Varanasi, Banaras or Kashi, call it what you will, the city where many come to find god, spirituality or simply themselves is a gamut of life. Situated in Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Since 1800 BC, kings and scholars have lived and perished in the town. Today, its ancient by-lanes and multicultural ethos makes for a colourful, chaotic and interesting place to visit.
Varanasi is synonymous with the river Ganga. The old city of sages, gurus, travelers and traders begins and ends with the sacred river. Some say that just sitting at the ghats and observing people from different walks of life teaches you many things. It is also exhilarating to take a quiet boat ride at the crack of dawn and watch as the city turns into the chaotic bustle that it is.
Dashashwamedh is a portmanteau, a word pieced together with three others – Das (ten), aswa (horse) and medh (sacrifice). The ghat, built in 1740 AD, became more popular than the others because of the evening aarti, a colourful, euphoric event, that is done every day. While moksha is not guaranteed, you will definitely get to experience an enthralling evening of fire and dance.
Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur was a scholar in science and astronomy. Between 1724 and 1737 he made five observatories and Varanasi’s Jantar Mantar was one of the last ones he made. The observatory tells time, altitude, position of stars and eclipses.
A lot of people come to Varanasi to experience spirituality and find the meaning of life. One foolproof way to finding happiness, though, is eating an apple pie at Vatika café overlooking the river Ganga. As you bite into the hot piece of pie while a cool breeze softly brushes your face, life will make more sense!
Varanasi is the land of India’s edible cannabis. Sold by government authorised shops, bhang is used in beverages, especially ones made with milk. They say sages from the Vedic era used bhang to reach an intense meditative state.
Varanasi will turn you into a foodie even if you aren’t one! The desserts this city offers are sinful. Some of the most delicious ones are lavang-latika, rabdi and kesar doodh (saffron flavoured milk). There’s also a sweet variation of paan (betel leaf), stuffed with rose petal preserves and much more!
Over the years, Varanasi has opened its nest to people from all across the world. Some remain tourists and travelers, but some love the place so much that they stay. Many people from Europe and other parts of the world have established cafes to offer the authentic food of their country. Monalisa Café must be visited for its delicious Iranian food!
Ramnagar Fort was built in 1750 by Raja Balwant Singh and it sits opposite Tulsi ghat. On the eastern bank of river Ganga, the fort was built in Mughal architecture. It has a temple and a museum inside the campus. The current King, Pelu Bhiru Singh, still resides in the fort and his part is inaccessible to tourists.
The Deer Park in Sarnath is the garden where sage Gautam Buddha, whose teachings became the foundation for Buddhism, first taught his dharma. He also named it as one of the four places of pilgrimage his followers must visit. Sarnath is about 13 kilometers away from Varanasi and is a breathtaking site.
Madan Mohan Malaviya was a politician and two-time president of the Indian National Congress, who has a significant role in India’s independence. Banaras Hindu University was his brainchild for which he gathered funds and constructed India’s first residential university campus. BHU’s main campus, of 1,300 acres, has sprawling gardens, libraries and wide streets to stroll on.
The beautiful harmony of several cultures is something that makes Varanasi unique. Started by an Indian married to a woman from South Korea, Raga Café is a must visit for anyone who wants to try authentic Korean food!