How to Plan a Trip to Varanasi?

How to Plan a Trip to Varanasi
1,373 Views

Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Located on the banks of the sacred Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh, India, it is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. With its labyrinth of narrow alleyways, riverside ghats, ancient temples, and colorful rituals, Varanasi has an absolutely magical atmosphere. It’s a destination like nowhere else in India.

Planning a trip to Varanasi can seem daunting, but with some preparation and knowledge, you’ll be able to make the most of your time there. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to plan the perfect trip to Varanasi.

What is Varanasi?

Varanasi is a spiritual city located in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It sits on the left bank of the holy Ganges River and is one of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism.

For Hindus, Varanasi is considered the religious capital of India and one of the holiest places on earth. It has been a centre of learning and civilization for over 3,000 years. The city is referenced in Hindu scriptures and is a place where Hindus believe you can attain “moksha” – liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Varanasi has been home to famous sages like the Buddha, Mahavira, Tulsidas, Kabir and Shankaracharya. The historic city has a mystical charm that attracts pilgrims, wanderers, monks, poets and writers from across the globe. The city is known for its lively Ganga aarti ceremonies, ancient temples, silk weaving and intricately carved buildings.

No matter what your beliefs are, visiting Varanasi is an enchanting, life-changing experience that provides a glimpse into the heart of Hindu spiritualism.

Why Visit Varanasi?

There are many excellent reasons to visit Varanasi. Here are some of the top ones:

  • Witness Hindu rituals & festivalsVaranasi has over 100 ghats where important Hindu rituals take place every day. The Ganga aarti is a spectacular daily event with music, chants and lamp offerings.
  • Soak up the mystical ambiance – Take a boat ride along the Ganges early in the morning and experience the other-worldly vibe that permeates the entire city.
  • Visit ancient temples – Varanasi has over 2,000 temples, including the iconic Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The architectural details will blow you away.
  • See the cremation ghats – Observing cremations at the Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats gives insights into the rituals around death.
  • Explore Hindu philosophy & scriptures – Study with scholars and sadhus to gain a deeper understanding of Hinduism and ancient Indian thought at places like Sampurnanand Sanskrit University.
  • Shop for silk saris – Varanasi is famous for its production of fine Banarasi silk saris and brocades. Pick one up for yourself or loved ones.
  • Absorb timeless culture – Wander the old city alleys and stumble upon small shrines, flower sellers, musicians, astrologers, and more.
  • Savour delicious food – Try kachoris at Kashi Chat Bhandar or lassis at Blue Lassi Shop – Varanasi street food is an experience in itself!

No matter your interests, visiting Varanasi will be an eye-opening journey into Hindu spirituality, time-honoured rituals, and enchanting culture.

When is the Best Time to Visit Varanasi?

The best time to visit Varanasi depends on your preferences and what type of weather you enjoy. Here is an overview of Varanasi’s seasons:

October to March – This is the peak tourist season as the weather is pleasantly cool. Daily highs range from 70°F to 85°F. Mornings and evenings can be chilly. February sees huge crowds for the colourful Shivaratri festival.

April to June – These summer months bring hot weather, with temperatures reaching well over 100°F at midday. The heat deters some tourists, so hotels offer low season rates. Summer is still busy due to festivals like Ganga Dussehra.

Monsoon season – Varanasi experiences monsoon rains from July to September. The rains usually come in short bursts, and the days are interspersed with sunshine. Fewer tourists visit during this period.

December and January – This is the coldest time in Varanasi, with average lows around 45°F. Foggy mornings give the city an atmospheric quality. If you don’t mind bundling up, winter is a good time for photography.

The main Hindu festivals and events in Varanasi include:

  • Makar Sankranti in January
  • Mahashivratri in February/March
  • Holi Festival in March
  • Buddha Purnima in April/May
  • Ganga Dussehra in May/June
  • Guru Purnima in July
  • Diwali in October/November
  • Dev Deepawali in October/November

If you time your visit with a major festival, you’ll be able to experience Varanasi at its vibrant and festive best. However, hotels fill up quickly so advance planning is essential.

How to Get to Varanasi

Varanasi is accessible by air, train and road transport from all major Indian cities. Here are the most convenient ways to reach Varanasi:

By Air

  • Varanasi’s Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport has direct flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata and other cities.
  • Air India, SpiceJet, IndiGo offer the best connections. Flight duration is 1-3 hours from most cities.
  • The airport is around 20km from the city center. Pre-paid taxis and auto-rickshaws are available.

By Train

  • Varanasi Junction railway station is well connected to Delhi, Agra, Lucknow, Calcutta and other northern cities by frequent express and superfast trains.
  • The train journey from Delhi takes around 16 hours. From Agra or Lucknow, it’s around 8-10 hours.
  • Trains from other cities often arrive past midnight so plan your onward travel accordingly.

