Varanasi, a sacred city in Uttar Pradesh, is one of the world’s oldest cities. The ringing of the temple’s rhythmic bells in the distance, the fragrance of fresh flowers being offered to the Gods and Goddesses, and the constant chants of priests hovering in the air, creating a serene and divine atmosphere, it is said that the experience one has in this religious city is beyond words.
Varanasi is very easy to get by plane, rail, and road because it is frequented by a large number of people throughout the year. Summer is the busiest season for tourism in Varanasi, as several religious holidays fall during this time. Don’t worry if you’re not sure where to go or what to do in Varanasi; we’ve put up a travel guide to help you plan your trip.
Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the planet. Its ancient name, Kashi, was linked to a 2,500-year-old monarchy of the same name. In 528 BCE, the Buddha gave his first sermon, “The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma,” at neighboring Sarnath, according to the Pali canon.
Adi Shankara established Shiva worship as an official sect of Varanasi in the eighth century. During Muslim administration in the Middle Ages, the city flourished as a center of Hindu devotion, pilgrimage, mysticism, and poetry, adding to its cultural significance. In Varanasi, Tulsidas wrote the Ramcharitmanas, an Awadhi language epic that is a Bhakti movement reworking of the Sanskrit Ramayana. Kabir and Ravidas, two more key personalities in the Bhakti movement, were born in Varanasi.
The Mughal emperor Akbar built two enormous temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu in the city in the 16th century. Under the Treaty of Faizabad, the East India Company acquired Benares in 1775, the city later successively became a member of the Benares Division of the Ceded and Conquered Provinces, the North-Western Provinces, and the United Provinces, and after India’s independence of Uttar Pradesh.
Silk weaving, carpets and crafts, tourism, and the Banaras Locomotive Works and Bharat Heavy Electricals all employ a major portion of the local people. Varanasi is a cultural center in northern India that has long been linked to the Ganges River. Hindus believe that dying here and being cremated along the banks of the Ganges river breaks the cycle of rebirth and makes salvation possible.
The city is famous for its ghats, which are stairs that go down the steep river bank to the water, where pilgrims perform rites. The Dashashwamedh Ghat, the Panchganga Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat, and the Harishchandra Ghat are all noteworthy, with the last two serving as Hindu cremation sites. Here are stored the Hindu genealogical registers from Varanasi. The Kashi Vishwanath Shiva Temple, the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, and the Durga Temple are all noteworthy temples in Varanasi.
Many notable Indian philosophers, artists, writers, and musicians live or have lived in the city, and it was the birthplace of the Benares gharana genre of Hindustani classical music. Premchand, a Hindi-Urdu writer, and Bismillah Khan, a shehnai player, were both linked with the city in the twentieth century.
The Benares Sanskrit College, India’s oldest Sanskrit college, was founded in 1791 during the East India Company’s reign. The development of Indian nationalism in the late nineteenth century had a significant impact on later education in Benares. In 1898, Annie Besant created the Central Hindu College. She and Madan Mohan Malviya created India’s first residential institution, Banaras Hindu University, in 1916. In reaction to Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, Kashi Vidyapith was founded in 1921.
Varanasi was founded by Shiva, one of Hindu mythology’s three main deities, along with Brahma and Vishnu. During a battle between Brahma and Shiva, Shiva tore off one of Brahma’s five heads. As was customary, the victor took the head of his murdered opponent in his hand and let it hang from his hand as an act of humiliation and a symbol of his own bravery.
A bridle was also placed in the horse’s mouth. Brahma’s head was so dishonored, and Shiva kept it with him at all times. The hanging head of Brahma slid from Shiva’s hand and vanished into the ground when he arrived in Varanasi in this state. As a result, Varanasi is revered as a sacred site.
The Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, are claimed to have come to the city in quest of Shiva in order to atone for their sins of fratricide and Brhmanahatya committed during the Kurukshetra War. It is considered one of the seven sacred towns (Sapta Puri) that can grant Moksha; the other seven cities are Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Kashi, Kanchi, Avanti, and Dvrak.
