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Varanasi
वाराणसी
Banaras
Varanasi
वाराणसी
Location of Varanasi
वाराणसी
in Uttar Pradesh and India
Coordinates 25°16′55″N 82°57′23″E / 25.282°N 82.9563°E / 25.282; 82.9563
Country  India
State Uttar Pradesh
District(s) Varanasi
Mayor Kaushlendra Singh
Population
Density
3147927 (district)[1] (2001)
1,995 /km2 (5,167 /sq mi)[2]
Time zone IST (UTC+05:30)
Area
Elevation
1550 km2 (598 sq mi)
80.71 m (265 ft)

Varanasi (Sanskrit: वाराणसी Vārāṇasī, Hindustani pronunciation: [ʋaːˈɾaːɳəsiː]  ( listen)), also commonly known as Benares or Banaras (Hindi: बनारस, Urdu: بنارس, Banāras [bəˈnɑːɾəs]  ( listen)) and Kashi (Hindi: काशी, Urdu: کاشی, Kāśī [ˈkaːʃiː]  ( listen)), is a city situated on the banks of the River Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, regarded as holy by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest of India.[3][4]

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi and an essential part of all religious celebrations.[5] The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river's religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in North India for several thousand years. The Benares Gharana form of Indian classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi, including Kabir, Ravidas Their Guru Swami Ramanand, Trailanga Swami, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Bismillah Khan. Tulsidas wrote Ramacharitamanas here, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath located near Varanasi (Kashi).[6]

Varanasi is home to four universities: Banaras Hindu University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. Residents mainly speak Kashika Bhojpuri, which is closely related to the Hindi language. People often refer to Varanasi as "the city of temples", "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", "the city of lights", and "the city of learning."[7]

American writer Mark Twain wrote: "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together."[8]

Contents

Etymology

The name Varanasi,[9] has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi for it lies with the confluence of Varuna with the Ganges being to its north and that of Assi and the Ganges to its south.[10] Another speculation about the origin of the name is that the river Varuna itself was called Varanasi in olden times, from where the city got its name.[11] This is generally disregarded by historians though there may be some earlier texts suggesting it to be so.[12]

Through the ages, Varanasi was variously known as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, and Kasi.[13]

In the Rigveda, the city was referred to as Kasi or Kashi, "the luminous one" as an allusion to the city's historical status as a center of learning, literature, and culture.[14] Kasikhanda described the glory of the city in 15,000 verses in the Skanda Purana. In one verse, God Shiva says,

The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kasi is my royal palace therein.[15]

Another reference to Varanasi is found in a hymn by Sri Veda Vyasa:

Ganga-taranga-ramaneeya-jataakalaapam,
Gauri-nirantara-vibhushita-vaamabhaagam.
Narayanapriyam-Ananga-madaapahaaram,
Varanasi-pura-patim bhaja Vishwanatham.

History

Ancient Indian (Bharat) cities and places (title and location names are in English.)

According to legend, the city was founded by the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, around 5,000 years ago,[3] thus making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. It is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus. Many Hindu scriptures, including the Rigveda, Skanda Purana, Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, mention the city.

Varanasi is generally believed to be about 3,000 years old.[16] Varanasi was a commercial and industrial center famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 567 BCE), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. The celebrated Chinese traveler, Xuanzang, attested that the city was a center of religious, educational, and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 km along the western bank of the Ganges.

Varanasi (Benares) in 1922.
Painting of Benares in 1890.

Kashi Naresh and Ramnagar

Varanasi became an independent Kingdom of Kashi in the eighteenth century, and under subsequent British rule, it remained a commercial and religious center. In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramanagar as its headquarters but with no jurisdiction over the city of Varanasi itself. Kashi Naresh still resides in the fort of Ramanagar. The Ramnagar Fort of the Kashi Naresh is situated to the east of Varanasi, across the Ganges.[17] The Ramnagar Fort was built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone in the eighteenth century.[5] It is a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and picturesque pavilions.[5] The other fort of the Kashi Naresh is the Chet Singh Palace, near Shivala Ghat, Varanasi built by Maharaja Chet Singh.[18]

Ramnagar Fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Benares and since the 18th century has been the home of Kashi Naresh.[5] Even today the Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the people of Benares.[5] He is the religious head and the people of Benares consider him the incarnation of Lord Shiva.[5] He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.[5]

Geography and climate

Geography
Varanasi is closely associated with the Ganges and has many temples along its banks

The city of Varanasi is located in the middle Ganga valley of North India, in the Eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, along the left crescent-shaped bank of the Ganga river. It has the headquarters of Varanasi district. The "Varanasi Urban Agglomeration" — an agglomeration of seven urban sub-units — covers an area of 112.26 km² (approximately 43 mi²).[19] The urban agglomeration is stretched between 82° 56’E - 83° 03’E and 25° 14’N - 25° 23.5’N.[19] Being located in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India, the land is very fertile because low level floods in the Ganges continually replenish the soil.

On a local level, Varanasi is located on a higher ground between rivers Ganga and Varuna, the mean elevation being 80.71 m.[20] As a result of absence of tributaries and canals, the main land is continuous and relatively dry. In ancient times, this geographic situation must have been highly favorable for forming settlements. But it is difficult to ascertain the original geography of Varanasi because the city's current location is not exactly the same as the one described in some old texts.

Varanasi is often said to be located between two confluences: one of Ganga and Varuna, and other of Ganga and Assi , (Assi having always been a rivulet rather than a river.) The distance between these two confluences is around 2.5 miles, and religious Hindus regard a round trip between these two places—a Pancha-kroshi Yatra (a five mile journey) ending with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple as a holy ritual.

Climate

Varanasi has a humid subtropical climate with large variations between summer and winter temperatures. Summers are long, from early April to October, with intervening monsoon seasons. Cold waves from the Himalayan region cause temperatures to dip across the city in the winter from December to February. The temperature ranges between 32°C – 46°C (90°F – 115°F) in the summers, and 5°C – 15°C (41°F – 59°F) in the winters.[20] The average annual rainfall is 1110 mm (44 in).[21] Fog is common in the winters, while hot dry winds, called loo, blow in the summers.

Through a combination of water pollution, new constructions of upstream dams, and increase in the local temperature, the water level of the Ganges has recently gone down significantly, and small islands have become visible in the middle of the river.

A view of the Ghat of Varanasi from the River Ganges

Economy

Varanasi has several small cottage industries, including Banarasi Silk sari making, the production of textiles such as hand-woven carpets, and handicrafts. Banarasi paan (betel leaf) and khoa (a milk product) are popular, and the related small-scale industries employ many people.

Banarasi Silk is known all over the world for its finery and softness. Banarasi Sarees are adorned with intricate designs and zari embellishments making it popular during traditional functions and weddings. Earlier, the embroidery on sarees were often done with threads of pure gold.

Indian Railways runs a major diesel locomotive factory in Varanasi, Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW). The first Indian business house of Varanasi and Kanpur was the firm NihalChand KishoriLal established in the year 1857 which set up the fourth Oxygen plant in the country here by the name of Indian Air Gases Ltd.