By Road

  • AC and non-AC buses operated by Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport run daily between Varanasi and nearby cities like Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Lucknow, and Bodhgaya.
  • Shared taxis are another good option for reaching Varanasi from nearby cities and towns.
  • Driving distance from major cities – Delhi 11 hrs, Agra 9 hrs, Lucknow 7 hrs, Jaipur 18 hrs.

Whichever mode you pick, book tickets well in advance for smooth travel. Offseason weekdays usually have more availability.

Where to Stay in Varanasi

With its maze of narrow lanes, Varanasi can be disorienting. Stay near the main ghats along River Ganges for proximity to attractions. Here are some good areas and hotels to consider:

1. Near Dasashwamedh Ghat

This lively ghat with evening aarti ceremonies is a convenient spot. Choices include:

  • Brijrama Palace: 4-star heritage hotel in a restored 175-year-old building. Rooftop restaurant.
  • Kedareswar Hotel: Budget hotel offering aarti view rooms. Rooftop cafe.
  • Dev Grand Hotel: Modern mid-range option. Ganges view rooms.

2. Near Assi Ghat

This area south of the main ghat has a relaxed vibe. Options include:

  • Brij Inn: Charming 3-star hotel with traditional decor. Garden restaurant.
  • Hotel River Queen: Riverside budget hotel with aarti views.
  • Radisson Hotel: Upscale hotel perfect for luxury seekers. Great aarti views.

3. Cantonment Area

For no ghat noise, stay in the Cantonment suburb. Options include:

  • Hotel Surya: Luxurious 5-star property with multiple dining options.
  • Hotel Pankaj: Basic but reliable budget hotel.
  • Hotel Mandakini Villa: Serene mid-range hotel set among gardens. Ayurvedic spa.

Book hotels months in advance for popular travel seasons. Check for opening deals on booking sites. Splurge for a view room to fully immerse in the Ganges atmosphere.

Places to Visit in Varanasi

As one of the oldest living cities in the world, Varanasi has countless attractions to see. The main areas and landmarks you should visit include:

1. The Ghats

The ghats are the soul of Varanasi. These riverfront steps are where pilgrims come to bathe, offer prayers, and cremate loved ones. Each ghat has its own history and significance.

Must see ghats:

  • Dasaswamedh Ghat – The liveliest ghat with beautiful aarti ceremonies.
  • Manikarnika Ghat – The main cremation ghat, with pyres always burning.
  • Assi Ghat – The furthest south ghat, with a vibrant market scene.
  • Harishchandra Ghat – Cremations also take place at this north ghat.

Arrive early to see the ghats buzzing with life. Join the evening aarti crowd or take a boat ride at dawn for magical views.

2. Kashi Vishwanath Temple

This is Varanasi’s most sacred and iconic Hindu temple. The original temple was demolished by the Mughals and rebuilt in 1780. The shikhara spire is plated with over 800 kg of gold! Non-Hindus cannot enter the inner sanctum but viewing the exterior and soaking in the atmosphere is a must.

3. Sarnath

Just 10 km north of Varanasi lies Sarnath, the fabled site where Buddha preached his first sermon after gaining enlightenment. Sarnath is absolutely key to visit to understand Buddha’s impact on the region. The main attraction is the Dhamek Stupa thought to mark the sermon spot. The Archeological Museum houses extraordinary Buddha sculptures.

4. Ramnagar Fort

Constructed in 1750, this imposing fort across the river houses ancient weapons, royal palkis, and vintage cars. It’s still the residence of Varanasi’s Maharaja, who makes his way to the city during festivals atop an elephant. Visit Ramnagar to get a glimpse into the extravagance of royal India.

5. Banaras Hindu University

Spread over a whopping 1350 acres, this is one of Asia’s largest universities. The campus has a mini museum with ancient texts, artworks and freedom fighter memorabilia. Take a rickshaw through the verdant grounds to admire the architecture and vibe. The Malviya Bhavan offers sweeping views.

Things to Do in Varanasi

To truly immerse in the culture of Varanasi, you have to experience its daily rhythms. Here are top things to do:

  • Take a sunrise or sunset boat ride on the Ganges – The city looks magical from the water.
  • Get lost wandering the narrow galis – Stumble upon hidden shrines, wanderers, stray cows and more.
  • Sit by the Burning Ghat – Contemplate mortality watching cremation ceremonies by the river.
  • Explore the pathways around ghats – Walk past flower sellers, musicians, fortune tellers, pilgrims, cows, and temples.
  • Shop the vibrant bazaars – Pick up handmade crafts, jewelry, scarves, idols, woven bags and more as souvenirs.
  • Eat at local restaurants – Try kachoris, jalebis, lassis, thandai, and pakoras at decades-old eateries.
  • Attend the nightly Ganga Aarti – Join in the fire ritual with chants, bells and light offerings.
  • Take a cooking class – Learn to make Indian breads, curries, chutneys and more.
  • Treat yourself to an Ayurvedic massage – Rejuvenate mind and body with a relaxing therapy session.

