“Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together” – Mark Twain.
Benaras, Banaras, Varanasi, Kashi – various names of the same city, standing tall by the banks of River Ganges, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in North India, is one of the oldest constantly inhabited cities in the world. As per Hindu beliefs, one who meets his maker in the sacred land of Varanasi attains freedom from the cycle of life and death and finds moksha.
Considered the holiest amongst the seven sacred cities (other six being Ayodhya, Haridwar, Dwarka, Ujjain, Kanchipuram, and Mathura), Varanasi is one of the most visited cities by tourists, nationally as well as internationally.
Below are some of the places of importance in and around the city that makes Varanasi so high up in the bucket list of most travelers:
Temple – Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Perhaps the most significant religious structure in the holy city of Varanasi, Kashi Vishwanath Temple has been in existence for over 3,500 years. Though the temple building standing now is only a few hundred years old, the original shrine was destructed in 1194 CE by Qutb-ud-din Aibak and his army. Kashi Vishwanath Temple is also one of the 12 jyotirlingas which are considered the godliest shrines of Lord Shiva. The temple opens for visitors as early as 3 AM for the Mangal Aarti and closes at 11 Pm after the Shayan Aarti.
Interesting fact: The temple has its own website where you can book your book your visit and if you can’t visit, don’t worry, you can book a puja for yourself and rest assured your Prasad will be delivered to you by post!
Ghat – Dasaswamedha Ghat
Supposedly the oldest Ghat of Varanasi, Dasaswamedha is definitely the most spectacular and significant banks in the city. Located within proximity to the old Vishwanath Temple, the name, when translated to Hindu, means 10 sacrificed horses. Mythology has it that Lord Brahma sacrificed 10 horses here as a grand welcome gesture to Lord Shiva. Every evening, Dasaswamedha Ghat is flocked by hundreds and thousands of believers from around the city, the country, and abroad, who come to catch a glimpse of the larger-than-life evening aarti presentation. Four revered priests take stand on the high-raised podiums by the stairs of the Ghat, each offering Puja to Lord Shiva, River Ganges, the Sun God Surya, and the Fire God Agni, respectively, in an elaborate manner.
Timings may vary according to sunset but if you want to be there for the whole show, reach by 5:30 so you can be seated comfortably.
History and Architecture – Ramnagar Fort
This almost-dilapidated fort which may seem unattractive at first glance used to be one of the most prominent building structures in the sanctified city of Varanasi. It isn’t a temple or of any religious importance but the Ramnagar Fort served as the home to royal families of Varanasi since it was first built by Kashi Naresh (King of Kashi) Raja Balwant Singh in 1750. Built in typical Mughal style of architecture, the Durbar Hall or the then Public audience hall has now been converted into a museum and is quite famous for its vintage collection of American cars, medieval costumes, royal palanquins ornamented with gold and silver brocades, and an impressive collection of armory.
Interesting fact: If you plan a visit to the city during February/March, don’t miss experiencing the Raj Mangal festival held within the fort premises.
Important Sight Nearby – Sarnath
Located around 13 kilometers north-east of the city of Varanasi, Sarnath is to Buddhism what Varanasi is to Hinduism. The Deer Park within the vicinity of the temple is where Buddha imparted his first Dharma lesson. The city of Sarnath is known amongst four places of religious importance to Buddhists which should be visited by every devout of Buddha and Buddhism. Dhamekh Stupa, the primary monument and architecture of utmost significance is believed to have been erected at the place where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon. Another sight of importance here is the Bodhi Tree dated back to 1931 which was planted by Anagarika Dharmapala, a pioneer in the revival of Buddhism in the country.
Interesting fact: The Ashoka Pillar, the most interesting sights of Sarnath, is one of the only remaining 19 stambhas constructed by Emperor Ashoka during his reign.
Also known as the Land of thugs because of quite a few notorious activities happening here under the dark, Varanasi can be a bit overwhelming for those arriving straight from the west. Ensure that you have seen a bit of India before you head to Varanasi because this city definitely requires pre-planning. Happy exploring!
Featured Photo of ‘On the banks of Ganges, Varanasi (Benaras)‘ by Ajay Goel under CC BY 2.0