According to Macaulay, Varanasi was the "city which, in wealth, population, dignity and sanctity was among the foremost in Asia". He described the commercial importance saying "from the looms of Benaras went forth the most delicate silks that adorned the halls of St. James and of Versailles."[15][22] Varanasi is a centre of Child labour. [23]

Administration and Politics

Varanasi is governed by a number of bodies, the prime being the Varanasi Nagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation) and Varanasi Development Authority, which is responsible for the master planning of the city. Water supply and sewage system is maintained by Jal Nigam, a subsidiary of Nagar Nigam. Power supply is by the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited. The city produces about 350 million litres per day[24] of sewer and 425 tonnes per day of solid waste.[25] The solid wastes are disposed in one landfill site.[26] A huge amount of sewer flows into the river Ganga daily. Nagar Nigam also runs a bus service in the city and suburban areas. The city is within the Varanasi range of Varanasi zone of Uttar Pradesh Police. A Special Superintendent of Police is the highest ranking police officer in the city.[27] The city constitutes the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency. Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi of the Bharatiya Janata Party won the constituency in Indian general election, 2009.[28] Varanasi was one the five cities where Ganga Action Plan was launched.

Education

Banaras Hindu University is a major university in Varanasi

The schools are affiliated with the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), or the U. P. Board.

University education

Varanasi is the site of three public universities:

  1. Banaras Hindu University was founded in 1916 by Madan Mohan Malaviya with the cooperation of Annie Besant. Its 1350 acre (5.5 km²) campus was built on land donated by the Kashi Naresh. The University includes Institute of Technology and Institute of Medical Sciences and is among the top three largest residential universities in the world, having more than 128 independent teaching departments.[29]
  2. Sampurnanand Sanskrit University: Governor General Lord Cornwallis established the Sanskrit College (1791), which was the first college in Varanasi. The first principal of Sanskrit College was Sanskrit professor J. Myor, ICS followed by J.R. Ballentien, RTH Griffith, Dr. G. Thevo, Dr. Aurthor Venice, Dr. Ganganath Jha, and Gopinath Kaviraj among others. After India achieved independence, this college became Sampurnanand Sanskrit University.[30]
  3. Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth is a deemed and chartered university that is named for Gandhi and follows the principles of Gandhism.

The Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (Central University of Tibetan Studies) at Sarnath is a deemed university with a preference for the traditional Tibetan method of teaching within a framework of modern universities.[31] Udai Pratap College, autonomous college, is the center of sports and science study for the suburban students of modern Benares. Agrasen Mahila Mahavidyala is another autonomous college in the city. Varanasi has many private and public institutes that provide Hindu religious teaching. Since ancient times people have been coming to Varanasi to learn philosophy, Sanskrit, astrology, social science and religious teachings. In Indian tradition, Varanasi is often called Sarva Vidya Ki Rajdhani (capital of knowledge).[32] The city also has the Jamiah Salafiah, a Salafi Islamic institution.[33]

There are various degree colleges across the city like Agrasen Degree College, Harishchandra Degree College, Arya Mahila Degree College, and the School of Management .

Culture

Varanasi attracts thousands of Hindu piligrims every year.
Wall paintings, Varanasi, 1974

Varanasi's "Old City," the quarter near the banks of Ganga, has crowded narrow winding lanes that are flanked by road-side shops and scores of Hindu temples. As atmospheric as it is confusing, Varanasi's labyrinthine Old City is rich with culture, and a deservedly popular destination for travelers and tourists.[34] The main residential areas of Varanasi (especially for the middle and upper classes) are situated in regions far from the ghats; they are more spacious and less polluted.

Ram leela at Ramnagar

When the Dasara festivities are inaugurated with a colourful pageant Kashi Naresh rides an elephant at the head of the procession.[5] Then, resplendent in silk and brocade, he inaugrates the month long folk theatre of Ramlila at Ramnagar, Varanasi.[5] The Ramlila is a cycle of plays which recounts the epic story of Lord Rama, as told in Rāmacaritamānasa, the version of the Ramayana penned by Tulsidas.[5] The plays sponsored by the Maharaja, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days.[5] On the last day the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana.[5] Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition of staging the Ramleela at Ramnagar in mid-nineteenth century.<[5] This is very important to the river ganges ritual

Holy City

People performing Hindu ceremony at one of the ghats of Varanasi

Varanasi is a holy city in Hinduism, being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations. More than 1,000,000 pilgrims visit the city each year. It has the holy shrine of Lord Kashi Vishwanath (a manifestation of Lord Shiva), and also one of the twelve revered Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.

Hindus believe that bathing in Ganga remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person's soul from the cycle of its transmigrations. Hindus regard Kashi as one of the Shakti Peethas, and that Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati's earrings fell.[15] Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard river Ganga itself as Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have always co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously.

Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself (the others being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini). In the residential neighborhood of Varanasi lies Sarnath, the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha is said to have given his first sermon about the basic principles of Buddhism. The Dhamek Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas still standing, though only its foundation remains. Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples (in the 5th century or earlier, BC). An octagonal tower was built later there.

Varanasi is a pilgrimage site for Jains along with Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to be the birthplace of Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Islamic culture has also had an influence on Varanasi. There has been some degree of continuous tension between different religious communities in the city.

Ghats

Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats. Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control. Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwes (Peshwas) stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned. The former Kashi Naresh owns Shivala or Kali ghat.

Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi

Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to Vishwanath Temple, and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses in a yajna here. A group of priests daily perform in the evening at this ghat "Agni Pooja" (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.

Manikarnika Ghat: Two legends are associated with this Ghat. According to one, it is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu dug a pit with his Chakra and filled it with his perspiration while performing various penances. While Lord Shiva was watching Lord Vishnu at that time, the latter's earring ("manikarnika") fell into the pit. According to the second legend, in order to keep Lord Shiva from moving around with his devotees, his consort Goddess Parvati hid her earrings, and asked him to find them, saying that they had been lost on the banks of Ganga. Goddess Parvati's idea behind the fib was that Lord Shiva would then stay around, searching forever for the lost earrings. In this legend, whenever a body gets cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings.

According to ancient texts, the owner of Manikarnika Ghat bought King Harishchandra as a slave and made him work on the Manikarnika at Harishchandra Ghat. Hindu cremations customarily take place here, though a majority of dead bodies are taken for cremation to the Manikarnik Ghat.

Scindia Ghat also known as Shinde Ghat borders Manikarnika to the north, with its Shiva temple lying partially submerged in the river as a result of excessive weight of the ghat’s construction about 150 years ago. Above the ghat, several of Kashi’s most influential shrines are located within the tight maze of alleys of Siddha Kshetra (Field of Fulfillment). According to tradition, Agni, the Hindu God of Fire was born here. Hindu devotees propitiate at this place Vireshwara, the Lord of all heroes, for a son.

Mana-Mandir Ghat: Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur built this Ghat in 1770, as well as the Yantra Mantra equipped with ornate window casings along with those at Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, and Mathura. There is a fine stone balcony in the northern part of the ghat. Devotees pay homage here to the lingam of Someswar, the Lord of the Moon.