Absorb the sensations of the holiest city in the world by fully immersing yourself in the Varanasi way of life. Let your five senses be your guide.

Tips for Visiting Varanasi

To make the most of your Varanasi trip, keep these tips in mind:

What to wear

  • Dress conservatively – legs and shoulders covered – when visiting temples. Robes are provided to enter sacred spaces.
  • Wear modest clothing when walking the ghats and old city.
  • Bring hats, scarves and sunscreen for sun protection during daytime explorations.

What to eat and drink

  • Drink only bottled water or filtered water to avoid getting sick.
  • Be cautious with raw fruits and vegetables. Seek out cooked options.
  • Try street food from popular, busy stalls for authentic flavors. Acidic foods like lemons boost immunity.
  • Avoid having cold drinks and ice with meals to not interfere with digestion in the heat.

What to do in an emergency

  • Carry prescribed medicines and basic first aid supplies when exploring.
  • Save emergency hospital numbers and have offline maps in case of medical issues.
  • Keep spare cash stored safely in case of emergencies or theft.
  • Arrange airport transfers or transportation ahead of time. Confirm hotels have 24/7 staff.

Cultural tips

  • Dress modestly and avoid public displays of affection out of respect.
  • Bargain respectfully with vendors. Don’t call out prices you consider too high.
  • Ask before taking photos of people, rituals or sacred sites when unsure.
  • Follow all rules and customs when visiting temples and holy sites.

Summary

Varanasi is truly one of India’s most fascinating destinations to visit. By planning your trip wisely and being respectful, you’ll gain life-changing insights into the essence of Hindu spirituality in this magical holy city.

The best times to visit are from October to March when the weather is pleasantly cool. Stay near the Dashashwamedh Ghat for prime access to attractions. Wake up early to see the sunrise over the Ganges, take a boat ride at dawn before the crowds arrive, and make time for evening aarti rituals.

Visit ancient ghats, timeless temples like Kashi Vishwanath, observe cremation ceremonies, wander lost in the old city’s labyrinthine alleys, and soak up the holy atmosphere that permeates Varanasi. A trip here will open your eyes to a way of life steeped in Hindu rituals, vibrant festivals and profound philosophies that have endured for thousands of years.

A Personal Note on Visiting Varanasi

My first trip to Varanasi was a sensory overload in the best possible way. Seeing Hindu practices dating back centuries and the fervor with which people worshipped was eye-opening. The smoke from the cremation ghats, chime of temple bells and fragrance of flowers and incense made this holy city feel like no other place on Earth.

Boat rides to watch pilgrims bathe at dawn, visits to ancient temples, getting lost in the maze of alleys, sampling delicious street food – there is so much magic to experience in Varanasi! It helped me understand Hindu philosophy on a deeper level.

I hope this blog has inspired you to make your own epic journey to Varanasi. Let the holy city work its charm and open your mind to a new way of looking at life, death and spirituality. Have a safe and memorable trip!

FAQs Related To How to Plan a Trip to Varanasi

How to get to Varanasi?
You can reach Varanasi by air, train or road. The city has an airport and a major railway junction connecting it to all major cities in India.

What is the best time to visit Varanasi?
The best time to visit is during winter, from November to February, when the weather is pleasant. Summers can be very hot.

Where to stay in Varanasi?
Varanasi has budget hotels, and guesthouses Here are some options Ashrams, budget hotels, 3 Star Hotels, 5 Star Hotels.

Suggest some of the budget hotels near Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Here is the list Budget Hotels in Varanasi Near Vishwanath Temple

Can i stay in Varanasi for free?
Yes, you can, Here is the list of Ashram in Varanasi For Free Stay.

What to see and do in Varanasi?
Attend the Ganga aarti, take a boat ride at dawn, explore ghats, walk through narrow lanes, visit temples and shrines, shop for silk sarees and handicrafts.

What to eat in Varanasi?
Try local delicacies like kachori, jalebi, lassi, thandai, paan and delicious street food like kulhad chai, puri sabji, chaat.

What to buy in Varanasi?
Buy Banarasi silk sarees, brassware items, wooden and stone sculptures of Hindu deities, rudraksha malas, aromatic oils and perfumes.

Dress code in Varanasi?
Varanasi has no strict dress code but moderate dressing is advisable. Avoid revealing clothes when visiting temples.

Language spoken in Varanasi?
The main languages are Hindi, Bhojpuri and English. Hindi is widely understood and useful to communicate locally.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *