Varanasi , once known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a historical city in northern India. The city is sacred to Hindus and also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In many ways Varanasi epitomizes the very best and worst aspects of India, and it can be a little overwhelming. However, the scene of pilgrims doing their devotions in the River Ganges at sunrise set against the back drop of the centuries old temples is probably one of the most impressive sights in the world - definitely a must see destination on any trip to northern India.
The city can be scorchingly hot in the summer months, if possible time your visit to fall between October and March, and bring something warm to wear for chilly days and nights.
Varanasi is well connected by train and bus, with multiple of each heading in every direction daily.
Trains are the easiest way to reach Varanasi, with multiple daily services to cities including Delhi, Agra, Lucknow, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Varanasi is served by two major railway stations. Many trains arrive at Varanasi Junction (IR station code : BSB) in the heart of the city, and many others arrive at Mughal Sarai Junction (IR station code : MGS), about 15 km east of the city (Rs 20, 45 min in a rickshaw).
Here is a list of useful trains to reach Varanasi:
Also see Rail travel in India
There are daily buses to the Nepali border and other points around northern India. Local buses leave from the main bus station near the train station, almost every hour in the morning and one in the evening, to Gorakhpur (5-6 hrs, Rs 120), from where buses leave to the Nepali border at Sonauli (~3 hrs, Rs 56).
There are buses run by state government from Lucknow (8hrs), Kanpur (9hrs - Rs. 195) and Allahabad(3hrs - Rs. 88)
Varanasi Airport (IATA : VNS) is about 25km from the city center. Indian Airlines , Air Sahara , Jet Airways , Kingfisher and SpiceJet all have daily flights to Delhi and there are daily flights to Mumbai on Air Sahara ,Indian Airlines and SpiceJet.
Allow plenty of time to get to the airport, it can take an hour or more depending on traffic. A taxi should run around Rs 400-500 or about Rs 125 in an auto-rickshaw, but most drivers will want to charge double since they will likely be coming back empty. If it suits your schedule there is a daily bus at 10AM that leaves from Hotel India and costs Rs 50.
Many of the sights are in the tiny narrow winding alleys of the waterfront. Rickshaws are only useful for longer trips across town or to the train stations. A cycle-rickshaw from the Junction train station to Dasaswamedh Ghat (or Godaulia if the road is closed) should cost Rs 20. From Godaulia to Assi Ghat is Rs 10. Taxis exist but traffic makes them impractical. There is a pre-paid auto-rickshaw stand at the Varanasi Junction (Cantt) train station.
By foot is the only way to see the waterfront and the ghats but be ready to be hot, sweaty, and lost - locals are usually happy to point you in the right direction. The names of ghats and signs pointing to restaurants and hotels are often painted on the walls in Roman letters. For better orientation, walk into any book store and pick up a small guide/map book that will have the list of all the ghats and their historical background.
There are many car rental companies available.
Varanasi is not a city with distinct tourist destinations as such: instead, the experience is in watching the spectacle of life and death on the river and meandering through the alleys of the old city.
Vishwanath Temple - also known as the Golden Temple, security is tight making entrance difficult and sometimes completely off limits to foreigners. No bags, cellphones or pens are allowed. They can be deposited in the shops by the temple entrance. The temple was destroyed multiple times by Mughal invaders and was re-constructed by Hindu kings who followed them.
Kaal Bhairav Temple - is the temple for Kaal Bhairav - a dreadful form of Lord Shiva symbolizing death. Its a tradition to buy black threads (costs about Rs. 15 per 50 threads as of Sep 2009), keep it in the shrine and then wear it on the arm, wrist or around the neck as a protection against evil forces.
Nepali Hindu Temple - A small golden temple, built in Nepali architecture, near Lalita Ghat
Alamagir Mosque - overlooking Panchganga Ghat, it's a great place for a bird's eye view of the area.
Man Mandir Observatory
Tulsi Manas Temple
Banaras Hindu University - a very green and peaceful campus. Few actually know that this University was built during Indian freedom struggle and is known as Oxford of the East. This is the largest residential university of Asia, having approx. 124 independent departments. You also visit Bharat Kala Bhavan, a museum of Art and Archeology inside university. There is also a Vishwanath Temple bulit by Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya.
