About: Being one of the oldest cities of the world, and the cultural capital of India, the holy city of ‘Varanasi’ (also known as ‘Kashi’ and ‘Banaras’) is located on left bank of the Ganges at the confluence of two rivers: river Varuna (a minor tributary of the Ganges) and river Assi (a rivulet that borders the city of Varanasi at the south). It is one of the most revered pilgrimage destinations of the Hindus. Varanasi is famous for the ghats along the banks of river Ganga. Pilgrims throng these Ghats to take a holy dip and rid themselves of sins. Every ghat has a specific use depending on the rituals performed.
The Ghats : The best way to have a wider view of all the ghats along the stretch of about 7 km on the river bank is to take a boat ride available from the Harishchandra ghat. You can have a glimpse of all the ghats, nearing 64 in count, each of them is identified with a particular activity amongst all- some are exclusively for holy bath purposes, some are for bathing the buffaloes n cows, some for dhobi’s and a few are burning ghats. The boat ride in the evening is one of the main attractions of the visitors out there. With the ebb your boat comes to a hault in the dusk near the Dashawhamedh ghat where the well choreographed Ganga aarti is conducted for paying tribute to Ganga Maiyya. In the evening after Ganga Aarti, thousands of lighted earthen lamps are found floating in the waters of the holy Ganges and the floating lamps give a divine look to the river at nightfall. Simultaneously on the adjacent, the northern extension of the Dashawhamedh ghat called Rajendra Prasad ghat, another aarti is conducted which is less popular due to the presence of sadhus’ n certain unscrupulous men in the dirty steps in the evening. The Tulsi ghat, Assi ghat, Manmandir ghat, Munshi ghat, Meer ghat, Prayag ghat, Scindhia ghat, Kedar ghat, Ahilya ghat among others are among the less relevant ones. he Kashi Vishwanath darshan is the main motive of the visit of the pilgrims n tourists to Varanasi. In order to reach the temple , one has to traverse at least 1km on road by walking through the alleys, narrow enough to make you walk back if a king sized ox comes on your way.
Where to stay: In Varanasi you get to choose from innumerable number of hotels that has cropped up like wild mushrooms. One has to choose from mainly two categories of hotels: one- which are located on the ghats of Varanasi like Alka( on Meer ghat), Palace on Steps (on Assi ghat) etc. which will make you walk through the famous banarasi gallis’ with frequent interventions of the famous cows n oxen on your way paved with bricks and solidified dung here and there. Two- those hotels which will provide services equivalent to a 3 star standard international hotel but are located at around 12-14 km off the centre at Gowdowlia like Radisson, Taj Gateway etc. near the cantonment. If you want to experience the local culture n food of Varanasi you should stay somewhere near Gowdowlia which is a chowk like place, a junction up to which cars, cycle rickshaws are allowed and beyond which one n all have to walk if they want to visit the temple of Vishwanath or any of the ghats. In that case Hotel Atithi Satkaar can be a good option for it’s centrally located with all the standard luxury amenities. Apart from these you always have the option of low budget hotels which tend to be old houses converted into hotels which don’t offer a clean n tidy washroom.
What food good does the city offer: The busiest and the most popular market place is the Gowdowlia chowk which has the best of the eateries located on its way. Frankly speaking, in Varanasi you won’t get authentic Chinese or Indian non-veg dishes, so it’s better to go for veg dishes over there during your visit for a couple of days. If you’re a diehard non-veggie, go to Mc.D which has recently opened its outlet along with certain other non-veg resto’s in the shopping arcades nearby. Most of the days, we took our brunch n supper at the Keshari Restaurant on the main road from Gowdowlia, approaching towards ghats. They offer all veg. north-Indian and south Indian dishes, quite delicious in taste to satisfy the taste buds of strict non-veggies like me. All the derived milk products over there are absolutely pure and yummilicious as long as your tummy can tolerate those unadulterated fats n proteins. You must taste the thick creamy lassi topped with malai/kheer after a tiring walk on the alleys of Varanasi, or you can try out the famous Banarasi Thandai available in the lassi shops centered round Gowdowlia. Besides these, one can taste a variety of other flavored lassies like gulabi lassi, lemon lassi, kesar thandai, badam lassi amongst others.
In the evening, after a refreshing boat ride with empty stomach, one can taste the variety of chaats available with the fast food outlets accompanied by a keshar kulfi or a thandai.
Conveyance for Local sight-seeing: The best option is to rent a car from Varanasi which costs around 3500 for a day. For Day 2(Allahabad), besides a rented car, one can avail train or frequently available public buses (ticket costs around 50 INR) if they don’t intend to return back to Varanasi. If you take public bus to Allahabad, you can rent a horse-cart or an auto rickshaw for taking the tourists round the city.
Shopping: You get accompanied by ladies n you don’t stop for shopping! Can’t happen ever!! The famous Vishwanath galli has numerous shops which sell the famous Banarasi sarees, silk, shawls and in every 10 ft you cover, you will find the famous Banarasi churis. The most surprising fact here is that every shop has some exquisite stock of bangles which attract the crowd. You will find many people doing their wedding shopping from here itself! In every 50 ft. you will see the pan and zarda shops selling famous indigenous Banarasi pans and masalas.
The city, although a spot of hindu pilgrimage gives an exemplary instance of coexistence of both hindu and muslim cultures in the same place which never comes into confrontation.
Tips: Buying exclusive sarees n silk? Visit Mohan’s silk store on the entrance to Vishwanath galli from the ghat’s end. They have an exclusive collection of sarees.
Staying by the river? We stayed at Palace on Steps on the Assi ghat- you have to walk about 1.5 km through bangali tola’s narrow lanes intercepted by bulls and cows but if you really wanna have the banarasi feel, you can opt for it. An added advantage is their rooftop restaurant which offers a variety of standard dishes available at a restaurant and of course serves non-veg!! The riverside view is simply awesome and you would love to spend hours on the breezy balcony by the riverside or on the terrace with your cup of coffee with the river flowing by.