The princesses Ambika and Ambalika of Kashi were wed to the Hastinapur emperor Vichitravirya, and they eventually gave birth to Pandu and Dhritarashtra. Bhima, a son of Pandu, married a Kashi princess Valandhara and their union resulted in the birth of Sarvaga, who eventually ruled Kashi. Duryodhana, Dhritarasthra’s eldest son, married Bhanumati, a Kashi princess who bore him a son Lakshman Kumara and a daughter Lakshmanaa.
The Cakkavatti Sīhanāda Sutta scripture of Buddhism puts forward a concept suggesting that Varanasi will one day become the fabled kingdom of Ketumati in the time of Maitreya. Artefacts going back to 800 BCE were discovered during excavations in 2014. Further excavations at Aktha and Ramnagar, two sites in the neighborhood of the city, found objects going back to 1800 BCE, corroborating the assumption that the area was populated by this period.
Varanasi developed into a major industrial hub, known for its muslin and silk fabrics, fragrances, ivory carvings, and art. Varanasi was part of the Kingdom of Kashi during the period of Gautama Buddha. When the Buddha gave his first sermon, “The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma,” at nearby Sarnath in 528 BCE, it is thought that he started Buddhism here.
Xuanzang, also known as Hiuen Tsiang, a famous Chinese traveller who visited the city in 635 CE stated that it was a center of religious and artistic activities and that it stretched for roughly 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) along the Ganges’ western bank. From all over India and South Asia, eminent scholars and preachers came to the city. In 1507, Guru Nanak went to Varanasi for Maha Shivaratri, a voyage that was crucial in the formation of Sikhism.
Under the Mughal emperor Akbar, who invested in the city and supported the construction of two great temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, Varanasi saw a Hindu cultural rebirth in the 16th century. The Annapurna Mandir was built by the Raja of Pune during this time, as was the 200-meter (660-foot) Akbari Bridge.
During the 16th century, the first tourists arrived in the city. The architectural splendor of the Vindu Madhava temple on the Ganges side was described by French explorer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 1665. During this time, the road infrastructure was also improved. Emperor Sher Shah Suri extended it from Kolkata to Peshawar, and it became known as the famed Grand Trunk Road during the British Raj.
Emperor Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of several temples and the construction of mosques in 1656, causing a temporary setback for the city. After Aurangzeb’s death, however, a confederacy of pro-Hindu kings ruled most of India.
Much of modern Varanasi was created during this period, particularly by the Maratha and Bhumihar Brahmin kings in the 18th century. During much of the British Raj period, the rulers of Varanasi, notably the Maharaja of Benares, or simply known as Kashi Naresh by the people of Benaras, continued to wield influence and importance.
The Mughals bestowed official recognition on the Kingdom of Benares in 1737; the kingdom began in this manner and remained a dynasty-governed area until Indian independence in 1947, during the reign of Vibhuti Narayan Singh. In the 18th century, Muhammad Shah ordered the construction of an observatory on the Ganges, linked to Man Mandir Ghat, aiming to uncover errors in the calendar in order to amend existing astronomical charts.
The city’s tourism industry began to grow in the 18th century. The Benares zamindari estate became Banaras State as the Mughal suzerainty faded, and Balwant Singh of the Narayan dynasty recovered control of the regions and crowned himself Maharaja of Benares in 1740. The lesser-known Hindu princes achieved success thanks to the strong clan organization on which they relied.
In what would later become the districts of Benares, Gorakhpur, and Azamgarh, as many as 100,000 men backed the power of the Benares rajas. When the dynasty confronted a competitor and nominal suzerain, the Nawab of Oudh, in the 1750s and 1760s, this proved to be a decisive advantage.
Varanasi is situated in the midst of the Ganges valley in North India, in the Eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, along the left crescent-shaped bank of the Ganges, averaging between 15 meters (50 feet) and 21 meters (70 feet) above the river. The city is the administrative center of the Varanasi district. Varanasi lies 797 kilometers (495 miles) south of New Delhi, 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Lucknow, 121 kilometers (75 miles) east of Allahabad, and 63 kilometers (39 miles) south of Jaunpur via road.
The “Varanasi Urban Agglomeration,” which consists of seven urban sub-units, spans 112 km2 (43 sq mi). The city’s neighborhoods include Adampura, Anandbagh, Bachchhaon, Bangali Tola, Bhelpura, Bulanala, Chaitganj, Chaukaghat, Chowk, Dhupchandi, Dumraon, Gandhinagar, Gautam Nagar, Giri Nagar, Gopal Vihar, Guru Nanak Nagar, Jaitpura, Kail Garh, Khanna, Kotwali, Lanka Manduadi
The region is particularly productive because low-level floods in the Ganges refresh the soil. It is located in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India. Varanasi is located where the Ganges and two rivers, the Varuna and the Assi stream, meet. The distance between the two confluences is approximately 2 miles (4 kilometers), and it serves as a sacred Hindu pilgrimage route that concludes with a visit to the Sakshi Vinayak Temple.
Varanasi features a humid subtropical climate with substantial differences between summer and winter temperatures. The dry summer begins in April and lasts through June, with the monsoon season beginning in July and lasting until October. Summer temperatures range from 22 to 46 degrees Celsius (72 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit). Varanasi’s winters include a lot of diurnal variance, with warm days and bitterly chilly nights.
During the winter months of December to February, cold waves from the Himalayan region cause temperatures to drop across the city, with lows of 5 °C (41 °F) not unusual. The annual rainfall averages 1,110 mm (44 in). In the winter, fog is widespread, whereas in the summer, scorching dry winds known as loo blow. The Ganges’ water level has dropped dramatically in recent years, possibly due to upstream dams, illegal water extraction, and declining glacier sources due to global warming.
Approximately 29 percent of Varanasi’s population is employed, according to the city’s 2006 City Development Plan. Approximately 40% work in manufacturing, 26% in trade and commerce, 19% in other services, 8% in transportation and communication, 4% in agriculture, 2% in construction, and 2% are marginal employees (working for less than half of the year).
Manufacturing employees work in 51 percent of cases in spinning and weaving, 15 percent in metal, 6 percent in printing and publishing, 5% in electrical machinery, and the balance in a range of other industries. Varanasi’s manufacturing industry is not highly established and is characterized by small-scale companies and household output.
Varanasi’s most important industry is silk weaving. Nearly half a million Muslims work as weavers, dyers, sari finishers, and salespeople, making them the most powerful community in the industry. Weaving is typically done in the home, and the majority of weavers are Muslim Momin Ansaris.
Varanasi is well-known throughout India for its beautiful silk and Banarasi saris, brocades with gold and silver thread work that are frequently worn at weddings and other special events. Silk production frequently employs bonded child labor, though not at a larger incidence than in other parts of India.
The rise of power looms and computer-generated designs, as well as competition from Chinese silk imports, have recently posed a threat to the silk weaving business. The Commerce Facilitation Centre is a modern, integrated facility in Varanasi that supports the handloom and handicraft business by enhancing and facilitating trade for both domestic and international buyers. As a result, the rich traditions of handlooms and handicrafts are carried on.
Banaras Locomotive Works is a key employer in the metal production industry. A heavy equipment repair factory is run by Bharat Heavy Electricals, a prominent power equipment producer. Hand-knotted Mirzapur carpets, rugs, and dhurries, brassware, copperware, wooden and clay toys, handicrafts, gold jewelry, and musical instruments are among the other significant items created and traded in Varanasi. Important agricultural items include betel leaves (for paan), langra mangoes and khoa (solidified milk) (solidified milk).
Kabir, Ravidas, and Tulsidas were famous Indian writers who lived in the city, and Tulsidas penned part of his Ram Charit Manas here. In Varanasi in the 15th century, Kulluka Bhatt composed the best-known account of Manusmriti.
Acharya Shukla, Baldev Upadhyaya, Bharatendu Harishchandra, Devaki Nandan Khatri, Premchand, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Jaishankar Prasad, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Sudama Pandey (Dhoomil), Vagish Shastri, and Vidya Niwas Mishra were among the city’s later writers Varanasi Chandroday and its successor Kashivartaprakashika, which became a weekly journal and was first published on June 1, 1851, are two newspapers and journals that are or were published in Varanasi.
Aj, a Hindi-language nationalist newspaper founded in 1920, is the principal publication. The journal served as the backbone of the Indian National Congress and is now a major Hindi-language publication in northern India.
How To Reach Varanasi
Varanasi, India’s spiritual capital, is a city in Uttar Pradesh, in the north of the country. Varanasi’s streets are lined with around 2,000 temples, making it a popular tourist destination.