Ram Nagar Fort - the fort of the King of Kashi
Gowdi Matha Temple - The devi at this temple is supposed to be the sister of the lord Kashi Vishwanath. Its a tradition to visit her just before you leave Kashi. You buy sea shells at this place and offer them to the God saying that the virtues of donating the shells goes to her while you keep the virtues of having visited the holy shrines in Kashi and bathing in the ganges. The trip to Kashi is expected to yield results only after completing this custom.
While the use of ghats for cremation is well known, they are also used to give last rites to those who do not need cleansing by fire to purify their soul, including young children and pregnant women. Instead, their bodies are wrapped in cloth, weighted with stones and deposited into the Ganges. However, it is fairly common for the ropes to give way, resulting in putrefying corpses washing up on the east shore across from the city. Steer clear if squemish.
A ghat is a series of steps leading down to the river, used by bathers and pilgrims, and riverside Varanasi consists of a long sequence of these. It's generally possible to walk directly between them, though near Manikarnika Ghat you'll have to navigate your way up and around through the alleyways. The best option for viewing the ghats is to charter a boat and see them from the river.
Hindus consider it auspicious to die in Varanasi, so some ghats are known as burning ghats, where bodies are cremated (in full view) before their ashes are placed in the Ganges.
Some of the main ghats, from north to south:
Narad Ghat - the ghat on which bathing with spouse is not advised because the myth of contention
Panchganga Ghat - the meeting of the five rivers
Manikarnika Ghat - the main cremation ghat; a must-see, but remain quiet and never take photographs
Dasaswamedh Ghat - the main ghat and site of the large evening aarti; only reachable by foot at some times of day, about a 5 minute walk south from Godaulia
Kedar Ghat - brightly painted in stripes and busy with bathers, very photogenic
Harishchandra Ghat - the cremation place were Raja Harishchandra did the last rituals of his son.
Tulsi Ghat - site of the large water purification plant
Assi Ghat - a popular place to stay with many hotels, restaurants and internet cafes
Diwali is a great time to be in Varanasi, with special preparations going on in many temples. The once-in-a-year decorations and aarti at the ghats are spectacular.
Shivaratri is another great time to be in varanasi. The day of Shivaratri is also the last day of the Dhrupad Mela, a festival of classic indian music going on night and day for three days.
Bathe Over 60,000 people come down to the waters edge every day to take a dip in the sacred waters of the Ganges. Try not to think too much about the dozens of sewage pipes and sunken corpses in the waters around you and you'll find it's not nearly as bad as you expect once you're actually in it.
Boat rides are very popular, especially at sunrise and sunset. The most popular sunset ride is to start at Dasaswamedh Ghat and head up to Manikarnika Ghat to see the cremations in progress, and then return to Dasaswamedh and watch the evening aarti from the boat. Sunrise is another magical time for a ride, when the ghats are filled with Hindus bathing and starting their day - one of the most famous sights in India. You can bargain the price down to around Rs 30/person per hour (even for just 1 person in the boat), but expect to be quoted much higher — the current bargained down 'foreign tourist' rate for a boat ride is Rs 300! In fact there is a price limit set by the city in 1998 but still in force today that sets a price range from Rs 50 for boats up to four seats to a maximum of 125 for very large boats. (That's per hour and boat not per person.) At Dasaswamedh there is even a huge sign (in Hindi only) alerting tourists to that fact. If you go Nishadraj ghat, a few minutes walk from Assi, you can find a boat driver named Bhomi, a local singer renowned for his incredible voice and charming, beautiful songs; during the boat ride he sings anything from local folk songs to modern film songs and old devotional ones, and often improvises lyrics over his own songs to communicate with you and the various people gathered on the ghats.
During the trip "market boats" will float up to you selling overpriced trinkets which can be bought much cheaper on land. Any offers of flowers for puja will definitely not be free; Rs 2 per flower bowl and Rs 5 per candle bowl are the going rates, though as a tourist you might be asked for as much as Rs 100 each.
