nearby houses and shops and also from the boats loaded at the riverbanks, all of which offer the best views. It can also be viewed from the rooftop of the organizing committee's office- Ganga Seva Nidhi. The Aarti takes place on seven wooden planks, each of which is decorated with saffron clothes and Pooja items including incense sticks, conch shells, brass lamps, etc. The pooja is performed by seven pandits which involve rhythmic chanting of mantras, hymns and prayers in the praises of river Ganges. Millions of spectators gather to witness the most mesmerising and glorious event of Varanasi. The assembly is a confluence of faith, cultures and traditions coming from all parts of India and even abroad. The aarti ends with the blowing of conch shells and lighting of camphor lamps. The whole spectacle takes around 45 minutes, by the end of which you can see the pandits, the pilgrims and the tourists dispersing and the solidarity and the silence of the river restored. Itinerary Varanasi is a city of religious importance and is bustling with tourists at all times of the year. Popular for the Benarasi paan, aloo puri, chaat and all kinds of street food; Varanasi also has a whole lot of beautiful places for sightseeing. Day 1 You can start your visit by visiting the religious edifices of Banaras. Begin by going to New Vishwanath Temple located in the premises of Benaras Hindu University. You can also have a glimpse of the world-renowned university.Renowned for its rich collection of Indian paintings, Bharat Kala Bhawan Museum is located inside the premises as well. Spend the rest of the day visiting other temples- Kathwala Temple is famous for architecture and woodwork. The oldest and most famous one is Kashi Vishwanath Temple, it is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in Hindu religion. You can end the day by witnessing the most important event of Varanasi- the Ganga Aarti, preferably on the Dashashwamedh ghats. Day 2 A trip to Varanasi is incomplete without a ride on the boats, in the flamboyant ghats. You can begin day 2 a little early and go boating to witness the mesmerising sunrise. Boating at dawn is one of the most exciting and enthralling experiences of the city. You can dedicate the latter half of the day to Ramnagar Fort. It is the most popular monument of historic importance in Varanasi. Although a little in ruins and out of maintenance, you can still awe at the beautiful paintings and decorations in the Darbar Hall inside the fort. Day 3 Devote the third day to visit the very famous Sarnath, located 10 km away from Varanasi. It is the place where Buddha gave his first sermon. The place has a number of Buddhist temples, deer park complex, a museum, dhamek stupa and ruins of Buddhist monasteries. You can reach there early to avoid the crowd and appreciate the tranquillity of the place and the beauty of the Buddha relics. Restaurants and Local Food in Varanasi Varanasi has a distinct tint to its cuisine with a certain influence of dishes and styles of Bihar added to its platter. The popular delicacies of the area areDum Aloo, Bati Chokha, Aloo-Tikki, Pani Puri, Kachori, Tamatar chaatas well as sweets such asJalebis, Rabri and Banarasi Kalakand.Another essential relish of the town is itsPaan,a delicacy of betel leaf. Other than these, do try out theButter Toast with hot milk, typically almond flavoured. Also, try out the local drinks likeLassi and Badam Sharbat.Varanasi is also famous for itsThandai, which is a milk based drink with Bhang added in it, which is a form of cannabis legal in India. Apart from the traditional and local flavors here, one will find numerous options for Continental and typical Indian food. When in Varanasi, you can explore the variety of food from the delicious street food to the numerous cafes at Assi. The city really has it all! View 4 Restaurants in Varanasi >> Oct-Maris the best time to visit Varanasi The best time to travel to Varanasi is winter since the temperature is low and there is a calm breeze throughout the day. It is best to avoid the summers since they are hot dry and sunny making outdoor sightseeing difficult. However, since winter is the peak season, all travel and living arrangements need to be booked well in advance. Weather in Varanasi Loading... Varanasi in Summer (March - June) Summer in Varanasi lasts from March to June and like the rest of North India is very hot, dry and sunny. However, the areas around the Ghats are cooler. During this time, it can be difficult to travel outdoors due to the heat. A hot, dry wind called 'loo' also blows during this time. The temperature ranges around 30 to 40 degrees Celcius with 45 degrees Celcius being the highest temperature. April and May are the hottest months. Varanasi in Monsoon (July - October) Monsoon begins in July and lasts till October. During this time, Varanasi receives heavy rainfall making travel and tourism inconvenient. Despite this, many tourists flock to the city during this period to see the fresh sheen post showers. There is also a drop in temperatures with the average being around 25 to 30 degrees Celcius and this is a welcome respite from the heat. Watching the Ganga during the peak of the monsoon is also a thrilling experience. Varanasi in Winter (November - February) Winter starts in November and continues through late February. This is the favourite season for tourists since the temperature ranges from 5 to 15 degrees Celsius making it very pleasant to travel outdoors. During this time, there is no rain, and the parks and other green spaces are in full bloom. Taking a boat ride in the Ganga in the early morning chill is one experience all visitors must have. Monthly Weather in Varanasi Month Avg. Minimum (°C) Avg. Maximum (°C) January 11 23 February 13 28 March 17 32 April 25 39 May 27 39 June 28 38 July 27 32 August 27 33 September 26 31 October 22 32 November 15 28 December 12 22 Events in Varanasi Sankat Mochan Music Festival 23rd - 29th April Sankant Mochan Hanuman Temple celebrates a Music Festival every year on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti. An all night music festival which goes on for four nights, it has attracted numerous maestros of Indian Classical Music and Dance such as Birju Maharaj, and Pandit Jasraj. Ramnagar Ramlila 19th October The 200 year old Ramlila, grew under the patronage of the Royal House of Benaras. Organised on a grand scale, attendance can range from 1000 to 10,000 at different events. Held over 30 days, permanent structures have been established showing the longevity of this Ramlila. Over a million visitors, throng to attend this festival annually. Ganga Mahotsav 19th - 23rd November The lifeline of the country, the Ganges is celebrated during the festival of Ganga Mahotsav. A chance to see the real classical tradition of India, through Music and Dance, is available for tourists. Previous performances have been done by Bismillah Khan, Birju Maharaj, Girija Devi, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Zakir Hussain.
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