Varanasi

Called the "oldest living city on Earth", Varanasi is the holiest city of both the Hindu and Jain faiths. A collection of rambling alleyways and crowded streets leading to the ghats, or steps, on the banks of the Ganges, Varanasi was said to have been founded by Shiva himself. Indeed, the very ghats on which Varanasi was built are tirthas, or holy sites of pilgrimages; the devout believe that such tirthas are where believers can wash themselves of their sins and commune with the gods. Today, Varanasi is a chaotic, vibrant mix of pilgrims, merchants, priests, and, of course, curious visitors, all of whom seek to tap into the energy that pulses through this ancient city.
Called the "oldest living city on Earth", Varanasi is the holiest city of both the Hindu and Jain faiths. A collection of rambling alleyways and crowded streets leading to the ghats, or steps, on the banks of the Ganges, Varanasi was said to have been founded by Shiva himself. Indeed, the very ghats on which Varanasi was built are tirthas, or holy sites of pilgrimages; the devout believe that such tirthas are where believers can wash themselves of their sins and commune with the gods. Today, Varanasi is a chaotic, vibrant mix of pilgrims, merchants, priests, and, of course, curious visitors, all of whom seek to tap into the energy that pulses through this ancient city.

Experiences

A handpicked selection of experiences endorsed by our experts. If you can’t see what you’re looking for, let us know, as our extensive network of local contacts can open many doors.

Akhara

Go to an akhara, a traditional wrestling gym limited to men only. They are so popular today that most men in Varanasi still visit an akhara rather than a modern gym.

Bharat Kala Bhavan

See Indian fine art at the Bharat Kala Bhavan, an art and architecture museum located in Banara Hindu University. Established in 1920, the museum houses a collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures and paintings and other archaeological artifacts.

Diwali

Late October is the best time to go to Varanasi as this is when Diwali, the “Festival of Light,” occurs. Celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, Diwali marks the victory of good over evil and the return of good will and faith.

Ganges Dawn

Experience dawn on the Ganges, an unforgettable sight. Take a private boat from Dashashvamedha ghat, one of the most spectacular of these famous stairs that lead to the river’s edge, to Manikarnika ghat. Hindu lore tells that Vishwanath Temple, located at Dashashvamedha ghat, was created by Lord Brahma in order to welcome Lord Shiva.

Jnana-Pravaha

Visit Jnana-Pravaha, a cultural institute based in Varanasi which houses Indian scion Suresh Neotia’s collection of Indian fine art. Jnana-Pravaha aims to promote and disseminate information on Indian culture through academic workshops, lectures and the presentation of varied forms of visual and performing arts.

Puja Ritual

Drive to a scenic ghat on the Ganges and witness a puja at dusk. A puja is a religious rite performed by Hindus, although it is also common in Buddhism and Jainism. The ritual is a daily reminder of the link between the earthly and celestial worlds.

Ramnagar Fort

Visit Ramnagar Fort, a red standstone structure built in the 18th century, for a spectacular staging of the Ramayana, the Hindu epic centered around the avatar Rama, his lover Seeta, the faithful monkey-god Hanuman, and the evil king Ravana. Meet the actors of this well-known story, and watch them get into costume and make up for tonight’s performance.

The Fort also has a temple and a museum within the grounds. The museum displays include vintage cars, an armory of swords and old guns, ivory work and antique clocks.

Sarnath

Visit Sarnath, a holy place where Buddha first taught the dharma, the Hindu term meaning one’s righteous duty, to five disciples over 2,500 years ago. The 143-foot (44 meters) high, 5th-century Dhamekh Stupa is supposedly built exactly where Buddha delivered this sermon.

Silk & Textiles

Visit HM Textiles located near Dulli Gaddi near the Yamuna Talkies, and Silkways located behind Hotel Clarks, to buy some locally spun silk. Supposedly even Buddha was covered in silk from Varanasi (then called Benares) when he attained nirvana. Some of the stores even have silk looms in the back where you can see cloth being made via an antiquated punch-card system.

Vishwanath Gali

Explore Vishwanath Gali, a triangular labyrinth of shops and religious sites in the center of Varanasi. Backpackers and long-term Varanasi residents alike wander through here, eating at chaat, or snack stands, and buying bangles, toys, trinkets, pieces for altars in the home, and other sundries.

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