There are numerous food outlets and a very dynamic range in quality. The restaurants closer to the ghats cater more to foreign tourists, with variable success. To get really authentic Banarasi Khana you're going to have to get to the main market area or, better, to have a banarasi friend inviting you at home. Benares Dum Aloo is a local specialty, and the city is also known for its desserts. You can't go away from Benares without eating local specialities as aloo chat and pani puri and, in general, the street food. Paan, a betel nut mixture usually containing tobacco, is not really food, but is something Benares is famous for all over India.
Shiv Lassi Bhandar: (near the main gate of RamNagar Fort) Lassi with layers of Malai and Rabri. Superb Stuff !!!
Kashi Chat Center: (near Godowlia Crossing) Good assortment of exotic chats. Try out the Aloo Tikia Chat!
Rabri/Malai shops: (a couple of shops, near Godowlia Crossing opposite to the Church) Try out fresh rabri and malai in the evening (7PM-9PM). Really good stuff !!! One of the best rabri shops is on the alleyway that leads to the vishwanath temple (the main shiva temple) from the Dashashwamedh Ghat side. This is a tiny hole-in-the-wall rabri shop next to a big sari shop (Kanjilal and company) and loads of shops selling bangles. The best place for laddoos and other famous sweet delicacies is 'Madhur Jalpan', a shop that has been frequented by more than two prime ministers of India! Madhur Jalpan is on Baradev - next to the Kainiya Chitra Mandir. Again, on a small alleyway, but the sweets are to die for.
Karki's Restaurant If you're inAssi Ghat this place is a great oasis with a rooftop restaurant that serves cheap but great quality Nepalese & Italian food among others. Highly recommended are the Nepalese Thali and Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta (only Sat & Sun). It's on the main road down to Assi Ghat on the left, look for the green roof as it's upstairs and has a small entrance. Say hi to Karki and his gorgeous daughter who loves to poke faces at guests.
Bufffalo's Restaurant(near Kedhar Ghat Post Office)Newly opened restaurant. Every Sunday they have a chess tournament and jamming sessions on Thursday. Great Thali !!!
Shiva Cafe and German Bakery, D 26/4 Narad Ghat, (near Himalaya Lodge). In the main little alleyway that runs parallel to the river between Dasaswamedh Ghat and Assi Ghat, this place is deservedly popular. The food takes time, but that's because it's prepared fresh, and you'll be happy you waited when the food arrives.
Mona Lisa Cafe, (just south and opposite Shiva Cafe). Another good and popular cheapie, with a good range of things on offer, notably a thali for Rs 20, and some Japanese and Korean dishes thrown in for good measure.
A C Shahi Restaurant & Kesari Restaurant near Dasashwmedh ghat in Godaulia and Shahi Restaurant near Rathyatra crossing serve very good vegetarian north / south indian dishes at very reasonablle rates.
Diamond Hotel and Jaika Restaurant near Vijaya Talkies Crossing in Bhelupur serve very good north Indian dishes.
sa re ga ma restaurent at D.35/92-92-A, jangambari (opp. city bazzar), godowilya, is really agood restautrent. in the matter of infrastursture it is decorated in the indian classic music style. the food is really good and is prepared fresh. try fried idli and lemon tea here.
Ganga View on the roof of sita guest house d 22/16 chaustti ghat, varanasi,up india,Indian Continental and Western Food Fresh Food and Purified Water (Non-veg not available)
Rasa Vritti ( +91-9839066788), situated on the terrace of Kautilya Society, it is a cafe` with free wi-fi and laptop plugs all over the terrace, also offers over 40 types of teas along with fresh juices, coffee and some Indian snacks. Open from 2:30pm to 8:30pm.
Megu Cafe, Kalika Gali (near Meer Ghat), has excellent vegetarian Japanese food made by a Japanese woman who settled in Varanasi a number of years ago. All dishes are Rs. 85 or less. Closed on Sundays.
Open Hand Shop & Cafe, Assi Ghat, (around the corner from Hotel Haifa), +91 542 2369 751, . The bakery has daily fresh bread, cakes, pies & various pastries. The food selection includes set breakfast, salads, breadrolls and fruit salad. The espresso-based coffees and fresh fruit smoothies are the main attractions. The shop is selling fixed-price merchandise on fair-trade principles. Free Internet
Flavours Cafe, Lanka-Assi Road, (near to Lanka crossing). Great coffee and desserts. Strong filter coffee and lighly accented lattes with a quiet ambiance make for a needed break from the city. Free wireless is also a plus.
Brown Bread Bakery, near Meer ghat, 0542-2403566. Used to be good bakery run by a German baker in Varanasi, now by Indians and Nepalese. Breads and pastries made from so called organically grown ingredients. Also a nice range of cheeses. The restaurant has a huge menu including Continental, Italian, Tibetan, Chinese, Thai and Indian classics. Quality is mediocre now however part of the proceeds support the Learn For Life society which operates a free school for disadvantaged children in the area.
Bread of Life Bakery, Shivala Road, (a few hundred metres north of Assi Ghat), +91 542 227 5012. Good baked goods, but also a full restaurant with okay breakfasts including "American" pancakes and canned-OJ (freshly-squeezed no longer). Used to be very popular but the quality is now questionable.
Zaika restaurant - in Shivala, opposite Hotel Broadway. Good Indian / Chinese dishes; try the sweet-corn-pakoras.
Moti Mahal Delux restaurant - in Sigra, 3rd Floor, IP Mall, in the heart of the city. +91-542-2220555. One of the best Indian and mughlai restaurant in the city with a unique fine dining experience. Also provides free delivery of your meal at any location in the city. Also serves authentic chinese and continental.
Possibly due to a high influx of tourists from Israel, a number of Middle Eastern restaurants have opened in Varanasi, all of which serve very similar food, cater to a predominantly tourist clientèle, and charge a little over Rs 100 for a thali.
Haifa Cafe: Assi Ghat, (in Hotel Haifa). Most popular for its Middle-Eastern cuisine such as the thali (delicious!), but has a wide range of Indian and continental dishes and is also popular at breakfast. The Jordanian brothers aren't here anymore. Its now just a regular hotel.
Hayat's: near Assi (new location), managed by authentic middle-easterners (from Jordan). Try the labanha (dry yoghurt), or the baba ghanoush (eggplant) with pita. The Nanas (mint-lemon drink) are the best in town. The feta is a tad high in salt, but at least they have it. The restaurant has a tent-like lounge atmosphere that gives it a cult presence. Ask for "hello to the queen" and see smiles.
Phulwari / Sami Cafe: near the Vishwanath Temple crossing, you sit beside a religiously near-defunct but architecturally gorgeous Mahadev temple, and sip on iced teas and nanas. Some locals still consider this a holy site and aren't too happy about the cafe being so close.
Tahsin's Mediterranean: located at Sarnath, in The Golden Buddha hotel, is runed by the same Jordanian brothers of Hayat's. Big garden and outdoor wood-operated oven for pizzas and pastas.
Alcohol is available at a few restaurants and hotels, such as the Radisson and Taj. There are several wine shops in the old city but they don't offer any sitting arrangement. You can buy whatever you want and bring it to your hotel room.
Bhang is a potent, powdered form of marijuana often mixed into "special" lassis, simply called bhang lassi. The drink is especially popular on holidays as Varanasi is a major center of Shiva worship. It can be quite intoxicating.
Thandai is cool milk based drink made with pistachios, almonds and kesar and topped off with a large dollop of malai (cream). Bhang is often added to thicken the concoction, though it can be made without. Many Tandai stores are located near the main Godowlia, and most also serve lassi.
The most interesting area to stay is around the ghats. This is where most foreigners hang out - and with good reason. In addition to the ghats and river, Varanasi's most famous temples and main market are all located in this area. Another choice is Sarnath, about 8km from Varanasi. It is a little removed from 'the action' but much safer and calmer than Varanasi.
Monu Family Paying Guest House , 0091-0542-2400908, 0091-0542-2400908, D 8/4 Kalika Gali, Dashashwamedh, Varanasi 221 001, near Golden Temple, Monu Guest House is situated right in the epicentre of the old town. It has very colourful, sweet and a familiar atmosphere. Rooms are very neat and clean with attached bath, western loos and h&c shower.They have also Internet available at Rupees 30/hour Only.Hindi courses and music lessons of Sitar,Tabla,Vocal are available in house and they also sells Instruments like Sitar,Tabla,Harmonium,Surbahar,etc. over there.
Ganga Fuji Home, between Man Mandeer Ghat and Dasaswamedh Ghat, Some rooms have shared bathroom; more expensive rooms have A/C and TV. All rooms are clean, with clean sheets and towel. The rooftop restaurant offers evening concerts every night.
Groovy Ganges Guesthouse (ग्रूवी गंगा गेस्ट हाउस) , 993.618.0896, 993.618.0896, B2/225, B-6-A, Bhadaini, in Bhadaini neighborhood near Assi Ghat, Live in an Indian home with an Indian family. Unlimited broadband internet access comes with every room, making this an ideal place for long-term students, researchers, and activists wanting to integrate into local culture. Boiled water used for all cooking.
Hotel River View, a couple ghats north of Panchganga Ghat, To get here, walk north from Dasaswamedh Ghat for about 15 minutes, and follow the numerous blue and white painted signs that begin to appear.
Maa Vaishno Guest House (email@example.com), 09336490694,9889054756,08081253231,9389178569, b5/188, shivala ghat, Maa Vaishno Guesthouse (माँ वैशो गेस्ट हाउस), B 5/188 Shivala Ghat. Family run guesthouse situated two minutes from the Shivala Ghat.a very short walking distance to the burning ghats but far enough away to avoid smoke and smell.ganga view 10 clean rooms, all with attached bathroom with running hot and cold shower. Roof top restaurant,sunrise & sun set from roof & room. ADSL internet, laundry, train, bus and air ticket arrangement and other travel services available.pick-up service.
Maruti Guest House (मारुती गेस्ट हाउस) , 231.2261, Sahodarbir (near Assi Ghat), Friendly family run guest house with clean well lit rooms. There is a roof top garden and restaurant where fresh home made food is served. Power backup for the rooms and hot showers are available as well as broadband Internet access. The owner of the guest house, Dr. V.N. Tripathi, gives Yoga and meditation lessons upon request.
Sahi Riverview Guest House, Phone, on Assi Ghat, next to Harmony Book Shop, This place is very clean, quiet, and recommended. Newly opened, the guest house has the most fascinating Ganges views and the exotic sunrise from its balconies, rooms and terrace. All rooms have 24 hrs hot water with attached bathrooms.
Shanti Guesthouse, Phone, There are several hotels near the ghats that have taken the name
Sita Guest House , 542 2450061 or 3251088, 542 2450061 or 3251088, Chausatti Ghat, on the banks of the ganges next to the main ghats, A very short walking distance to the burning ghats but far enough away to avoid smoke and smell. Rooms are clean and of a good size all with view of the river. Hot water in every room and roof top restaurant. The hotel also has generator for the many power cuts in Varanasi. The hotel provides many services for its guests, including internet, in house laundry, train and air ticket bookings.
Tiwari Lodge, 2315129, B-1/243-A, Assi Ghat, Assi Crossing, accross the street from Hotel Haifa, is right after Assi crossing close to Assi Ghat. It is run by a Brahmin, and has its own small temple on the site. Very relaxed and well maintained by local standards, do not expect staff to be present all the time. For check-in the owner can usually be found sitting in the aryuvedic massage cubicle late afternoons. Upstairs rooms are with shared bath Rs 100/single. Ensuite will be Rs 150, with long term rates negotiable. Bring your sheets and towel. Door locked midnight to 6AM.
Vishnu Rest House, 450 206, Pandey Ghat, A hotel spanned over 200 year old Vishnu temple. A very clean and friendly guest house over looking the river, some rooms with views. You will often find classical music programs and puja held during morning and evening time. The rooms are with power backup and hot water.
Hotel Malti, (542)356844 351395, Vidyapeeth
Kautilya Society residence (कौटिल्य समाज) , +91-542-2452179; +91-542-2455139, +91-542-2452179; +91-542-2455139, D 20/21 Munshi Ghat, Located on the banks o the river Ganges at the city centre, it is not an Hotel but it is a NGO for intercultural dialogue, that also offers rooms for students and scholars. The atmosphere of Ram Bhavan remains faithful to the simple comforts of an Indian home with a splash of colour. Walls are painted in the colors of the ancient city: a cooling forest green facing the court; peacock blues in the bedrooms; Annapurna rose in the kitchen. Furniture is colonial Teak or cane. By Indian law it is necessary for all residing guests to become members of the Society; annual membership is €6. Rooms in high season cost from per day, including half board (€ 1 a day for additional guests sharing the same room). In low season rates are approximately 20% lower. Special prices can be obtained by long term guests.
Varanasi is famous for its fine silk - it's on offer everywhere, but shop around and bargain hard!
Wow India, Assi Ghat, the big corner shop, follow the tourists, A large collection of handicrafts from all over the country, a good place to pick up your gifts and souvenirs. Music, silks, ayurvedic cosmetics, herbal teas, incense and plenty more. Prices are moderate and fixed.
Loan arts &crafts (firstname.lastname@example.org), 0091--9336062161, 12, s.20/52a,nepalikothi near hotel surya the mall road cantt varanasi u.p. india.221002, before hotel surya 10 yards left, Silk carpets, hand-made, hand-knotted oriental Persian carpets, silk products, silk pashminas, hand embroidered and hand stitched cashmere wool, papier mache and lots of handicrafts.
There is, rather understandably, some resentment at tourists traipsing up to the cremation ghats for raucous sightseeing at the funeral ceremonies of loved ones. Behave respectfully and do not take photographs of cremations, even from the river.
Violent crime is rare, but still do be careful in the lanes after dark. Carry a lamp; power outages are extremely common, and the alleys are hard enough to navigate in daylight, let alone in pitch dark, because of their broken paving stones and cows common.
Women especially need to dress conservatively and to be careful. Even taking precautions, expect to have the odd local young man try to quickly grope you and run away. Respond aggressively and loudly to try to discourage this behavior as much as possible.
Rickshaw/taxi scams are a norm in Varanasi, and the driver will inevitably tell you that the hotel that you wish to go to has burned down, is flooded, or closed. Don't believe him. Drivers receive commission from hotels for bringing in new guests, and this is one way to trick newcomers to going to these places. Don't get annoyed, but see the exchange as playful banter and part of the Varanasi experience. However, if the driver continuously refuses to follow your instructions, threaten to get out of the rickshaw. If after all this you still end up to a different place, just refuse to pay until you arrive at your hotel. The same procedure will need to be followed when sight seeing, as drivers will inevitably try to take you to handicraft stores, from which they receive commission. If calling for a pickup from a more resepctable hostel, be wary that other taxi drivers may listen in to your phone conversation then tell another taxi driver who will pick you up pretending to be your hostel, then take you to a commision charging hostel.
Hindi Language Center , 91 9452247010, 91 9452247010, B1\150 L-10 ASSI VARANASI, near Banaras Hindu University, Learn Hindi with teacher Binit Kumar Mishra. Mr. Mishra can teach anyone enough Hindi in a few days to conduct the kinds of simple business that travelers must do every day. if you want to learn Hindi before coming to India through online then you have opportunity to learn Hindi through video conference.A little Hindi opens many doors.
Sanjeevani Booti (संजीवनी बूटी) , , Assi Ghat, A sexual health, drug, and HIV education NGO. There is always demand for foreigners to visit because there is always work related to public health education to be done. A great volunteer opportunity!
Yoga is also popular, and the same rules apply.
BSNL, Reliance, and Airtel are the most popular cell phone services in the region. If you bring your GSM cellphone from home, you can get a cheap connection and cash card from Airtel or Hutch from anywhere in India and call within India and abroad.
Internet is widely available, especially in the lanes between Dasaswamedh Ghat and Assi Ghat. Price is usually Rs 20-30/hour. Several branches of Iway BROADBAND (rs.14-20)are sprinkled around town as well.
Calling abroad is cheap from Iway branches.
Sarnath - One of the most sacred places for Buddhists, known as the place where Lord Buddha gave his first speech after his enlightenment.
Ramnagar Fort - historical royal residence and museum across the Ganges
Chunar Fort - ruins of battlements and ancient settlement 15 miles from Varanasi.
Agra - the next point on the tourist "Golden Triangle". Buses and trains, including overnight trains, leave several times a day.
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