Considered the spiritual capital of India, Varanasi is an ancient city that lies along the sacred waters of the Ganges River. It is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited places and lies near where the Buddha is said to have given his first sermon “The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma” in 528 BC.
Things to do in Varanasi
Wake early for a sunrise boat trip on the Ganges River to watch the ghats come to life with the day’s first rays. Observe sadhus and pilgrims bathing in the river waters and marvel at the former palaces that line its banks. Ancient funerary rites are performed at the Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats, with it believed that the deceased will be transported to heaven if their ashes are laid in the River Ganges here.
Varanasi is home to around 2,000 temples that are used for daily prayers and rituals by local devotees. One of the most significant is the Kashi Vishwanath Temple (also known as the “Golden Temple”) built by Queen Ahilyabai Holker in 1780. Also not to miss is the Durga Temple, which is renowned for its Nagara architectural style.
In the evening, settle in at Dasawamedh Ghat to watch the enchanting Aarti Ceremony, which can be observed from land or aboard a boat. Performed in honour of the River Goddess Ganga, it incorporates chanting and the raising of illuminated brass lamps by pandits draped in saffron-coloured robes. At the end of the ceremony, you can participate by floating a flower-adorned candle down the river.
Getting around Varanasi
Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport is a 35-minute drive from Varanasi and has flights to destinations across India. Regular trains connect to the Varanasi Junction railway station and rickshaws are readily available for getting around the city.