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 backdrop of the centuries old temples is probably one of the most impressive sights in the world. Some people believe that Varanasi is a must see destination on any trip to northern India. The city can be scorchingly hot in the summer months so, if possible, time your visit to fall between October and March, and bring something warm to wear for chilly days and nights, instead.
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Best Time to Visit
Boat rides on river Ganges
It is a 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.
It is believed that in Sarnath Buddha gave his first sermon to his disciples after getting enlightenment. There is also a Museum in Sarnath. The exact location is also known as Deer Park. Sarnath is 13 Km from Varanasi and is very peaceful. Several Asian countries have built Buddhist temples there following their own ancient architectural traditions.
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. There are over 81 Ghats on the river Ganges in Varanasi, Some of the main Ghats, from north to south are as follows: 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 Narad Ghat - the Ghat on which bathing with spouse is not advised because the myth of contention 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
Explore the narrow streets and the Ghats by foot
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. 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.
Gaya – (265Kms)
One of the most sacred places to do Pind Dan (funeral offerings for the benefit of the soul of the deceased)
Sarnath – (20Kms)
One of the most sacred places for Buddhists, known as the place where Lord Buddha gave his first speech after his enlightenment.
Ramnagar Fort – (12kms)
historical royal residence and museum across the Ganges
Chunar Fort – 30 Kms)
Ruins of battlements and ancient settlement 15 miles from Varanasi.
Agra – (605 Kms) By overnight train only 8-9 Hrs
The next point on the tourist "Golden Triangle". Buses and trains, including overnight trains, leave several times a day.
A full day drive from Varanasi to reach Lumbini, Nepal. It is the birth place of Buddha.