Think Varanasi and what comes to your mind are the ghats, the Ganga arti and Banarasi silk. An experience of a lifetime, Varanasi can leave you exhausted, excited and enlightened, all at the same time. Considered to be one of the 7 holy cities of India, this place is thronged by Indian and foreigners, alike.Read on to find out a list of places to visit in Varanasi.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Also known as the Golden Temple of Varanasi once upon a time due to its golden spire and dome, Kashi Vishwanath is one of the 12 jyotirlings of India and the most important Shiv temple in Varanasi. The history of this temple dates back to 3500 years ago. A visit to this holy city would go incomplete without seeking blessings of Lord Shiva at Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The temple has small pockets of the Shivling and other shrines spread along the Vishwanath Gali. A visit to the temple in the wee hours of morning would make a perfect start to your day in Varanasi. The New Kashi Vishwanath temple stands in place of the old Golden Temple, which was demolished by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
The Assi Ghat is one of those ghats in the holy city that make this famous. The Ghat is situated at the interjection of River Ganga and Assi, towards the south of the city and is a busy place where tourists are awe-struck by the sight of the huge Lingam, which throngs of pilgrims come to worship and pay their respects to, every year. The enchanting sigh of the evening arti at the Ghat is an experience that will leave one feeling enlightened. One can find lot of foreign students, truth seekers, researchers and yogis living around this southernmost ghat of Varanasi.
The oldest and the main ghat of Varanasi, the Dashashwamedh ghat is considered to be an important landmark of Varanasi. There is a famous myth associated with the name of this ghat – Lord Brahma sacrificed 10 of his horses in a yagna (holy fire) here and since then, this ghat is called the Dashashwamedh (dash meaning 10 and ashwamedh means horse). Located near the Kashi Vishwanath temple, this ghat is thronged by devotees, sadhus, tourists and beggars, alike. As with most ghats in the city, the evening arti leaves one spellbound and feeling enlightened and earthen lamps are lit in the ghat by devotees.
Built by a Bengali Maharani in the 18th century, this temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga and is also known as Durga Temple. Constructed in a Nagara style of architecture, it’s called the Monkey Temple due to the excessive crowd of monkeys there. It is believed that the deity of Goddess Durga in this temple is not constructed by man, but came into existence on its own. The temple is painted in red and white and is a popular temple of Varanasi. Even non-Hindus are allowed to enter the temple, except the inner sanctum.
Mostly done in Islamic architecture, traces of North Indian or Hindu architecture can also be seen in this famous mosque built by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th The mosque is believed to have been constructed on the ruins of the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple, which was demolished by Aurangzeb. This beautiful mosque stands on the banks of rive Ganga and has a scenic beauty to it. It is known as the Alamgir mosque after Aurangzeb, who had adopted this honorific title ‘Alamgir’, after he captured the city of Banaras. Lamps are lighted on top of bamboo staff in October at the edge of this mosque, at the Panchganga Ghat, signifying the guidance of ancestors.
Home to the royals of Varanasi about 400 years ago, this fort today stands in ruins and yet has retained its charm and historical importance. Built in the 17th century, across the Tulsi ghat, beyond river Assi, the Ramnagar Fort is famous for its museum that lets one take a close look at the era gone by. It has a rare collection of ornamented swords, photographs from tiger shoots, ivory works, American cars, medieval costumes and pictures of the King and Queen of Belgium from their visit to Varanasi. It is also famous for its large-sized astronomical clock.
The Manikarnika Ghat is unlike any other ghat in the city. This is where the cremation of the deceased takes places. The sight of the glowing cremation pyre, the setting sun in the horizon and the candle lit flower bowls flowing in the river almost pauses time. The experience is startling and tugs at your soul, yet there’s nothing eerie about this ghat. As per the Hindu mythology, the ear ornament worn by Sati dropped at this ghat, when Lord Shiva was carrying her across the Himalaya and it is believed that those who are cremated here attain moksha and are freed of the cycle of birth and death.