Lalita Ghat: The late King of Nepal built this Ghat in the northern region of Varanasi. It is the site of Ganga Keshav Temple, a wooden temple built in typical Kathmandu style, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple also has an image of Pashupateshwar, a manifestation of Lord Shiva. Local festivals including musical parties and games regularly take place at the beautiful Assi Ghat which is at the end of the continuous line of ghats. It is a favorite site of painters and photographers. It is here at the Assi Ghat that Swami Pranabananda , the founder of Bharat Sevasharam Sangh ,attained 'Siddhi'(fullfilment / success ) in his 'Tapasya'(endeavor) for Lord Shiva , under the auspices of Guru Gambhirananda of Gorakhpur.

Other
Man Singh of Amber built Mana-Sarowar Ghat. Maharaja of Darbhanga built Darbhanga Ghat. Tulsidas wrote Rāmacaritamānasa at Tulsi Ghat. Devout Jains visit Bachraj Ghat in particular because it has three Jain temples near the river's banks.

Temples

Durga Mandir (temple) in Ramnagar in Varanasi

Varanasi is a city of temples. Almost every road crossing has a nearby temple. Such small temples form the basis of daily local prayers and other rituals. But there are many large temples too, erected at different times through out the history of Varanasi.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple, also called Golden Temple,[35] which in its present shape was built in 1780 by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, is located on the outskirts of the Ganga. This temple makes Varanasi a place of great religious importance to the Hindus, as Vishweshwara or Vishwanatha, the aforementioned Jyotirlinga of the Lord Shiva is enshrined here. It is said that a single view of Vishwanatha Jyotirlinga is considered to merit more than that of other jyotirlingas. A Naubatkhana was built up in front of the Temple by the collector Mohammed Ibrahim Khan at the instance of Governor General Warren Hastings in 1785. In 1839, Punjab Kesari, the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab donated gold to cover the two domes of the temple. On 28 January 1983 the Temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh and its management was transferred to a trust with Late Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, then Kashi Naresh, as president and an executive committee with Divisional Commissioner as chairman.[36]

The temple was once destroyed by the Muslim Emperor Aurangzeb who built a mosque over it. It was later resurrected at a location near the mosque.

Durga Temple, also nicknamed "Monkey temple," was built at some point of time in 18th century. The temple got the name 'Monkey temple' because of the presence of large number of monkeys in the temple. According to legends, the present statue of Goddess Durga was not made by man but appeared on its own in the temple. Thousands of Hindu devotees visit the Durga temple during Navratri and other auspicious occasions. Non-Hindus can enter the courtyard of the Durga temple but not the inner sanctum.

The architecture is of Nagara Style, which is typical of North India. The temple is accompanied by a rectangular tank of water called Durga Kund. ("Kund" meaning a pond or pool.) The temple has multi-tiered spires[35] and is stained red with ochre, signifying the red colour of Durga. The Kund was earlier connected to the river itself thus refreshing the water. This channel was later closed, leading to locked water which is replenished only by rain or drainage from the Temple. Every year on the occasion of Nag Panchami, the act of depicting Lord Vishnu reclining on the coiled-up mystical snake or "Shesha" is repeated in the Kund.

Sankat Mochan Temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and is very popular with the local citizens. It is a place for many yearly religious as well as cultural festivals. On 7 March 2006, one of the three explosions carried out by Islamic militants hit the temple, while the aarti, in which numerous worshippers and wedding attendees participated, was in progress.[37]

Vyasa Temple at Ramnagar According to a popular Puranic story, when Vyasa failed to get alms in Varanasi he put a curse on the city.[5] Soon after, at a house where Parvati and Shiva had taken human form as householders, Vyasa was so pleased with the alms he received that he forgot his curse.[5] However, because of his bad temper Shiva banished Vyasa from Varanasi.[5] Resolved to be near at hand, Vyasa took his residence on the other side of the Ganges where his temple may still be seen at Ramnagar.[5]

The new Vishwanath Temple, called Birla Mandir, mainly funded by Raja Birla of the Birla family of industrialists, was built as a replica of the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple.[38] Planned by Madan Mohan Malaviya, the temple is part of the Banaras Hindu University, and stands for national revival. The temple is open to people of all castes and religions.

Art and literature

Architecture of the Vishwanath Temple in BHU

Varanasi has its own culture of fine art and literature. Great Indian writers have lived in this city from Kabir, Ravidas, Tulsidas who wrote much of his Ram Charit Manas here, Kulluka Bhatt who wrote the best known commentary of Manusmṛti here in 15th century[39] and Bharatendu Harishchandra, later writers have been Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Tegh Ali, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Vagish Shastri, Baldev Upadhyaya, Sudama Pandey (Dhoomil) and Vidya Niwas Mishra.

Art lovers and historians like Rai Krishnadasa, his son Anand Krishna, musicians like Omkarnath Thakur[40], Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Lalmani Misra and his son Gopal Shankar Misra, N. Rajam, Rajbhan Singh, Anokhelal,[41] Samta Prasad [42], Kanthe Maharaj, M. V. Kalvint, Sitara Devi, Gopi Krishna , Kishan Maharaj, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Mahadev Mishra and numerous others have kept the city alive to the spiritual aspect of fine arts apart from their ability to entertain. Numerous festivals are celebrated that preserve traditional styles of classical and folk culture. All night, open music concerts like ones organised at Sankat Mochan Temple, Hori , Kajari and Chaiti Mela, Budwa Mangal, are annual features that draw connoisseurs from all over.

Sushruta, the great surgeon and author of Sushruta Samhita, the Sanskrit text of surgery, also lived in Varanasi.[43]

Saraswati Bhawan at Ramnagar Fort

A rare collection of manuscripts, especially religious writings, is housed in Saraswati Bhawan. It includes a precious handwritten manuscript by Tulsidas.[5] There are also many books illustrated in the Mughal miniature style, with beautifully designed covers.[5]

Demographics

The population of Varanasi urban agglomeration in 2001 was 1,371,749; the sex ratio was 879 females every 1000 males.[44] However, the area under Varanasi Nagar Nigam has a population of 1,100,748[45] with the sex ratio being 883 females for every 1000 males.[45] The literacy rate in the urban agglomeration is 77% while that in the municipal corporation area is 78%.[45] Approximately 138,000 people in the municipal area live in slums.[46] The crime rate in the city in 2004 was 128.5 per 100,000 which is higher than Uttar Pradesh rate of 73.2 but lower than the national rate of 168.8.[47]

Transport

Varanasi is well connected by air, rail and road with the major Indian cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Indore, Bhopal, Gwalior, Jabalpur, Ujjain, Jaipur etc. It is located at a distance of 776 km from Delhi. One of the major factors in Varanasi's sustained existence as an inhabited city is its role as an established transportation hub between different cities. Dating to the ancient times, the city was connected to cities like Taxila, Ghazipur, Pataliputra, Vaishali, Ayodhya, Gorakhpur, Agra etc.

