Tranquillity greeted me, aided by strong feeling of spirituality as soon as I got off my train. Varanasi welcomed me with open arms. Considered by many as one of the holiest cities in the world, Varanasi, bejewelled on the banks of the Ganges spoke to me with an uncanny familiarity.
3 days is not enough, narrow alleys, homes leaning on to one another and an inherent aura kept me wide eyed throughout my sojourn.
Some Important information about Varanasi:
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When to visit Varanasi:
The best time to visit Varanasi is from November to March. In May, the temperatures are scorching, it’s best to avoid. The weather remains hot and humid even during June to September. Winters are from October to March. I would recommend everyone to visit during winters.
How to reach Varanasi:
Varanasi is easily accessible by rail, air and road from all major cities of India. The Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport has plenty of domestic flights operating from various places in India and some International destinations as well.
Where to stay:
I have always preferred cosy, warm places. Accompanied by an energetic gang of girls, we were suggested to go for a hostel called Wander Station (thank you Debjani for this). An extremely well maintained dorm was provided to us and the location was just 5 kms from the Railway Station… the crown jewel – the famous and revered Kashi Vishwanath Temple was just a stone’s throwaway from the hostel! The terrace with a bird’s eye view of the city was an added bonus. The hostel wall was embellished by different art forms from Hindu and Buddhist mythology – all in all a sight for sore eyes.
While, I can go on and on about the city, I’d rather speak about some absolute musts while one is there at the holy city.
Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple and other temples:
Also known as the ‘Golden Temple’, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas – the holiest of Shiva temples.
The temple houses the Jyotirling of Shiva “Vishwanath”. The Vishwanath Jyotirlinga has a very unique significance in India’s spiritual history. A visit to the temple and a bath in the river Ganges is believed to lead one on the path to Moksha. Due to security issues, the area is constantly manned by army personnel. Bags, electronics viz- cameras, mobile phones, sunglasses to even pens need to be deposited in the locker before you enter the temple. The crowd can be intense, so be prepared for a rough time.
But the Lord’s wish prevailed! I managed to reach to the Lingam. Other must-visit religious places are the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple & Annapurnadevi and Kalbhairav Temples.
Boat ride on the Ganges:
One of the best things to do in Varanasi is to go sailing on the Ganges. The city and the river are like conjoined twins, one incomplete without the other. One of the highlights of my visit was to sit on the boat, watch the chopping water of the river and witnessing devotion all around. Pilgrims taking a dip as you sail down is a common sight. It is best to take the boat ride during sunset, especially during the Aarti, the view is spectacular.
Visit the Burning Ghat:
I doubt whether there exists any other place like this, where redemption or Moksha is so highly revered. The two famous burning ghats of the city – Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat are a must see. While tourists are allowed to pass through and taking photographs is allowed, one must give the place and the people present the respect they deserve. Act judiciously!
Witnessing the Ganga Aarti :
When we talk about Varanasi, watching the evening Aarti is a must. The multitude of people gathering, the mantras filling the air and a magnificent sight by itself, the Aarti is a must see. This 45 minute ceremony takes place every evening at the Dashaswamedh Ghat.
Tour of Sarnath and Ramnagar Fort:
Sarnath is located just 10 kms away from Varanasi. The Buddhist architecture and the sheer ingenuity of the construction completely takes you aback. The Ramnagar Fort, situated 14 kms from Varanasi and built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh in 1750, is adorned with curved balconies, open courtyards, and pavilions. Only a part of the structure is open to the public, while the remaining is used as the residence of Kashi Naresh’ successors. The location fort is also a much preferred shooting spot for many a film.
The Blue Lassi Shop:
You can find a lassi shop in almost every corner of Varanasi but the Blue Lassi shop tops the list. With as many as 75 flavours of lassi on offer, each with different toppings, this tiny yoghurt shop is a hidden gem, serving you Varanasi’s freshest, creamiest, fruit-filled lassis for over 90 years. The blue walls are covered with passport sized photos of the visitors and patrons. My personal recommendation would be the Mango/Coffee/Chocolate or the Coconut lassi.
Bhang Lassi from Godowlia:
Happy high should be the mood when you visit Varanasi. Cannabis or bhang is sold by government authorised shops and is generously used in beverages, especially ones made with milk. There are plenty of places where you can find this “special” lassi”. I visited the locally recommended, Raju Thandai Ghar at Gowdolia Chowk. They serve Bhang Lassi and also Bhang Ki Thandai, a sumptuous milk drink (with weed, of course!). One ‘medium-strength’ drink is strong enough!
Chaat from Deena Chat Bhandar:
This famous chaat shop in Varanasi is known for some unique combinations served in khullads. I tried the Tamatar, Papri and Aloo Chaats. As a contrast to the savoury chaats was the Kulfi Faluda, again a must try. Tasty and reasonably priced, a visit is absolutely recommended.
When in Benaras, be Banarasiya! A ‘paan’tastic taste like none other, the Banarasiya Paan is a treat! Chose your ingredients from Kattha, Chuna, Snuff, Kiwam, Gulab Chutney, Baba Chutney, Gulkand, Paan Chutney, Coconut and many more. Kuber Paan Bhandar near Godowlia Chowk and Deepak Tambul Bhandar at Dashashwamedh Ghat are two famous paan shops in Varanasi and should feature in your itinerary!
Shopping in Varanasi’s local markets:
The Vishwanath Gallis is famous for its Benarasi silk saree, and traditional apparel at affordable prices. Bargaining skills are an added advantage if you are there. Do also visit the local food stalls for some sweets and snacks. You can also shop for knick-knacks and brass statues of religious deities.
My time in the city was like a festival of sorts. As I headed back to the mundane, I was both enlightened and intrigued by its charms, solaced and inspired by the people, the holy Ganges, the rituals and above all the sheer emotion that is Varanasi.
And a bit about the author of this article – Ms. Sukanya Dutta, fondly known as Suku in our circle, calls herself as happy and carefree. She has a keen interest on travelling and loves socialising as well. I was about to accompany her on this trip but had to cancel due to sudden travel assignment on Nepal which came up. Instead, she scripted down all the wonderful memories of her trip to Varanasi. I am sure you would join me in encouraging her to write more by liking and commenting in this article.
So, if you want to read more on my Nepal stories. You can go through my article below: