These are the words which circle around your mind when you visit one of the most conspicuous religious cities of the country. A place that makes you introspect within yourselves, the spiritual capital of India – Varanasi.
Fondly called as Benares or Banaras the city gives you experience like none other. It welcomes you with open arms, lets you be lost in its lanes. Arms which are discreet yet so wide, lanes which are narrow yet so alive. From ancient temples, Ghats and monuments to modern cafes’ and malls, the city has everything to offer.
While wandering through the bylanes of this holy city there are few places where you must visit to get into its soul.
Ghats – Varanasi has around 84 Ghats of spiritual and religious significance where pilgrims and locals offer prayers and take bath to apparently wash away their sins in holy river Ganga while few are reserved for cremating Hindu bodies. Out of the 84 Ghats, Dashashvamedh Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat have the most significance.
Dashashvamedh Ghat is the most famous and probably the oldest river bank in Varanasi. According to a mythological belief, this Ghat was created by Lord Brahma to welcome Lord Shiva. There are several Shiva temples in the close proximity of this Ghat. Every evening a group of Pandits perform prayer on the bank which is one of the major attractions of the city. Every Tuesday and on few Hindu festivals, the prayers are more extravagant.
Manikarnika Ghat - This place really makes you think beyond materialistic pleasures of life. Use primarily for cremating the dead bodies the Ghat makes you realize that everything has to be left here when a soul leaves the body. Locals say that the corpse fire always keeps burning and still there are bodies waiting to be cremated round the year.
Temples – Varanasi has many beautiful temples in its entire vicinity. The Kashi Vishawanath Temple and Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple have the utmost significance among these all. People from all over India and especially from Tamil Nadu come in large numbers to offer prayers and make wishes. On a normal day, there is a queue of at least 2 kms passing through a web of narrow lanes. It also must be kept in mind that leather and electronic devices are strictly not allowed inside the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Banaras Hindu University – One of the largest Residential Universities in Asia it boasts of a humungous campus of 1300 acres. The most prominent landmark is the Shri Vishwanath Mandir, located in the centre of the campus. The foundation for this 252 feet (77 m) high complex of seven temples was laid in March 1931, and took almost three decades to complete.
Apart from these prominent landmarks, Varanasi is full of must see places in every nook and corner. Temples, mosques, archaeological sites are all in plenty.
Food Scene - Varanasi is a foodie’s paradise in real terms. Banarsi people love to eat and serve. Breakfast is usually Aloo Poori/Kachori often accompanied with Jalebis and curd and finished with a glass of Kulhad milk. The famous Street food here includes Aloo Chaat, Golgappe, tikkis and Tamatar Chaat. Off late, the city has come up with a lot of fine dine and specialized restaurants and cafes. However locals still love to eat out in the open.
Pan – Banarsi Pan is famous all around the world. It is a small bite made up of many condiments and sweeteners wrapped in a beetel leaf, sometimes with tobacco. A lot of new varieties have also been introduced with time. Chocolate Pan, Strawberry Pan etc are quite a thing here now.
Tea – Varanasi’s fuel. People here run on Tea. Right from the morning to late night, you can find a tea-stall everywhere. You could catch people sipping Tea and discussing politics, local issues and personal issues too.
How to Reach – Varanasi is an upcoming metropolitan city with its own airport (Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport) just 25 Kms from the main city. It has frequent trains from all major cities of the country as well. It is a 12 hours journey from New Delhi by train. However by road it is approx 800 Kms and takes 12 – 14 hours. Government and many private luxury buses ply for overnight trip to and from New Delhi.
Best time to visit – Varanasi experiences extreme temperatures of 42 ⁰C in summers and 1-3 ⁰C in winters on a very cold day. The best time to visit the place is Feb to April and Sept to first week of December when the climate is moderate and favourable.