Varanasi, also known as Benares, Banaras, or Kashi is a city on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh. A major religious hub in India, it is the holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism and Jainism and played an important role in the development of Buddhism and Ravidassia. Varanasi has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years and is closely associated with the Ganges. Hindus believe that death in the city will bring salvation, making it a major centre for pilgrimage. The city is known worldwide for its many ghats, embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions. Of particular note are the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the Panchganga Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat and the Harishchandra Ghat, the last two being where Hindus cremate their dead and the Hindu genealogy registers at Varanasi are kept here.
The Ramnagar Fort, near the eastern bank of the Ganges, was built in the 18th century in the Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and scenic pavilions. Among the estimated 23,000 temples in Varanasi are Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Shiva, the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, and the Durga Temple. The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi and an essential part of all religious celebrations. An educational and musical centre, many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians live or have lived in the city, and it was the place where the Benares Gharana form of Hindustani classical music was developed. One of Asia’s largest residential universities is Banaras Hindu University (BHU). The Hindi-language nationalist newspaper, Aj, was first published in 1920. Varanasi grew as an important industrial centre, famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture.
History: The Buddha has founded Buddhism here around 528 BCE giving his first sermon, “The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma”, at Sarnath. The celebrated Chinese traveller Xuanzang, also known as Hiuen Tsiang, who visited the city around 635 CE, attested that the city was a centre of religious and artistic activities and that it extended for about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) along the western bank of the Ganges. When Xuanzang, visited Varanasi in the 7th century, he named it “Polonisse” and wrote that the city had some 30 temples with about 30 monks. The city’s religious importance continued to grow in the 8th century when Adi Shankara established the worship of Shiva as an official sect of Varanasi. Varanasi experienced a Hindu cultural revival in the 16th century under the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar, who invested in the city and built two large temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. Annapurna Devi Mandir was constructed in 1729 AD by Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao. In 1656, Emperor Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of many temples and the building of mosques, causing the city to experience a temporary setback.
Author Mark Twain wrote in 1897 of Varanasi, “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramnagar as its capital, but with no jurisdiction over the city proper. The religious head, Kashi Naresh, has had his headquarters at the Ramnagar Fort since the 18th century, also a repository of the history of the kings of Varanasi, which is situated to the east of Varanasi, across the Ganges. The Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the local people and the chief cultural patron; some devout inhabitants consider him to be the incarnation of Shiva. Varanasi was ceded to the Union of India in 1947, and Vibhuti Narayan Singh incorporated his territories into the United Provinces in 1949.
*(All the above information are from Wikipedia.)
Airport: Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport in Babatpur is located at a distance of 26 km and is the only major airport in the city and is connected to many major cities in India.
Rail: Varanasi Junction, commonly known as Varanasi Cantt Railway Station, is the city’s largest train station. Varanasi City railway station is also one of the railway stations in Varanasi district. It is 4 km North-East of Varanasi Junction railway station. It serves as Terminal station because of the heavy rush at Varanasi Junction. Mughalsarai Junction railway station is also the important station in Varanasi suburban.
Road: Varanasi lies along National Highway 19 (old number: NH 2), which connects it to Kolkata, Kanpur, Agra, and Delhi. National Highway 28 connects Varanasi to the Nepal-India border. National Highway 31 connects Varanasi to Unnao.
Local: Rickshaws, auto rickshaws and taxis are available for transportation within the city. Ola Uber and other car rentals operate services here. Tour operators also provide vehicles for hire.
Boat: Boats are mostly used by the tourist to tour around the ghats of the city.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple: Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganga and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples. The temple has been referred to in Hindu scriptures for a very long time as a central part of worship in the Shaiva philosophy. It has been destroyed and reconstructed a number of times in history. The last structure was demolished by Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor who constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque on its site. The current structure was built on an adjacent site by the Maratha ruler, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780.
Annapurna Temple: Annapurna Devi Mandir, is one of the most famous temples in the holy city of Varanasi. This temple has great religious importance in Hinduism and is dedicated to the goddess Annapurna Devi. Annapurna Devi is a Hindu goddess for nourishment and is a form of Goddess Parvati. Annapurna Devi Mandir was constructed in 1729 AD by Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao.
Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and the New Vishwanath Temple: Banaras Hindu University, formerly Central Hindu College, is a public central university located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. It was established in 1916 by Madan Mohan Malaviya. New Vishwanath Temple or the Birla Temple is one of the most famous temples and biggest tourist attractions in the holy city of Varanasi. The temple is situated in Banaras Hindu University and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Ghats of Banaras: Varanasi is known for its ghats. Multiple ghats are lined up one after the other. One can start from one keep walking through this series of ghats. Dasaswamedh Ghat, Assi Ghat, Tulsi Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Harishchandra Ghat are among the well-known ghats.
Ramnagar Fort: The Ramnagar Fort is a fortification in Ramnagar, Varanasi, India. It is located near the Ganga River on its eastern bank, opposite to the Tulsi Ghat. The sandstone structure was built in the Mughal style in 1750 by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh. At present, the fort is not in a good shape. It has been the home of Kashi Naresh since the eighteenth century. The current king and the resident of the fort is Pelu Bhiru Singh, who is also known as the Maharaja of Varanasi even though this royal title has been abolished since 1971.
The other places of attraction in Varanasi are the famous ‘Gallis’ of Varanasi where you roam around to get lost, Hanuman Temple, Durga Temple, Tulsi Manas Temple, Gyanvapi Mosque and the Gyanvapi Well, Alamgir Mosque and many other religious places.
This tour planner is made on the basis of the location of the destinations. One can make changes as per their interest, convenience and accessibility and duration of the trip.
Day 1: Depending on the time of arrival in Varanasi, visit the Vishwanath temple and Annapurna Temple and watch the evening Ganga Aarti at Dasaswamedh Ghat.
Read my story of Ganga Aarti in Varanasi Ghats.
Day 2: Early morning boating to watch the sunrise and the morning aarti in Assi Ghat. Visit all other places of interest.
Day 3: Visit Sarnath which is located at a distance of 41 km from Varanasi.
Hotels: There are numerous hotels in Puri ranging from inexpensive lodges to budget hotels to luxury hotels. Online booking is always preferable for discounts on the tariff. It is always best to stay near the ghats as ghats are the hub of all activities here.