one of the oldest living cities of the world, is situated on
the north bank of Ganga and is located midway between Delhi
and Calcutta. it is known as the religious and cultural
capital of India. Its known history dates back to about 3500
hundred years, during which it has continuously been
populated. However, Hindus believe that the city is eternal. Varanasi has also been known as Kashi and Benares, but its
present name is restoration of an ancient name meaning the
city between two rivers - the Varuna and Asi. For the pious
Hindu the city has always had a special place.
Varanasi is one of the largest
cities in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Products
of the city include shawls, saris, gold-embroidered cloth,
hand-hammered brassware, and heavy gold and silver jewellery.
Varanasi is especially known for its fine silk fabrics. It is
also home to the Diesel Locomotive Works of Indian Railways,
one of the largest locomotive manufacturing plants in the
The Ganges or the Ganga River is one of the greatest
attractions of Varanasi. Devout Hindus make pilgrimages from
all parts of India to bathe in the Ganges, whose water they
believe to be sacred. Along the river, stairways have been
set-up, known as ghats, from which people can bathe before
saying their daily prayers. Every year, over a million
pilgrims visit the city. Varanasi is also known for its large
temples and its monasteries and palaces.
The city is also a seat of learning. It has several
universities and colleges teaching varied subjects from
engineering and medicine to dance and music. Banaras Hindu
University, a university of world repute, is situated here.
Sarnath, the place where Buddha delivered his first sermon
after attaining enlightenment, is just a few kilometers away.
The Stupa, a Buddhist Monument, erected by King Ashok in the
third century BC is still a major attraction for Buddhist
Pilgrims from all over the world.
There are five important ghats in Varanasi where the pilgrims
flock to take a bath-the Assi, Dasawamedha, Barnasangam,
Panchganga, and Manikarnika. Each ghat has its own history and
its own following. Many of the ghats were built and owned by
the royal families of India; the Maharaja of Benaras built the
Kali (or Sivala) Ghat, Maharaja Man Singh built the Mansarovar
Ghat, while Ahilyabai Ghat is named after that legendary Queen
Ahilyabai of Indore.
The best time to visit the ghats is at the break of dawn, when
pilgrims perform the Surya Pranam immersed waist deep in the
waters of the holy Ganges.
The best way to catch the essence of Varanasi is to travel
down the Ganges by boat at six o'clock in the morning. Boats
can be hired by the hour from the main steps of the
Dasawamedha Ghat. The steady creek of ancient oars, the slap
of wet garments, incessant chatter of the bathers amid a
tinkling of scattered temple bells, watching Varanasi from the
environs of a gently swaying boat is truly an experience worth
Although Varanasi is famous as a Hindu pilgrimage center, one
cannot ignore its distinct Muslim heritage. The powerful
Sultans of Delhi and later the emperors of the Mughal dynasty
were instrumental in constructing several mosques, and this
predominantly Hindu city gradually attained a degree of
cosmopolitanism. Aurangzeb, the last of the mighty Mughals,
hastened this process of evolution and the mosques that he
built still stand today. The great mosque of Varanasi,
Gyanvyapi Masjid, has minarets towering 71 m above the Ganges
and is an integral part of the city's skyline.
Benaras Hindu University is the largest residential
university in Asia, a center of Sanskrit, Indian art, culture,
and music. This university covers an area of 2000 acres, and
was gifted by the king of Varanasi, a scholar of Sanskrit and
Hindu philosopher himself. The university is around 10 km from
the railway station.
Of the numerous temples that dot this ancient city, the
important ones are the Durga Temple, Tulsi Manas Mandir,
Vinayaka Temple, Annapurna Temple, Kal Bhairav, Jateshwar
Mahadeo, and Maha Mritunjaya Temple.
PLACES AROUND VARANASI
A tourist to Varanasi must make it a point to visit the
Ramnagar Fort and Sarnath, both situated on the outskirts of
this city. The former, situated on the opposite bank of the
Ganges, is the residential palace of the former Maharaja of
Varanasi. The hall of public audience (Durbar Hall) and the
royal museum housing collections of palanquins, elephant
saddles, arms, furniture, costumes, etc., are of great
interest. At the other end of the city is Sarnath. Here in the
fabled deer park, where the Buddha preached his sermon
enshrining the principles of his teaching into laws. There is
a stupa and a large complex of ruined monasteries. Nearby also
stands the Ashoka Pillar commemorating the Mauryan emperor's
visit to the place more than 2,000 years back. The
archeological museum located nearby holds a rich collection of
items belonging to the Kushan and Gupta periods as well as
from the Ashokan era.
One may also undertake quite a few enjoyable excursions from
Varanasi. The fort of Chunar, about 37 km away, is famous for
its close association with the Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri.
Kusumi Forest (8 km) and the Rajdari and Deodari Falls in the
Chandraprabha forest (70 km) are beautiful picnic spots.
HOW TO REACH
BY AIR - Varanasi is well connected by air to several
cities in India. It is on the popular daily tourist service
BY RAIL - Varanasi has two railway stations-Kashi and
Varanasi Junction (also Cantonment St