Varanasi is easily accessible by air, rail, and road because of its temples. The city also has a well established transit network, connecting it to other cities in India and making it easier for tourists to go. Not sure where to start? Some of the finest ways to go to Varanasi are listed here.
1. By Air
The Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport is the city of Varanasi’s primary airport. This airport serves both international and local passengers and is located 23.8 kilometers from the city center.
It is India’s 21st busiest airport, with a steady stream of passengers all year. Varanasi attracts tourists from all across India as well as the rest of the world. Major domestic as well as foreign airlines run frequently from this airport. You can take a cab, bus, or even an auto rickshaw to your destination once you arrive at the airport.
2. By Road
Because Varanasi is a popular tourist destination, many people opt to get to the city by car. Various highways and expressways connect the city to other cities in the state, including Lucknow, Allahabad, Mathura, and others. Furthermore, the state is connected to other states by numerous national highways, making driving from anywhere in India or within Uttar Pradesh simple.
There are a number of inter and intrastate busses that run for the convenience of the passengers as well; these busses are luxurious and some of them offer a luxury sleeping configuration too. Busses are inexpensive and easy to get from surrounding states of Uttar Pradesh or locations close to Varanasi.
3. By Rail
Traveling by rail to a place is one of the most thrilling experiences, especially when traveling with family and friends. Varanasi has excellent rail connections, with the main railhead being Varanasi Junction Railway Station, which is located 1.9 kilometers from the city center. Since the station is so close to the city, it is the most convenient way to travel to Varanasi.
Regular trains run between Varanasi and other Indian cities, and they are fairly frequent. Trains are a fantastic way to travel because they are both affordable and pleasant. You can take a taxi, an auto, or a bus to your desired location in the city once you arrive at the railway station.
4. Getting Around
Because of the large number of people who visit Varanasi each year, public transit is essential. Traveling about Varanasi is easy; you may take a taxi, an auto, a bus, walk around on foot, or even take a boat on the Ganges.
Many rental organizations will offer you a good deal on hiring a cab to go sightseeing; AC taxis are especially beneficial in the summer heat when going sightseeing. The bus is an economical option that is more or less comfortable but might be inconvenient during high season owing to crowds or bad weather. Aside from that, there are reasonably priced automobiles available, or you can board a boat on the Ganges River that will take you to various temples across the city.
Weather In Varanasi And The Best Time To Visit
Varanasi is an ancient city in Uttar Pradesh, situated on the banks of the sacred Ganges. Benares, or Kashi, is another name for the city, which features a number of Hindu temples along the river.
The weather in Varanasi is such that people flock here to seek blessings from the Gods and Goddesses of the many places of worship, whether it be the scorching summer heat or the rainy monsoons. Varanasi, which is 80 meters above sea level, is hot and humid in the summers and somewhat cold and foggy in the winters.
Despite the fact that summers are the busiest, winters are the greatest time to visit Varanasi since the weather is mild and you can go sightseeing without breaking a sweat. Don’t know when you should go? Let’s take a look at some of Varanasi’s seasons.
1. The season of summer (April-June)
Varanasi’s summer season begins in the last week of March and lasts until the end of April. Temperatures begin to climb as summer approaches, and the climate becomes hot and humid. The temperature reaches a high of 45oC during the day and drops to an average low of 30oC at night.
This is the most popular time to visit Varanasi, as most pilgrims choose to see the temples and take a plunge in the Ganga during the summer. Some people have a historic ritual of bathing in the river since it is considered to wash away all sins; as a result, many people visit during the summer because the water is perfect for a dip.
2. Monsoon season (July-September)
In the Varanasi region, the Ganga River, which flows right through the city, produces strong rainfall. Showers and storms are common in the months of July and August through September.
Temperatures during this period range from 32 degrees Celsius during the day to 24 degrees Celsius at night, making it quite cold. This may not be the best time to visit because the city’s roads and lanes are often wet and slick, which can lead to accidents. Despite the fact that there are frequent showers throughout these months, the climate is nevertheless fairly humid.
3. The season of winter (October-March)
Winter is the greatest time to visit Varanasi if you enjoy the cold and don’t mind crowds. In October, chilly winds and a reduction in temperature signal the start of winter. Temperatures begin to plummet in November, and the number of hours of sunlight begins to diminish. During the winter, temperatures range from 15oC during the day to 5oC at night, and sometimes even below.
