Varanasi is the India of your imagination. One of the most colourful and fascinating places on earth, surprises abound around every corner. Especially during the Holi week, the city is a delight to visit. The tiny lanes and massive ghats are splashed with colours and sweets alike. If you happen to plan a visit to the place around Holi, spend two days to explore Varanasi’s various elements.
Visit the ghats
Spiritually enlightening and fantastically photogenic, Varanasi is at its brilliant best by the ghats, the long stretch of steps leading down to the water on the western bank of the Ganges. The best time to visit the ghats is at dawn, when the river is bathed in a mellow light as pilgrims come to perform prayers to the rising sun, and at sunset when the main ganga aarti takes place at Dashashwamedh Ghat. A boat trip along the river provides the perfect introduction, although for most of the year the water level is low enough for you to walk freely along the whole length of the ghats.
Also Read: Buddhist circuit around Varanasi
Other than Dashashwamedh, some of the ghats which you should not miss are-
1-Assi Ghat-This is where the river Assi meets the Ganges and pilgrims come to worship a Shiva lingam
2-Manikarnika Ghat- The main burning ghat, is the most auspicious place for a Hindu to be cremated.
3-Harishchandra Ghat- A small cremation ghat, one of oldest too
4-Kedar Ghat- A colourful ghat with many steps and a small pool, where a fire aarti is held every evening at 6.30pm
5-Bachraj Ghat- This small ghat is marked by three Jain temples
Varanasi has a lot of temples with historical importance attached to them. A tour around them can consume a day, leaving you awe-struck with the vibe. Although there are countless in the city, the following ones are not to be missed-
Kashi Vishwanath Temple-To be able to visit Kashi Vishwanath Temple once in a lifetime is the ultimate pilgrimage for a Hindu. It is dedicated to Vishveswara – Shiva as lord of the universe.
Sankat Mochan- Dedicated to Lord Hanuman, it is believed to have been built by Tulsidas, the creator of Ramcharitamanas.
Tulsi Manas Mandir- Resplendent in white marble, the Tulsi Manas Mandir is not as old as some other temples, but is certainly among the most popular. Dedicated to Lord Rama, it was built in 1964, supposedly on the spot where Tulsidas wrote the Ramcharitamanas.
Durga Temple- This 18th-century temple lies south of the city, away from the ghats. Inside the temple is a small sanctum with a colourful idol of the Devi, riding a tiger. The energy of the temple is palpable. This is also known as the ‘monkey temple’ owing to the number of simians who surround it. The temple is especially vibrant during the Navratras.
Kal Bhairav Temple- The ‘kotwal’ or keeper of the city, Kal Bhairav, commands a significant position in the story of Varanasi. There are a total of eight Bhairav temples, which are said to be the protectors of Kashi Vishwanath. Of these, the Batuk Bhairav Temple is the most unique. Here, Bhairav is worshipped as a child and offerings range from liquor to chocolate to meat.
A food trail in Varanasi can begin from any street. Various tiny street food outlets serve delicious snacks- pick any to get that local essence. From paani puri, bhel puri, samosa, kachori to chaats and paranthas, sample a bit of everything because you won’t want to regret later. Some of the best restaurants are:
Baati Chokha- Located on Puran Das Road it has a delightfully traditional setting. Set in a rural ambience, there are charpoys on which you can sit cross-legged and eat, and take home an authentic experience. You can even opt for a modern table setting. The food is served in huge brass plates and katoris. The most popular dishes here are the traditional ones from eastern UP and Bihar – litti chokha and sattu parathas.
Deena Chaat Bhandar- Varanasi is famous for its own style of chaat: dahi bhalla, tamatar ki chaat and palak chaat. There are two outlets of Deena’s but the one near Dashashwamedha Ghat is more popular.
Blue Lassi- Your long, thirsty search for the best lassi in India ends in Vishwanath Gali. Look no further than Blue Lassi- a tiny, hole-in-the-wall yoghurt shop that has been churning out the freshest, creamiest, fruit-filled lassis since 1925. There are more than 80 delicious flavour combos, divided by section – plain, banana, apple, pomegranate, mango, papaya, strawberry, blueberry, coconut and saffron.
Deepak Tambul Bhandar- No trip to Varanasi is complete without a tasting of its famous paan. There are shops all over the city, but Deepak’s near Dashashwamedh Ghat is most popular.
Sarnath- Buddha came to Sarnath to preach his message of the middle way to nirvana after he achieved enlightenment at Bodhgaya, and gave his famous first sermon here. In the 3rd century BC, Emperor Ashoka had magnificent stupas and monasteries erected here, as well as an engraved pillar. Visit interesting Buddhist sites and temples- Dhamekh Stupa & Monastery Ruins, Thai Temple & Monastery, Burmese Temple & Monastery and Mulgandha Kuti Vihar.
Kushinagar- One of the four main pilgrimage sites marking Buddha’s life – the others being Lumbini (Nepal), Bodhgaya and Sarnath – Kushinagar is where Buddha died. There are several peaceful, modern temples where you can stay, chat with monks or simply contemplate your place in the world, and there are three main historical sights, including the simple but wonderfully serene stupa where Buddha is said to have been cremated.