Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi

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Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta

Mysticism resonates all over as soon as I get off my train. India’s spiritual capital and one of the oldest cities in the world welcomes me with open arms. Varanasi, considered by many as one of the holiest cities in the world, bejewelled on the banks of the Ganges spoke to me with an uncanny familiarity.
3 days is not enough, in fact not even a lifetime in Varanasi. Narrow alleys, homes leaning on to one another and an inherent aura kept me wide eyed throughout my sojourn.

Photo of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Sukanya Dutta

Where to stay:    I have always preferred cosy, warm places. Accompanied by an energetic gang of girls, we were suggested to go for a hostel called Wander Station (thank you Debjani for this). An extremely well maintained dorm was provided to us and the location was just 5 kms from the Railway Station... the crown jewel – the famous and revered Kashi Vishwanath Temple was just a stone’s throw away from the hostel! The terrace with a bird’s eye view of the city was an added bonus. The hostel wall was embellished by different art forms from Hindu and Buddhist mythology – all in all a sight for sore eyes.

Photo of Wander Station Varanasi, Lane, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wander Station Varanasi, Lane, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wander Station Varanasi, Lane, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wander Station Varanasi, Lane, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wander Station Varanasi, Lane, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wander Station Varanasi, Lane, Bangali Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Sukanya Dutta

While, I can go on and on about the city, I’d rather speak about some absolute musts while one is there at the holy city. 

1. Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple and other temples: The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples and is also known as the ‘Golden Temple’. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple stands on the western bank of the holy Ganges and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas - the holiest of Shiva temples. The temple houses the Jyotirling of Shiva “Vishwanath”. The Vishwanath Jyotirlinga has a very unique significance in India’s spiritual history. A visit to the temple and a bath in the river Ganges is believed to lead one on the path to Moksha. Due to security issues, the area is constantly manned by army personnel.  Bags, electronics viz- cameras, mobile phones, sunglasses to even pens need to be deposited in the locker before you enter the temple. It is preferable to leave your stuff at your hotel. The crowd can be intense, so be prepared for a rough time. But the Lord’s wish prevailed! I managed to reach to the Lingam, believed to absolve one of all sins (that’s another topic for another day!). Other must visit religious places are the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple & Annapurnadevi and Kalbhairav Temples.  

Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta

2. Boat ride on the Ganges: One of the best things to do in Varanasi is to go for a boat ride on the Ganges. The city and the river are like conjoined twins, one incomplete without the other. One of the highlights of my visit was to sit on the boat, watch the chopping waters of the river and witness the devotion all around. Pilgrims taking a dip as you sail down is a common sight. It is best to take the boat ride during sunset, especially during the Aarti, the view is spectacular and something which has to be experienced.

3. Visit the Burning Ghat: I doubt whether there exists any other place like this, where redemption or Moksha is so highly revered. The two famous burning ghats of the city – Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat are a must see. While tourists are allowed to pass through and taking photographs is allowed, I believe one must give the place and the people present there, the respect and veneration they deserve. Best is to act judiciously.

Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta

4. Witnessing the Ganga Aarti : When we talk about Varanasi, watching the evening Aarti is a must. The multitude of people gathering, the mantras filling the air and a sublime and spirited sight by itself, the Aarti is a must see. This 45 minute ceremony takes place every evening at the Dashaswamedh Ghat.

Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta

5. Go for a sightseeing tour of Sarnath and Ramnagar Fort: Sarnath is located just 10 kms away from Varanasi. It has been developed as a pilgrimage spot. While the Buddhist architecture completely takes you aback, one also marvels at the sheer ingenuity of the construction.

The Ramnagar Fort, situated 14 kms from Varanasi and built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh in 1750, is adorned with curved balconies, open courtyards, and pavilions. Only a part of the structure is open to the public, while the remaining is used as the residence of Kashi Naresh’ successors. The fort and the palace’s scenic beauty makes it a preferred shooting spot for many a film.

Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta

6. The Blue Lassi Shop: You can find a lassi shop in almost every corner of Varanasi but the Blue Lassi shop stands tall among the lot. With as many as 75 flavours of lassi on offer, each with different toppings, this tiny yoghurt shop is a hidden gem, serving you Varanasi's freshest, creamiest, fruit-filled lassis for over 90 years. It is just a 3 minute walk from the Manikarnika Ghat. The blue walls are covered with passport sized photos of the visitors and patrons. My personal recommendation would be the Mango/Coffee/Chocolate or Coconut lassi.

7. Bhang Lassi from Godowlia: Happy high is the mood when you visit Varanasi. Cannabis or bhang is sold by government authorised shops and is generously used in beverages, especially ones made with milk. There are plenty of places where you can find this “special” lassi”. I followed the locals to the renowned Raju Thandai Ghar at Gowdolia Chowk. They serve Bhang Lassi and also Bhang Ki Thandai, a sumptuous milk drink (with weed). This one is highly recommended! One ‘medium-strength’ drink is strong enough!

8. Chaat from Deena Chat Bhandar: When you visit Varanasi, you have to taste the different chaats from Deena Chaat Bhandar. This famous chaat shop in Varanasi is known for some unique combinations served in khullads. I tried the Tamatar, Papri and Aloo Chaats. As a contrast to the savoury chaats was the Kulfi Faluda, again a must try. Tasty and reasonably priced, a visit is absolutely recommended.

9. Banarasiya Pan: When in Benaras, be Banarasiya! A ‘paan’tastic taste like none other, the Banarasiya Paan is a treat! Choose your ingredients from Kattha, Chuna, Snuff, Kiwam, Gulab Chutney, Baba Chutney, Gulkand, Paan Chutney, Coconut and many more. Kuber Paan Bhandar near Godowlia Chowk and Deepak Tambul Bhandar at Dashashwamedh Ghat are two famous paan shops in Varanasi and should feature in your itinerary!

10. Shopping in Varanasi’s local markets: One is in for a ‘saree’ state of affairs in Varanasi. Famous for its Benarasi silk sarees, shoppers can saunter into Vishwanath Gali and buy some traditional apparel at affordable prices. Bargaining skills are an added advantage if you are there. Do also visit the local food stalls for some sweets and snacks. You can also shop for knick knacks for home and brass statues of religious deities.

Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta
Photo of Wanderings in Varanasi - Top 10 things to do in Varanasi by Sukanya Dutta

My time in the city was like a festival of sorts. As I headed back to the mundane, I was both enlightened and intrigued by its charms, solaced and inspired by the people, the holy Ganges, the rituals and above all the sheer emotion that is Varanasi. 

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