Air

The Babatpur Airport (Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport) is located about 25 km from the city center and is well connected to Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Khajuraho, Bangkok, Colombo and Nepal. All the major domestic Indian carriers including Air India, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Indian Airlines, Spicejet, and Alliance Air operate from here.

Rail

The first railway line to Benares was opened from Kolkata in December 1862 and was built by the East Indian Railway Company.[48]

Varanasi Junction under the control of Northern Railways and Mughal Sarai Junction of East Central Railway are the two major railway stations within the city limit. Apart from these there are 16 other railway stations located within the city limits.

Road

Previously, the city was connected by a single road from Taxila going through Pataliputra during the Maurya Empire. This road was later renovated and extended by Sher Shah Suri during the 16th century and later came to be known as the famous Grand Trunk Road.[citation needed]

The NH 2 linking Delhi-Kolkata passes through the city and NH 7 which is the longest National Highway in India connects Varanasi with the cities of Jabalpur, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Madurai and Kanyakumari.

Public Transport

Auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are the most widely available public transport within Varanasi. In outer regions of the city, mini-buses are common. Small boats and small steamers are used to cross the River Ganga.

Tourism

Probably due to its unique culture, Varanasi is a major tourist destination for foreign tourists in India. A number of 3, 4 and 5 star hotels are present in the city, as well as more efficient housing for Western student researchers. All sort of cuisines are available mostly as street food due to rich and hospitable culture of Varanasi.

Varanasi is a noted centre for Banarasi silk weaving and brassware. Fine silks and brocaded fabrics, exquisite saris, brassware, jewellery, woodcraft, carpets, wall hangings, lamp shades and masks of Hindu and Buddhist deities are some of Varanasi's shopping attractions. The main shopping areas include the Chowk, Godaulia, Vishwanath Lane, Lahurabir and Thatheri Bazaar.[15] Assi Ghat, a midway point between Godaulia in the heart of downtown and youth culture of Benares Hindu University, is the district where most young, foreign, long-term residents stay.

Recent terrorism

In March 2006, bomb blasts from terrorists resulted in 120 people being killed and many injured. One of the bombs was planted in the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, a shrine dedicated to Lord Hanuman, while another was planted on a platform of the Varanasi Cantonment Railway Station, the main railway station in the city. A militant group, Lashkar-e-Kahab, claimed responsibility for the terror attacks.[49] In November 2007 Varanasi endured another bomb blast. The bomb was placed in the civil court of Varanasi. More than 20 people died and over 100 were injured.

In popular culture

Notable residents

See also

This article contains Indic text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks or boxes, misplaced vowels or missing conjuncts instead of Indic text.

References

  1. ^ "Ranking of Districts by Population Size in 1991 and 2001". Government of Uttar Pradesh. http://www.upgov.nic.in/upinfo/census01/cen01-1.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-04. 
  2. ^ "Ranking of Districts by Population Density". Government of Uttar Pradesh. http://www.upgov.nic.in/upinfo/census01/cen01-3.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-04. 
  3. ^ a b Lannoy, Richard (October 1999). Benares Seen from Within. University of Washington Press. Back Flap. ISBN 029597835X. OCLC 42919796. 
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  9. ^ www.ArunnGuptaa.com
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  17. ^ A review of Varanasi
  18. ^ Hindustan times, 10 May 2007
  19. ^ a b Singh, Rana P.B.. "Varanasi as Heritage City (India) on the scale the UNESCO World Heritage List: From Contestation to Conservation" (PDF). EASAS papers. Swedish South Asian Studies Network. http://www.sasnet.lu.se/EASASpapers/46RanaSingh.pdf. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
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  22. ^ "Varanasi". Tourism of India. HinduNet Inc.. 2003. pp. 2. http://www.freeindia.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=165&page=2. Retrieved 2007-03-07. "all along the shore lay great fleets of vessels laden with rich merchandise. From the looms of Benaras went forth the most delicate silks, that adorned the halls of St. James and of Versailles, and in the bazaars, the muslins of Bengal and sabres of Oude were mingled with the jewels of Golconda and the shawls of Cashmere" 
  23. ^ Mike Davis: Planet der Slums, Assoziation A, Berlin, 2007, page 196
  24. ^ Bhargava, Gopal. "Scheme for Varanasi". The Tribune. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2000/20001025/mailbag.htm. 
  25. ^ "Waste Generation and Composition". Management of municipal solid wastes. Planning Division, Central Pollution Control Board. http://www.cpcb.nic.in/pcpdiv_plan4.htm. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  26. ^ "Status of landfill sites in 59 cities". Management of municipal solid wastes. Planning Division, Central Pollution Control Board. http://www.cpcb.nic.in/pcpdiv_plan4.htm. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  27. ^ "UP Police Is divided into following zines consisting ranges & districts". UP Police. NIC. http://uppolice.up.nic.in/About%20UP%20Police.html. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  28. ^ Joshi beats Mukhtar with big margin. Times of India. 16 May 2009
  29. ^ "Banaras Hindu University". SurfIndia. http://www.surfindia.com/travel/uttar-pradesh/banaras-hindu-university.html. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  30. ^ Acharya Baldeva Upadhyay, Kashi ki Panditya Parampara, Vishwavidyalaya Prakashan, Varanasi, 1983.
  31. ^ "Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies". Varanasi City. http://www.varanasicity.com/education/tibetan-university.html. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  32. ^ "Educational Institutes in Varanasi". Varanasi City. http://www.varanasicity.com/education/index.html. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  33. ^ "Darul Uloom Jamia Rasheedia". Tipu Sultan Advanced Study & Research Centre (TSASRC). http://www.darulumoor.org/institutions.html. Retrieved 2007-03-07. 
  34. ^ "Austin Pick: Aboard the Mahabodhi Express". http://www.fudomouth.net/intertext/ap_subcontinent05.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
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  36. ^ "Shri Kashi Vishwanath Mandir Varanasi". National Informatics Centre, Government of India. http://varanasi.nic.in/temple/KASHI.html. Retrieved 2007-02-04. 
  37. ^ Sengupta, Somini (9 March 2006). "Indian City Shaken by Temple Bombings". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/09/international/asia/09india.html?pagewanted=print. Retrieved 4 December 2008. 
  38. ^ "Birla Temple (new Vishwanath Temple)". http://www.indnav.com/servlet/Browse?mt=goToName&name=Birla+Temple+(new+Vishwanath+Temple). Retrieved 2007-02-04. 
  39. ^ The Indian Empire The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1909, v. 2, p. 262.
  40. ^ "Omkar Nath Thakur". Culturopedia. http://www.culturopedia.com/personalities/indianpersonality-omkarnaththakur.html. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  41. ^ [www.parrikar.org/vpl/profiles/anokhelal_profile.pdf "Anokhelal Mishra"]. Rajan Parrikar Music Archive. www.parrikar.org/vpl/profiles/anokhelal_profile.pdf. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
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  43. ^ Susruta The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1909, v. 2, p. 570.
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  48. ^ Diaries of George Turnbull (Chief Engineer, East Indian Railway Company) held at the Centre of South Asian Studies at University of Cambridge, England
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External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Pilgrims bathing at Kedar Ghat at sunrise
Pilgrims bathing at Kedar Ghat at sunrise

Varanasi [1], once known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a historical city in northern India. The city is sacred to Hindus and also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In many ways Varanasi epitomizes the very best and worst aspects of India, and it can be a little overwhelming. However, the scene of pilgrims doing their devotions in the River Ganges at sunrise set against the back drop of the centuries old temples is probably one of the most impressive sights in the world - definitely a must see destination on any trip to northern India.

