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Varanasi India


Varanasi India is probably the holiest city for the Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains.. The city is also known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi. Varanasi is situated on the left (west) bank of the River Ganga (Ganges) in Uttar Pradesh. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and probably the oldest in India.

The Ganges river bank of Varanasi India

Varanasi India - the holy river Ganga or Ganges

Varanasi is a city with over 3 million people. It's huge, the city center is incredible busy. It is hard to imagine so many people in such a small area.

You will get a good idea how busy it is when walking through the old central market area or just hang out around one of the countless Ghats.

The Maharaja of Kashi is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river's religious importance.

The city has been a cultural and religious center in North India for several thousand years.

The Ganges river bank of Varanasi India A sadhu who plays 15 seconds on his flute and asks 10 rupees
Left: The Ganges river bank of Varanasi India.
Right: A sadhu who plays 15 seconds on his flute and asks 10 rupees.

According to the legend, the city was founded by no one less then Lord Shiva himself. This alone makes a pilgrimage for Hindus to Varanasi India essential. The city has a countless amount of temples, and they seemed all busy, not surprising if you realize every year more then 1 million pilgrims come to visit.

The Ganges river bank of Varanasi India

I had spoken to many travelers, read a couple of books and all seem to point to Varanasi as "the place to be". The narrow old city gave me the creeps, too many people, no air to breath and extremely smelly, that was my conclusion after a day wandering around.

To me the old city center did not have the atmosphere of the old city of for example Lahore or Kathmandu or even Delhi.

Religion here is big business and everyone had to earn out of the status of Varanasi. Not that that is different from for example Vatican city.

The city has over 100 ghats and many are privately owned. The former Kashi Naresh owns Shivala or Kali ghat.

Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies.

ghats at the Ganges river bank of Varanasi Indiaatra

Ghats at the Ganges riverbank

I was told to get a boat and go on the river. That way I would see the real beauty of Varanasi. As I am an obedient man, I got a boat as early as possible. I had hoped to see the sunrise but the fog lay thick over the lands and there wasn't much to see until later when there was a thin sun coming through the clouds.

The Ganges was even less impressive. Maybe it was the low water, I am not sure, but there were dead fish everywhere, ash of cremated people (?) and a lot of plastic but also a lot of flowers. If this was the holy river, it seemed people didn't really care much, I wrote in my diary.

The Ganges river bank of Varanasi India

While I was in the boat I could see people taking a bath in the river. Hindus believe that bathing in Ganga remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person's soul from the cycle of its transmigrations.

My boatmen told me if I wanted I too could take a dip to wash my sins away but I felt I was not ready to die yet.

Despite the many religious sites I had visited in India, this one wasn't breathing anything sacred contrary to for example Pushkar or the Bodh Gaya were the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Maybe it was the change of the mountains I had been in for a while, I am not much a fan of places with heaps of people around me, but I was less then impressed with Varanasi India. I guess one day I have to give it a second chance.

Sarnath

Just north of Varanasi is Sarnath, the place where the Buddha first traveled after his enlightenment and started teaching. Here is more about Sarnath.

Getting there and stay

Varanasi is because of its importance from everywhere in India accessible by air, rail and bus. Backpackers enjoy the possibility to go directly to Nepal although, if you ask me, a visit to Bodh Gaya should be on the program too (there are direct buses to Gaya).

There are plenty of cheap guesthouses and hotels in town. Not all are safe, and things change all the time. A good choice is Ganpati Guesthouse right on the Ganga. Another excellent choice is the Ganga Fuji Home which is close to the Golden Temple. Should you want to stay a little more quiet, The Golden Buddha is highly recommended in the Sarangnath Colony.

The hotels we recommend are all safe:

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