World’s oldest living city, Varanasi enchants and surprises its visitors in the same breath. Also known as Kashi (City of Life) and Benaras, this spiritual capital of India is one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities. The old city of Varanasi sits along the western banks of the Ganges, spread across a labyrinth of alleys called galis which are too narrow for the traffic to pass through – be prepared to walk on foot and encounter some holy cows! There are temples at almost every turn in Varanasi, but the kasi vishwanath temple is the most visited and the oldest of the lot (Benaras is known as the city of Lord Shiva for a reason, and rightfully so).
Varanasi is considered an auspicious place to die, as it is believed to grant moksha or liberation from the cycle of life and death. Spiritually enlightening and spectacularly photogenic, the heart of the city pulsates around the ghats, about 80 of which border the Ganges – be prepared for the sights, sounds and smells! All chaos and noise on the ghats take a pause when the Ganga Aarti takes place after dusk, a ceremony of immense grandeur. This divine city is also an important destination for Buddhists. Gautam Buddha preached his first sermon in Banaras, a part which is now in Sarnath. Typical of any Indian city, the food here is a delicious repertoire of dishes – don’t miss out on the hot chaat and cool lassi.
Soulful, Sacred, Spectacular – Kashi is one of the most blindingly colourful and frustratingly chaotic cities you will ever come across. However, if you are ready for it, the journey through Banaras will blaze in your memory, long after you’ve left its shore! Varanasi is India in all her glory, as it has been for thousands of years, and as it will be for a thousand more.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Situated on the western bank of holy river Ganga in Varanasi, Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas or temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. The main deity of Kashi Vishwanath Temple is Lord Shiva, also known as Vishwanatha or Vishweshwarar meaning ‘the ruler of the universe’. The city of Varanasi, the cultural capital of India, is thus known as the city of Lord Shiva. The temple has 800 kg of gold plating on its tower.Camera, mobile phones, electronic devices are not allowed inside and must be deposited in lockers outside. Foreigners can enter from Gate number 2 where they can walk past the Indians waiting for their turn. There is also a well present within the temple complex called Jnana Vapi or wisdom well where only Hindus are allowed to enter. In the olden times, on special festivals such as Shivaratri, the king of Kashi (Kashi Naresh) visited the temple for worship during which nobody else is allowed to enter the temple premises. Devotees were allowed after the king had concluded his prayers. The importance of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple also stems from the fact that it finds mentions in several holy scriptures of the Hindus. On the outside, the temple is adorned with intricate carvings that impart a divine quality to the facade. Other than that, the temple also houses several other small temples such as Kaalbhairav, Vishnu, Virupaksh Gauri, Vinayaka and Avimukteshwara.
The Assi Ghat is placed at the confluence of the Rivers Assi and Ganga and is famous for the large Shiva Lingam installed under a peepal tree. It has immense religious importance and has been mentioned in the Puranas and various legends as well.
Assi Ghat is the heart of Varanasi and the locals, as well as, the tourists flock there to enjoy the amazing view of the sunset and sunrise at the Ganges. It is where tourists and foreigners who travel and stay in Varanasi for a prolonged period live. The Ghat has been a famous spot among the local youths to while away their time in the evening. Recently, the Ghat started having Aarti in the morning which is a must watch if you want to experience the true feel of Varanasi. Also, the tourists generally travel from Assi to Dashaswamedh Ghat in the evening by boat, to see the famous aarti conducted there every evening which is an experience like none other. Assi ghat is near Banaras Hindu University, and hence it is frequented by students.
Banaras Hindu University
Established by Madan Mohan Malviya in 1916, Banaras Hindu University is a 5.3 square kilometre campus in the city. It has about 30,000 students residing in the campus and is the largest residential university in the continent. The University has a long list of notable alumni and faculty. The Indo-Gothic architecture and the sprawling lawns add to the beauty of the place.
Located on the Eastern banks of River Ganga, opposite to Tulsi Ghat, Ramnagar Fort is a stunning historical monument in Varanasi. It was built by Raja Balwant Singh in 1750 according to the Mughal style of architecture. Even though the system of Kings was abolished in the region, the current Maharaja, Pelu Bhiru Singh, resides in the Fort.
Vishwanath Gali is famous for street shopping in Varanasi. A variety of items are sold in the bustling gali at affordable rates. One can easily find modern or traditional apparel, household items, home decor items, brass idols of deities, etc. The Gali is also well known for local snacks and sweets.
Chinese Temple is a colourful shrine dedicated to Lord Buddha and built according to the Chinese/Buddhist architecture. The temple has a spacious meditation hall where visitors can meditate in silence and soak in the serene vibe.
Ganga Aarti is an important ritual held on a grand scale every morning and evening on the banks of the holy Ganges. The priests perform the Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat. The entire Ghat gets illuminated with a divine light that can be felt strongly. The magnificent ritual involves huge brass lamps lit with oil and the priests chant the holy mantras that reverberate in the entire location.