"Are there not many holy places on this earth ?
Yet which of them would equal in the balance one speck of Kashi's dust ?
Are there not many rivers running to the sea?
Yet which of them is like the River of Heaven in Kashi ?
The Ganges, Shiva, and Kashi : Where this Trinity is watchful,
no wonder here is found the grace that leads one on to perfect bliss"
Like a loved one, the sacred city is called by many names.
1. Kashi - It is said to derive from the Sanskrit word kāsh,"to shine, to look brilliant or beautiful"
2. Varanasi/Banaras - It is the official name of the city. Any resident of the city will explain that Varanasi sits between the the Varana River, which flows into the Ganges on the north, and the Asi river, which joins Ganges on the south. According to the myth, the two rivers were created by the gods and placed in position to guard against the entrance of evil. One river was named " The sword (Asi) and the other was named "The Averter ( Varana)"
I covered Varanasi in 2 days of which 1 day went in exploring Sarnath.
How to Reach ?
Air - The frequency of flight is less and the ticket is also little expensive compared to other routes.
Note- The Airport is situated nearly 23 kms away from the city which will take you around 40 mins.
Train - I think this is the best way to reach Varanasi because almost every train going towards the north halts at this Station because it is a major Junction too .
Where to Stay ? -
There are many options ranging from 5 star Hotels to Hostel or Guest House. You can choose any one of them depending on your budget. I was staying at Hotel Hindustan International . The rooms are quite good and the food is absolutely lip smacking. It is very close to the Varanasi railway station.
Note - It is better if you stay near the ghats to feel the actual vibe of the city.
How to travel within the city ?
There is a variety of options to choose from E-Rickshaws, CNG rickshaws, Car and 2 wheelers .
But i'll recommend you to use E-Rickshaw/2 wheelers because the heart of urban Banaras has very fewer streets which are wide enough for Automobile traffic. There are many E-Rickshaw's running in the city. They will charge you anywhere between 100-200 rupees depending on the number of person and distance. This E-rickshaw can accommodate around 7 person. Best part about it ? No Pollution .
Places to visit ?
1. Kashi Vishwanath Temple -
Kashi Vishvanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. The main deity is known by the name Vishvanatha or Vishveshvara meaning 'Ruler of The Universe'. For at least a thousand years, Vishvanatha has been the pre-eminent Shiva linga in kashi. It was built as recently as the late 18th century under the patronage of Queen Ahalyabai Holkar of Indore. The History of previous temples that housed the linga of Vishveshvara is, in a nutshell, the histroy of Varanasi over the past thousand year: a tale of repeated destruction and desecration.
The Aarti timings are :
Mangala Aarti : 3 AM- 4 AM (Morning)
Bhog Aarti : 11.15 AM to 12.20 PM (Day)
Sandhya Aarti : 7 PM to 8.15 PM (Evening)
Shringar Aarti : 9 PM to 10.15 PM (Night)
Shayan Aarti : 10.30 PM – 11 PM (Night)
Details regarding other information such as special aarti booking and live darshan can be found here.
Note- Mobile phones, Leather items is not allowed into the temple premises.
2. Tulsi Manas temple -
Dedicated to Lord Rama, Tulsi Manas Temple is situated next to another famed shrine called Durga Temple. It is a white-marble temple that has its walls covered with the text from Tulsi Das written Ramcharitramanas. It is believed that the temple is located at a place where Tulsi Das wrote this famous Indian epic.
3. Ghats -
The city has 100 ghats. Most of the ghats are for bathing and puja ceremony ghats, while two ghats are used exclusively as cremation sites.
Since we were a group of 10-12 people, we booked an entire boat which costed us around 5000 rupees. The experience was surreal. Best way to cover most of the ghats is through a boat ride...HIGHLY RECOMMENDED !!
Must visit Ghats :
1) Asi Ghat -
Assi Ghat is situated where the Ganges River meets the river Assi. It's located at the extreme southern end of the city, and hence it's not as crowded as the other ghats. Pilgrims bathe there before worshiping Lord Shiva, in the form of huge lingam under a nearby pipal tree.
2) Dashashvamedha Ghat -
This is the most popular ghat along the ganges where all the action takes place. It is one of the oldest ghat in Varanasi. The famous Ganga Aarti takes place here every evening.
The crowd at this ghat looks like this during Aarti -
3) Manikarnika Ghat -
Manikarnika ghat ...."THE SANCTUARY OF DEATH"
At manikarnika cremation ground , the funeral pyre is said to have burned for as long as anyone can remember .
It is said that if you are cremated here you get MOKSHA, the rarest, most precious, most difficult to achieve spiritual goals .
manikarnika was dug and filled with water by Lord Vishnu himself using his Chakra
It was a lotus pond , called Pushkarini ( collectively called Chakrapushkarini...since it was made using chakra )
Origin of name - MANIKARNIKA ? It is said that one day shiva and Parvati both bathed in this kund made by Vishnu . Shiva’s crest jewel ( MANI ) and parvati’s earring ( KARNIKA ) fell off into the kund while they were bathing and so it is called as MANIKARNIKA.
3. Harishchandra Ghat-
This ghat is named after Raja Harishchandra, who once worked at this ghat. This king is believed to be righteous and truthful and gods were pleased with his humble behavior and thus retrieved his lost kingdom and his dead son to him. It is one of the two cremation ghats in Varanasi.
4. Tulsi ghat -
This ghat is named after the great poet Tulsidas, who is believed to be the author of the Hindu epic Ramcharitramanas. It is believed Tulsidas sat on this ghat of the river and wrote a large part of Ramcharitramanas here. According to locals the first ever Ramlila (the story of Lord Rama’s life) was staged at this ghat.
Places to Eat ?
1. Baati Chokha - Must try Paneer Baati and Sattu Baati with Baingan chokha.
2. Pizzeria Vaatika Cafe - Apple Pie is the best at this place.
3. Pahalwan Lassi - This outlet is famous for it's Lassi and Malaiyo's. Also please try a Kulhad of tasty hot milk at this place.