In the winter, there is a lot of fog in the area, but no snow. This is one of the greatest times to come since, unlike other seasons, you may take a boat trip on the Ganges and enjoy a gorgeous winter afternoon. The assortment of temples on the banks of the river amidst some fog is a site to experience.
Tourist Attractions in Varanasi
Varanasi, Banaras, and Kashi are all names for the same northern Indian holy city. Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest settlements, is also revered by Hindus as one of India’s most sacred sites.
This place, with the holy Ganga flowing through it, hermits roaming the countryside in orange robes, temples and shrines strewn about, and serenity reigning, is centuries old. Varanasi is both ancient and modern, and has long been one of the world’s most important educational centers. Here are some of the best tourist attractions in Varanasi.
1. Varanasi Ghats
The Varanasi ghats are known around the world for instilling a deep sense of culture and devotion. Pilgrims and bathers use these ghats, which are effectively steps leading down to the Ganga.
The sacred aura that these ghats emit will stay with you for the rest of your life. Panchganga Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Dasaswamedh Ghat, Kedar Ghat, Tulsi Ghat, and more ghats may be found in Varanasi. All of these serene ghats are well-known for their spiritual atmosphere. Boat trips from one ghat to another are the principal attraction here.
2. Vishwanath Temple
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most popular in this city of temples and is considered India’s holiest temple. This temple not only embodies peaceful mysticism, but it also boasts a peaceful coexistence with a Mosque on the same grounds.
The temple reflects the city’s beautiful feelings and vintage appeal, so it’s no surprise that hundreds of visitors flock to the Vishwanath Temple every day. The opulence and purity of this temple have been documented by history, and a trip to Varanasi would be incomplete without a visit to this sacred site.
3. Ramnagar Fort
Nestled on the opposite bank of the river Ganges, Ramnagar Fort is a red sandstone fort that spans a long history and beautiful luxury. This eighteenth-century structure contains a temple and a museum, as well as being the ancestral house of the Maharaja of Banaras.
Ramnagar Fort is a wonderful vision of grandeur and flamboyant flair, resembling a Mughal-era fortress. Visit during the Dussehra festival to witness the month-long Ramlila, which is opened by the King of Kashi.
Sarnath, or the deer park, is said to be the location where Gautam Buddha first taught the Dharma. It features a museum and Buddhist temples built by different Asian countries in their architectural styles. Sarnath is extremely serene and magnificent, with world-famous and old structures like as The Dhamek Stupa, Ashoka Pillar, Chaukhandi Stupa, and Dharmarajika Stupa that are so imposing that they will make your problems appear insignificant while also making you feel strangely tranquil.
5. Man Mandir Observatory
The Man Mandir Observatory, a popular tourist destination not far from Dasaswamedh Ghat, is located nearby. It consists of astronomical devices that compute time, construct the lunar and solar calendars, and analyze the movements, distances, and angles of the numerous planets, stars, and other celestial bodies.
This heavenly location will provide you with a peek of the old, cosmic Varanasi, as well as a plethora of transcendent memories to take back home with you.
6. Assi Ghat
Assi Ghat, devoted to Lord Shiva and his avatar Lord Rudra, is one of Varanasi’s most important pilgrimage sites. Pilgrims are drawn here to worship the Shivling, which is housed under a peepul tree, and to milk it, as well as to offer flowers and prayers. Assi ghat is a vibrant, colorful environment with a constant buzz of activity that rivals chaos.
This bank encapsulates the perfect harmony and symphony of Kashi’s historic town, and the Sanskrit language is frequently used, a rarity in modern India. Do not miss the Ganga aarti at Assi Ghat whether you arrive early in the morning or at dusk.
7. Dashashwamedh Ghat
Dashashwamedh Ghat is another vibrant, bright spot in town, recognized for its flamboyant nature and spiritual tranquility. It is believed that Lord Brahma, the creator of the world, slaughtered ‘dash ashvahaa’ or ten horses in a yajna here. This is why the ghat is known as the ‘dash-ashwa-medh’ ghat. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, unique rituals are performed, as well as regular agni pooja and Ganga aarti.