The city can be scorchingly hot in the summer months, if possible time your visit to fall between October and March, and bring something warm to wear for chilly days and nights.

Get in

Varanasi is well connected by train and bus, with multiple of each heading in every direction daily.

By train

Trains are the easiest way to reach Varanasi, with multiple daily services to cities including Delhi, Agra, Lucknow, Mumbai and Kolkata.

Varanasi is served by two major railway stations. Many trains arrive at Varanasi Junction (IR station code : BSB) in the heart of the city, and many others arrive at Mughal Sarai Junction (IR station code : MGS), about 15 km east of the city (Rs 20, 45 min in a rickshaw).

Here is a list of useful trains to reach Varanasi:

Train Number Train Name You may board at You may alight at
2424 Rajdhani Express New Delhi Mughal Sarai Junction
2436 Rajdhani Express New Delhi, Lucknow Varanasi Junction
2560 Shivganga Express New Delhi Varanasi Junction
2165 Lokmanya Tilak (T) - Varanasi Express Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Mumbai) Varanasi Junction
2336 Lokmanya Tilak (T) - Bhagalpur Express Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Mumbai) Mughal Sarai Junction
2333 Vibhuti Express Howrah (Kolkata) Mughal Sarai Junction, Varanasi Junction
2307 Howrah-Jodhpur Express Howrah (Kolkata) Mughal Sarai Junction
2669 Ganga Kaveri Express Chennai Central Varanasi Junction
2295 Sangamitra Express Bangalore City, Chennai Central Mughal Sarai Junction
7091 Secunderabad-Patna Express Secunderabad (Hyderabad) Mughal Sarai Junction, Varanasi Junction
4854 Marudhar Express Jaipur, Agra Fort Varanasi Junction
4864 Marudhar Express Jaipur, Agra Fort Varanasi Junction

Also see Rail travel in India

By bus

There are daily buses to the Nepali border and other points around northern India. Local buses leave from the main bus station near the train station, almost every hour in the morning and one in the evening, to Gorakhpur (5-6 hrs, Rs 120), from where buses leave to the Nepali border at Sonauli (~3 hrs, Rs 56).

There are buses run by state government from Lucknow (8hrs), Kanpur (9hrs - Rs. 195) and Allahabad(3hrs - Rs. 88)

By plane

Varanasi Airport (IATA: VNS) is about 25km from the city center. Indian Airlines [2], Air Sahara [3], Jet Airways [4], Kingfisher [5] and SpiceJet [6] all have daily flights to Delhi and there are daily flights to Mumbai on Air Sahara ,Indian Airlines and SpiceJet.

Allow plenty of time to get to the airport, it can take an hour or more depending on traffic. A taxi should run around Rs 200-250 or about Rs 125 in an auto-rickshaw, but most drivers will want to charge double since they will likely be coming back empty. If it suits your schedule there is a daily bus at 10AM that leaves from Hotel India and costs Rs 50.

Get around

Many of the sights are in the tiny narrow winding alleys of the waterfront. Rickshaws are only useful for longer trips across town or to the train stations. A cycle-rickshaw from the Junction train station to Dasaswamedh Ghat (or Godaulia if the road is closed) should cost Rs 20. From Godaulia to Assi Ghat is Rs 10. Taxis exist but traffic makes them impractical. There is a pre-paid auto-rickshaw stand at the Varanasi Junction (Cantt) train station.

By foot is the only way to see the waterfront and the ghats but be ready to be hot, sweaty, and lost - locals are usually happy to point you in the right direction. The names of ghats and signs pointing to restaurants and hotels are often painted on the walls in Roman letters. For better orientation, walk into any book store and pick up a small guide/map book that will have the list of all the ghats and their historical background.

By car

There are many car rental companies available"

  • Aero Wheels Travels Pvt. Ltd., [7] Nationwide Car Hire company. 095 94 97 0813
  • Enterprises Car Rental
  • Savaari Car Rental,Savaari Car Rental Varanasi [8] has a reputation for providing quality luxury car rentals Varanasi. For more information on online booking of Rental Car in Varanasi, [9]
  • Hertz Car Rental
New Vishvanath Temple at BHU
New Vishvanath Temple at BHU

Varanasi is not a city with distinct tourist destinations as such: instead, the experience is in watching the spectacle of life and death on the river and meandering through the alleys of the old city.

  • Vishwanath Temple - also known as the Golden Temple, security is tight making entrance difficult and sometimes completely off limits to foreigners. No bags, cellphones or pens are allowed. They can be deposited in the shops by the temple entrance. The temple was destroyed multiple times by Mughal invaders and was re-constructed by Hindu kings who followed them.
  • Kaal Bhairav Temple - is the temple for Kaal Bhairav - a dreadful form of Lord Shiva symbolizing death. Its a tradition to buy black threads (costs about Rs. 15 per 50 threads as of Sep 2009), keep it in the shrine and then wear it on the arm, wrist or around the neck as a protection against evil forces.
  • Nepali Hindu Temple - A small golden temple, built in Nepali architecture, near Lalita Ghat
  • Alamagir Mosque - overlooking Panchganga Ghat, it's a great place for a bird's eye view of the area.
  • Man Mandir Observatory
  • Tulsi Manas Temple
  • Durga Temple
  • Banaras Hindu University - a very green and peaceful campus. Few actually know that this University was built during Indian freedom struggle and is known as Oxford of the East. This is the largest residential university of Asia, having approx. 124 independent departments. You also visit Bharat Kala Bhavan, a museum of Art and Archeology inside university. There is also a Vishwanath Temple bulit by Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya.
  • Ram Nagar Fort - the fort of the King of Kashi
  • Gowdi Matha Temple - The devi at this temple is supposed to be the sister of the lord Kashi Vishwanath. Its a tradition to visit her just before you leave Kashi. You buy sea shells at this place and offer them to the God saying that the virtues of donating the shells goes to her while you keep the virtues of having visited the holy shrines in Kashi and bathing in the ganges. The trip to Kashi is expected to yield results only after completing this custom.

Floating away

While the use of ghats for cremation is well known, they are also used to give last rites to those who do not need cleansing by fire to purify their soul, including young children and pregnant women. Instead, their bodies are wrapped in cloth, weighted with stones and deposited into the Ganges. However, it is fairly common for the ropes to give way, resulting in putrefying corpses washing up on the east shore across from the city. Steer clear if squemish.

A ghat is a series of steps leading down to the river, used by bathers and pilgrims, and riverside Varanasi consists of a long sequence of these. It's generally possible to walk directly between them, though near Manikarnika Ghat you'll have to navigate your way up and around through the alleyways. The best option for viewing the ghats is to charter a boat and see them from the river.

Hindus consider it auspicious to die in Varanasi, so some ghats are known as burning ghats, where bodies are cremated (in full view) before their ashes are placed in the Ganges.

Some of the main ghats, from north to south:

  • Narad Ghat - the ghat on which bathing with spouse is not advised because the myth of contention
  • Panchganga Ghat - the meeting of the five rivers
  • Manikarnika Ghat - the main cremation ghat; a must-see, but remain quiet and never take photographs
  • Dasaswamedh Ghat - the main ghat and site of the large evening aarti; only reachable by foot at some times of day, about a 5 minute walk south from Godaulia
  • Rana Ghat
  • Kedar Ghat - brightly painted in stripes and busy with bathers, very photogenic
  • Harishchandra Ghat - the cremation place were Raja Harishchandra did the last rituals of his son.
  • Hanuman Ghat
  • Shivala Ghat
  • Tulsi Ghat - site of the large water purification plant
  • Assi Ghat - a popular place to stay with many hotels, restaurants and internet cafes
  • Diwali is a great time to be in Varanasi, with special preparations going on in many temples. The once-in-a-year decorations and aarti at the ghats are spectacular.
  • Shivaratri is another great time to be in varanasi. The day of Shivaratri is also the last day of the Dhrupad Mela, a festival of classic indian music going on night and day for three days.
Sunrise boat rides on the Ganges
Sunrise boat rides on the Ganges
  • Bathe Over 60,000 people come down to the waters edge every day to take a dip in the sacred waters of the Ganges. Try not to think too much about the dozens of sewage pipes and sunken corpses in the waters around you and you'll find it's not nearly as bad as you expect once you're actually in it.
  • Boat rides are very popular, especially at sunrise and sunset. The most popular sunset ride is to start at Dasaswamedh Ghat and head up to Manikarnika Ghat to see the cremations in progress, and then return to Dasaswamedh and watch the evening aarti from the boat. Sunrise is another magical time for a ride, when the ghats are filled with Hindus bathing and starting their day - one of the most famous sights in India. You can bargain the price down to around Rs 30/person per hour (even for just 1 person in the boat), but expect to be quoted much higher — the current bargained down 'foreign tourist' rate for a boat ride is Rs 300! In fact there is a price limit set by the city in 1998 but still in force today that sets a price range from Rs 50 for boats up to four seats to a maximum of 125 for very large boats. (That's per hour and boat not per person.) At Dasaswamedh there is even a huge sign (in Hindi only) alerting tourists to that fact.

During the trip "market boats" will float up to you selling overpriced trinkets which can be bought much cheaper on land. Any offers of flowers for puja will definitely not be free; Rs 2 per flower bowl and Rs 5 per candle bowl are the going rates, though as a tourist you might be asked for as much as Rs 100 each.

  • Get lost in the alleyways - the sounds, sight and smells are just unbelievable!
  • Hindi Language Center, B1\150 L-10 ASSI VARANASI (near Banaras Hindu University), 91 9452247010 (), [10]. Learn Hindi with teacher Binit Kumar Mishra. Mr. Mishra can teach anyone enough Hindi in a few days to conduct the kinds of simple business that travelers must do every day. if you want to learn Hindi before coming to India through online then you have opportunity to learn Hindi through video conference.A little Hindi opens many doors.  edit
  • Sanjeevani Booti (संजीवनी बूटी), Assi Ghat, (), [11]. A sexual health, drug, and HIV education NGO. There is always demand for foreigners to visit because there is always work related to public health education to be done. A great volunteer opportunity!  edit
  • Yoga is also popular, and the same rules apply.
  • Benares Hindu University [12] offers a wide range of classes on topics related to classical Indian studies in English.

Buy

Varanasi is famous for its fine silk - it's on offer everywhere, but shop around and bargain hard!

  • Mehrotra Silk Factory, K 4-8A, Lal Ghat, Raj Mandir, Varanasi 221001 (near Brahma Ghat, follow the multiple yellow signs), (0091)542 2435892. Government Approved. has set, reasonable prices and a good selection of handwoven pure silk Sarees, dress materials, bedcovers and other silk materials. A little out of the way, but worth the trip  edit
  • Wow India, Assi Ghat (the big corner shop, follow the tourists). A large collection of handicrafts from all over the country, a good place to pick up your gifts and souvenirs. Music, silks, ayurvedic cosmetics, herbal teas, incense and plenty more. Prices are moderate and fixed.  edit
  • Loan arts &crafts (mloan_in@yahoo.com), s.20/52a,nepalikothi near hotel surya the mall road cantt varanasi u.p. india.221002 (before hotel surya 10 yards left), 0091--9336062161. 12. Silk carpets, hand-made, hand-knotted oriental Persian carpets, silk products, silk pashminas, hand embroidered and hand stitched cashmere wool, papier mache and lots of handicrafts.  edit

Eat

There are numerous food outlets and a very dynamic range in quality. The restaurants closer to the ghats cater more to foreign tourists, with variable success. To get really authentic Banarasi Khana you're going to have to get to the main market area or, better, to have a banarasi friend inviting you at home. Benares Dum Aloo is a local specialty, and the city is also known for its desserts. You can't go away from Benares without eating local specialities as aloo chat and pani puri and, in general, the street food. Paan, a betel nut mixture usually containing tobacco, is not really food, but is something Benares is famous for all over India.

  • Shiv Lassi Bhandar: (near the main gate of RamNagar Fort) Lassi with layers of Malai and Rabri. Superb Stuff !!!
  • Kashi Chat Center: (near Godowlia Crossing) Good assortment of exotic chats. Try out the Aloo Tikia Chat!
  • Rabri/Malai shops: (a couple of shops, near Godowlia Crossing opposite to the Church) Try out fresh rabri and malai in the evening (7PM-9PM). Really good stuff !!!
  • Karki's Restaurant If you're in Assi Ghat this place is a great oasis with a rooftop restaurant that serves cheap but great quality Nepalese & Italian food among others. Highly recommended are the Nepalese Thali and Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta (only Sat & Sun). It's on the main road down to Assi Ghat on the left, look for the green roof as it's upstairs and has a small entrance. Say hi to Karki and his gorgeous daughter who loves to poke faces at guests.
  • Bufffalo's Restaurant(near Kedhar Ghat Post Office)Newly opened restaurant. Every Sunday they have a chess tournament and jamming sessions on Thursday. Great Thali !!!
  • Shiva Cafe and German Bakery, D 26/4 Narad Ghat, (near Himalaya Lodge). In the main little alleyway that runs parallel to the river between Dasaswamedh Ghat and Assi Ghat, this place is deservedly popular. The food takes time, but that's because it's prepared fresh, and you'll be happy you waited when the food arrives.
  • Mona Lisa Cafe, (just south and opposite Shiva Cafe). Another good and popular cheapie, with a good range of things on offer, notably a thali for Rs 20, and some Japanese and Korean dishes thrown in for good measure.
  • A C Shahi Restaurant & Kesari Restaurant near Dasashwmedh ghat in Godaulia and Shahi Restaurant near Rathyatra crossing serve very good vegetarian north / south indian dishes at very reasonablle rates.
  • Diamond Hotel and Jaika Restaurant near Vijaya Talkies Crossing in Bhelupur serve very good north Indian dishes.
  • sa re ga ma restaurent at D.35/92-92-A, jangambari (opp. city bazzar), godowilya, is really agood restautrent. in the matter of infrastursture it is decorated in the indian classic music style. the food is really good and is prepared fresh. try fried idli and lemon tea here.
  • Ganga View on the roof of sita guest house d 22/16 chaustti ghat, varanasi,up india,Indian Continental and Western Food Fresh Food and Purified Water (Non-veg not available)
  • Megu Cafe, Kalika Gali (near Meer Ghat), has excellent vegetarian Japanese food made by a Japanese woman who settled in Varanasi a number of years ago. All dishes are Rs. 85 or less. Closed on Sundays.
  • Open Hand Cafe, Assi Ghat, (around the corner from Hotel Haifa), +91 542 2369 751, [13]. Only a small selection of food that it does well, which is a refreshing change from most tourist magnets. Quiche and bread roll sandwiches are filling, and cheesecake, chocolate cake or an enormous fruit salad are all fairly insane. Also good filter coffees and rooibos tea, and a shop selling fixed-price merchandise. Highly recommended for a break from the city.
  • Flavours Cafe, Lanka-Assi Road, (near to Lanka crossing). Great coffee and desserts. Strong filter coffee and lighly accented lattes with a quiet ambiance make for a needed break from the city. Free wireless is also a plus.
  • Brown Bread Bakery, near Meer ghat, 0542-2403566. Good bakery run by a German baker in Varanasi. Real breads and pastries made from organically grown ingredients. Also a nice range of cheeses. The restaurant has a huge menu including Continental, Italian, Tibetan, Chinese, Thai and Indian classics. Part of the proceeds support the Learn For Life society which operates a free school for disadvantaged children in the area.
  • Bread of Life Bakery, Shivala Road, (a few hundred metres north of Assi Ghat), +91 542 227 5012. Good baked goods, but also a full restaurant with okay breakfasts including "American" pancakes and canned-OJ (freshly-squeezed no longer). Used to be very popular but the quality is now questionable.
  • Zaika restaurant - in Shivala, opposite Hotel Broadway. Good Indian / Chinese dishes; try the sweet-corn-pakoras.
  • Moti Mahal Delux restaurant - in Sigra, 3rd Floor, IP Mall, in the heart of the city. +91-542-2220555. One of the best Indian and mughlai restaurant in the city with a unique fine dining experience. Also provides free delivery of your meal at any location in the city. Also serves authentic chinese and continental.

Middle-Eastern Food

Possibly due to a high influx of tourists from Israel, a number of Middle Eastern restaurants have opened in Varanasi, all of which serve very similar food, cater to a predominantly tourist clientèle, and charge a little over Rs 100 for a thali.

  • Haifa Cafe: Assi Ghat, (in Hotel Haifa). Most popular for its Middle-Eastern cuisine such as the thali (delicious!), but has a wide range of Indian and continental dishes and is also popular at breakfast. The Jordanian brothers aren't here anymore. Its now just a regular hotel.
  • Hayat's: near Assi (new location), managed by authentic middle-easterners (from Jordan). Try the labanha (dry yoghurt), or the baba ghanoush (eggplant) with pita. The Nanas (mint-lemon drink) are the best in town. The feta is a tad high in salt, but at least they have it. The restaurant has a tent-like lounge atmosphere that gives it a cult presence. Ask for "hello to the queen" and see smiles.
  • Phulwari / Sami Cafe: near the Vishwanath Temple crossing, you sit beside a religiously near-defunct but architecturally gorgeous Mahadev temple, and sip on iced teas and nanas. Some locals still consider this a holy site and aren't too happy about the cafe being so close.
  • Tahsin's Mediterranean: located at Sarnath, in The Golden Buddha hotel, is runed by the same Jordanian brothers of Hayat's. Big garden and outdoor wood-operated oven for pizzas and pastas.
  • Varuna and Chowk, Taj Ganges Hotel, Nadesar Palace Grounds. Tel+91 542 250-300 - Two restaurants respectively offering Indian and Western cuisine.
  • Alcohol is available at a few restaurants and hotels, such as the Radisson and Taj. There are several wine shops in the old city but they don't offer any sitting arrangement. You can buy whatever you want and bring it to your hotel room.
  • Bhang is a potent, powdered form of marijuana often mixed into "special" lassis, simply called bhang lassi. The drink is especially popular on holidays as Varanasi is a major center of Shiva worship. It can be quite intoxicating.
  • Thandai is cool milk based drink made with pistachios, almonds and kesar and topped off with a large dollop of malai (cream). Bhang is often added to thicken the concoction, though it can be made without. Many Tandai stores are located near the main Godowlia, and most also serve lassi.

Sleep

The most interesting area to stay is around the ghats. This is where most foreigners hang out - and with good reason. In addition to the ghats and river, Varanasi's most famous temples and main market are all located in this area. Another choice is Sarnath, about 8km from Varanasi. It is a little removed from 'the action' but much safer and calmer than Varanasi.