There are various versions that talk about the establishment of Chunar Fort, which is situated about 23kms from Varanasi. According to Hindu mythology, the monkey king, Bali, is believed to have given a piece of his land as a gift to Gods, who placed their first step in the hills of Chunar and hence the name. It is also believed that the history of Chunar Fort dates back to the 16th century, where the troops of Mughal Emperor Babar’s army were garrisoned. The tombs of a few brave soldiers from Babar’s army are still worshipped here and the place has a spooky aura to it.
Gyan Vapi Well
Located inside the Gyanvapi mosque, popularly known as the Alamgir Mosque, the Gyan Vapi Well is considered to be the Well of Wisdom. During the British rule, the water of this well was considered than that of River Ganga because the well contains the Shiva lingam from the original Vishwanath temple. The shivlinga was hidden by priests in this well, to prevent it from destruction, when the original Kashi Vishwanath temple was vandalized by Aurangzeb. This has made this well an important place of visit in Varanasi and is thronged by tourists and historians.
The city of Sarnath, 13 kms away from Varanasi, holds special importance to Buddhists, as it is believed that Lord Buddha visited this city in 528 BC and preached the Wheel of Law or Dharmachakra here, after attaining enlightenment. Considered to be one of the most important learning centers in India, the Deer Park complex, which has the Dhamekh Stupa, is where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon to five disciples. Even King Ashoka, who was a disciple of Lord Buddha, constructed the Dharmarajika Stupa, which has small monasteries and temples. This place is a must visit for those seeking some spiritual enlightenment and are followers of Buddhism.
Man Mandir Observatory
Located at the bank of river Ganga, adjoining the palace of Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur, this observatory was built by the king of Jaipur in 1737, who was also a great astronomer. This observatory is famous for the masonry observatory and has a one of its kind, equatorial sundial. The Man Mandir Observatory is a heritage site in Varanasi and is now under the Archeological Survey of India. The finely painted ceilings of this observatory and the enchanting views of the eastern and western banks of River Ganga, which can be seen from the terrace of this monument, also make it a popular place among tourists.
Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum
The Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum is housed inside the Banaras Hindu University and displays a rich collection of Indian paintings. About 12,000 paintings are showcased in the Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum and some of these paintings date back to the 11th The 11th century statue of Vishnu, the sculptures depicting the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvati, Mughal miniatures and the Gandhara sculptures are some of the major tourist attractions at this museum.
One of the few quiet ghats of Varanasi, the Tulsi Ghat is named after the great Indian poet Tulsidas, who is the author of the epic Ramcharitramanas. It is believed that parts of the book were written by Tulsidas,sitting at a corner of this ghat. Not only for its association with Ramcharitramanas, the Tulsi Ghat is also famous because the first ever RamLila was staged here. A temple dedicated to Lord Ram stands at the temple, which is worshipped by thousands every day. The Tulsi Ghat is famous for its KrishnaLila which is staged in the month of Oct/Nov.
Not only the ghats and temples, Varanasi is also famous for its shopping markets. The Godowalia market is the oldest and the most famous market of Varanasi. You can shop to your heart’s content here. Right from household items to jewelry and cosmetics, bangles and trinkets, name it and you will get it here. To experience the real essence of Banaras, the Godowalia market, the Chowk and Vishwanath Gali are a must visit. These markets are vibrant with life and bustling with energy, be it the scorching heat of summer or the chills of winter and are famous for their silk items and ornate jewelry.
The Banaras Silk Emporium
Who hasn’t heard of the Banarasi Silk Saris. The Banaras Silk is well-famed across the world. And while you are in the city, why miss a chance to visit the silk emporium and get yourself or your loved ones a gift that they will treasure for a lifetime. Be it a saree, stole or bedcovers, hand pick the best of silk with impeccable quality and at reasonable prices, right from its place of origin. Nothing ever beats the feeling of being an original, now.