“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…”
Prior to visiting Varanasi, I have heard loads about this historical city that is located in northern India. Well-known for the sacred Ganges River, this is a FINAL destination that millions flock to when they are at their last stage of life journey (of course devotees or curious people who are not dying do visit too!). Varanasi is said to encompass the best and worst aspects of India. With these information, we set upon our journey via a interesting train ride.
Our arrival to the city was unglam, to say the least. Without knowledge of the Hindi language, all we could do was try to guess the station that we were supposed to alight at. With kind help from the locals, we realised that we have arrived – but a tad too late. This resulted in impressive flying leaps from the moving train alongside our bulky luggages! And, that marked our arrival in the Land of the Holy River.
Our stay in Varanasi was short yet eventful and certainly very, very memorable. From impressive flying leaps off moving train to disturbing bed bugs (please avoid HHI Varanasi Hotel!), we set sail along the Holy River for a non-existent sunrise on a cloudy morning. We also smelt burning flesh at burning ghats, while horny dogs humped away merrily (guarantee to make you blush!) less than a foot away. In this old city, I tasted the best Masala Chai (tea) and visited a temple (made of gold) with such tight security that we cannot bring anything with us! Within our short stay that lasted less than 24 hours, I realised too soon and too late (the itinerary’s been set) that Varanasi is a special place. There’s something in the air that makes this place feels magical yet very real and full of life.
Things to Do
(Morning activities near the Ganges, dated Sept 2011)
Sail along the Ganges River during sunrise or sunset! During the boat ride, you can see cremations in progress. It is indeed a magical experience, as you will also get to see one of the most famous sights in India – bathing rituals at the ghats. If you are game enough, you can also take a dip in the sacred waters (just dont dwell on the dozens of sewage pipes and sunken corpses).
PS: We dipped too, but just our hands. 😛
Explore the narrow alleys of old city and have a cuppa Chai. There’s something surreal about Varanasi, especially in the early dawn. It is so full of life, yet I could feel the “age” of the city. This is not something that I can explain easily (at least not without you thinking that I’m a loony) but it feels like a very old city that retains her colours, culture and values. An old place filled with stories waiting to be uncovered.
(Delicious Masala Chai at Varanasi Old City, dated Sept 2011)
Visit the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Benaras, the holiest place of Hindus. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple stands on the western bank of the holy Ganges. It is believed that a visit to the temple and a bath in the Ganges River shall lead one on a path to Moksha (liberation). This explains why the Hindus aspire to visit the place at least once in their lifetime.
This temple is also known as the “Golden Temple” due to its 15.5m high gold spire. Thus, security is extremely tight.
Learn about the various Gods that Hindus worship and find your niche. Mine has been chosen for me since young. I am a buddhist follower and in spite of an open mind towards other religions, I do appreciate the Buddhism teachings. Sarnath, is the place where Buddha chose to deliver his first sermon and it is located about 10 km from Varanasi. Besides housing several Buddhist monuments and edifices, the vast expanse of ancient ruins is pretty impressive.
Shop for FINE silk and dress yourself with a beautiful scarf. Varanasi is famous for its fine silk and regardless of sarees, handkerchiefs, scarfs, bedcovers etc., there are a wide selection of handwoven silk products for you to choose. Just make sure to shop around and bargain hard.
From Me to You:
A Simple Reference Guide For Your Travel In India
- Northern India
- 05 Things That I Appreciate About India
- 09 Must-Know Travel Tips To Enjoy Your India Trip
- Experience North India in 13 Days (PDF Itinerary by KaZ)
(Involving 6 cities & 2 towns in 4 states by plane, rail, car and boat travel!)
- Personal List of Things to Bring When Travelling To India (PDF)
(Includes free space for you to add additional items!)
The above information has been complied based on various sources, including my own experience and should only be used as a reference. For more information on the destination, please visit: http://www.incredibleindia.org/