  • Monu Family Paying Guest House, D 8/4 Kalika Gali, Dashashwamedh, Varanasi 221 001 (near Golden Temple), 0091-0542-2400908 (), [14]. Monu Guest House is situated right in the epicentre of the old town. It has very colourful, sweet and a familiar atmosphere. Rooms are very neat and clean with attached bath, western loos and h&c shower.They have also Internet available at Rupees 30/hour Only.Hindi courses and music lessons of Sitar,Tabla,Vocal are available in house and they also sells Instruments like Sitar,Tabla,Harmonium,Surbahar,etc. over there. Rs 160-610.  edit
  • Ganga Fuji Home, (between Man Mandeer Ghat and Dasaswamedh Ghat). Some rooms have shared bathroom; more expensive rooms have A/C and TV. All rooms are clean, with clean sheets and towel. The rooftop restaurant offers evening concerts every night. Rs 350-990.  edit
  • Groovy Ganges Guesthouse (ग्रूवी गंगा गेस्ट हाउस), B2/225, B-6-A, Bhadaini (in Bhadaini neighborhood near Assi Ghat), 993.618.0896 (, fax: (001)206.984.1165), [15]. checkin: whenever; checkout: no hurry. Live in an Indian home with an Indian family. Unlimited broadband internet access comes with every room, making this an ideal place for long-term students, researchers, and activists wanting to integrate into local culture. Boiled water used for all cooking. Rs 2000/week.  edit
  • Hotel River View, a couple ghats north of Panchganga Ghat (To get here, walk north from Dasaswamedh Ghat for about 15 minutes, and follow the numerous blue and white painted signs that begin to appear.). Rs100-250.  edit
  • Maa Vaishno Guesthouse (माँ वैशो गेस्ट हाउस), B 5/188 Shivala Ghat, 91.542.227.7013.mobile-09.33.649.0694 (). Family run guesthouse situated two minutes from the Shivala Ghat.a very short walking distance to the burning ghats but far enough away to avoid smoke and smell.ganga view 10 clean rooms, all with attached bathroom with running hot and cold shower. Roof top restaurant,sunrise & sun set from roof & room. ADSL internet, laundry, train, bus and air ticket arrangement and other travel services available. free pickup service from varanasi railway station.  edit
  • Maruti Guest House (मारुती गेस्ट हाउस), Sahodarbir (near Assi Ghat), 231.2261, [16]. Friendly family run guest house with clean well lit rooms. There is a roof top garden and restaurant where fresh home made food is served. Power backup for the rooms and hot showers are available as well as broadband Internet access. The owner of the guest house, Dr. V.N. Tripathi, gives Yoga and meditation lessons upon request. Rs 50-400.  edit
  • Sahi Riverview Guest House, (on Assi Ghat, next to Harmony Book Shop), Phone. This place is very clean, quiet, and recommended. Newly opened, the guest house has the most fascinating Ganges views and the exotic sunrise from its balconies, rooms and terrace. All rooms have 24 hrs hot water with attached bathrooms.  edit
  • Shanti Guesthouse, Phone. There are several hotels near the ghats that have taken the name "Shanti" after the originals good reputation. The "original" is a clean but very basic building with several floors of windowless rooms (cooler and safer than ones with exterior windows). There's a dorm on the roof. The rooftop cafe offers money changing, internet access, and a view of the Burning Ghats.  edit
  • Sita Guest House, Chausatti Ghat (on the banks of the ganges next to the main ghats), 542 2450061 or 3251088 (), [17]. A very short walking distance to the burning ghats but far enough away to avoid smoke and smell. Rooms are clean and of a good size all with view of the river. Hot water in every room and roof top restaurant. The hotel also has generator for the many power cuts in Varanasi. The hotel provides many services for its guests, including internet, in house laundry, train and air ticket bookings.  edit
  • Tiwari Lodge, B-1/243-A, Assi Ghat (Assi Crossing, accross the street from Hotel Haifa), 2315129. checkout: negotiable. 100-150 Rs.  edit, is right after Assi crossing close to Assi Ghat. It is run by a Brahmin, and has its own small temple on the site. Very relaxed and well maintained by local standards, do not expect staff to be present all the time. For check-in the owner can usually be found sitting in the aryuvedic massage cubicle late afternoons. Upstairs rooms are with shared bath Rs 100/single. Ensuite will be Rs 150, with long term rates negotiable. Bring your sheets and towel. Door locked midnight to 6AM.
  • Vishnu Rest House, Pandey Ghat, 450 206. A hotel spanned over 200 year old Vishnu temple. A very clean and friendly guest house over looking the river, some rooms with views. You will often find classical music programs and puja held during morning and evening time. The rooms are with power backup and hot water.  edit
  • Hotel Malti, Vidyapeeth, (542)356844 351395.  edit
  • Hotel Lara India, Near Dashashwamedh (On Line Booking ), 033 329=5336O/2264=2O51. checkin: 12noon; checkout: 11AM. All Rooms are luxarious Rs 525-1,500.  edit
  • Kautilya Society residence (कौटिल्य समाज), D 20/21 Munshi Ghat, +91-542-2452179; +91-542-2455139 (), [18]. Located on the banks o the river Ganges at the city centre, it is not an Hotel but it is a NGO for intercultural dialogue, that also offers rooms for students and scholars. The atmosphere of Ram Bhavan remains faithful to the simple comforts of an Indian home with a splash of colour. Walls are painted in the colors of the ancient city: a cooling forest green facing the court; peacock blues in the bedrooms; Annapurna rose in the kitchen. Furniture is colonial Teak or cane. By Indian law it is necessary for all residing guests to become members of the Society; annual membership is €6. Rooms in high season cost from per day, including half board (€ 1 a day for additional guests sharing the same room). In low season rates are approximately 20% lower. Special prices can be obtained by long term guests. €6 membership plus €6-10.  edit
  • The Gateway Hotel, Nadesar Palace Grounds, +91 542 250 3001 (). A five-star hotel owned by the Taj Group, it's the nicest in the city. Rooms from $150 (or even less off-season, inquire about discounts)  edit

Stay safe

Violent crime is rare, but still do be careful in the lanes after dark. Carry a lamp; power outages are extremely common, and the alleys are hard enough to navigate in daylight, let alone in pitch dark, because of their broken paving stones and cows common.

Women especially need to dress conservatively and to be careful. Even taking precautions, expect to have the odd local young man try to quickly grope you and run away. Respond aggressively and loudly to try to discourage this behavior as much as possible.

Rickshaw/taxi scams are a norm in Varanasi, and the driver will inevitably tell you that the hotel that you wish to go to has burned down, is flooded, or closed. Don't believe him. Drivers receive commission from hotels for bringing in new guests, and this is one way to trick newcomers to going to these places. Don't get annoyed, but see the exchange as playful banter and part of the Varanasi experience. However, if the driver continuously refuses to follow your instructions, threaten to get out of the rickshaw. If after all this you still end up to a different place, just refuse to pay until you arrive at your hotel. The same procedure will need to be followed when sight seeing, as drivers will inevitably try to take you to handicraft stores, from which they receive commission.

Respect

There is, rather understandably, some resentment at tourists traipsing up to the cremation ghats for raucous sightseeing at the funeral ceremonies of loved ones. Behave respectfully and do not take photographs of cremations, even from the river.

Contact

BSNL, Reliance, and Airtel are the most popular cell phone services in the region. If you bring your GSM cellphone from home, you can get a cheap connection and cash card from Airtel or Hutch from anywhere in India and call within India and abroad.

Internet is widely available, especially in the lanes between Dasaswamedh Ghat and Assi Ghat. Price is usually Rs 20-30/hour. Several branches of Iway BROADBAND (rs.14-20)are sprinkled around town as well.

Calling abroad is cheap from Iway branches.

Ramnagar Fort
Ramnagar Fort
  • Sarnath - One of the most sacred places for Buddhists, known as the place where Lord Buddha gave his first speech after his enlightenment.
  • Ramnagar Fort - historical royal residence and museum across the Ganges
  • Chunar Fort - ruins of battlements and ancient settlement 15 miles from Varanasi.
  • Agra - the next point on the tourist "Golden Triangle". Buses and trains, including overnight trains, leave several times a day.
  • Nepal - buses travel to the Nepali border where you can transfer to Kathmandu and Chitwan buses. Most buses go via Lucknow and can take 8-12 hours, or there are daily flights.
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

Simple English

Varanasi (Sanskrit: वाराणसी Vārāṇasī,Telugu: వారణాసి, [ʋaːɾaːɳəsiː), also commonly known as Benares and Kashi, is a city situated on the banks of the river Ganga (Ganges) in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh regarded holy by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, and is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world along with Damascus.

References

Other websites

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