If there is a city that you should visit in India, this is Varanasi. It is one of the seven sacred cities of India, and “pilgrimage of the dead.” In this city, you can experience what India means and the primordial role of Hinduism in this society. For those who love photography, we will tell you that in Varanasi you are going to fill your memory card!
We could write several more paragraphs describing this city, but as we know that what matters is the information because the experience and you will live, let’s start.
How to get to Varanasi
Although it is a bit far from the most tourist area (Agra, state of Rajasthan, etc.) is very well connected, and the journey is not excessively long.
The best way to get there by train is by taking the night train that makes the trip Delhi or Agra-Varanasi.
Varanasi has two train stations: Varanasi City and Varanasi Junction. The main one, and in which you should go down is Varanasi Junction. Although if you go wrong and get off at the first nothing happens, you will only be a little further from the center, little else.
There are numerous flights between Varanasi and the most tourist cities (Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, etc.). In India, there are several low-cost companies like SpiceJet, Indigo. So if you take it with time it can be very cheap (30-40 euros).
How to Roam in Varanasi
From the Varanasi Junction train station to the ghats area (Ganges river).
Once you leave the station you will be harassed by the drivers of tuk-tuks, arm yourself with patience.
For the trip (tourist price) you will be asked for 200 rupees. Bargaining can go down to 150 rupees or 100 if you are not in a hurry.
If you do not have a budget problem and you do not feel like fighting, there is a prepaid taxi stand. They are approximately 300 rupees.
From the Airport to the Ghats Area
A tuk-tuk that covers this distance will cost you between 400-600 euros, depending on your skill in bargaining and the hardness of the driver. If you arrive by plane and you have booked the accommodation, consult if they have a pick-up service. You can agree on a good price, and you save the fights.
Move around the center of the city
Many tuk-tuk drivers will offer their services throughout the day to take you to the main tourist attractions. The starting price they usually offer is 500 rupees.
Make calculations with reference 1km = 10rupias. Although this formula at tourist price can double. Everything depends on the price of bargaining. Keep in mind that many of the sites can be visited on foot by taking a walk.
One of the recommendations is to look at the location. The main attraction is the ghats, so if you are nearby, you will avoid being dependent on a tuk-tuk, or walking 15 minutes through the crowded streets of Varanasi.
We stayed at Hostel LaVie booked with TravelogyIndia. This hostel is 100% recommended. It is on foot of the Ganges, it is clean and has a good rest area. They also have a kitchen, so you do not depend on eating out always.
Eating in Varanasi
From grimy street stalls to cache restaurants. It depends on your pocket.
In the area closest to the Ghats there are many small local restaurants with large trays of samosas (5 rupees/unit). By the way! If you want to eat Samosa do it before 20:00, then it will be difficult to find them.
A restaurant that we can recommend is the New Bread of Life, very close to Hostel LaVie. It is not expensive, it is clean, you have air conditioning, and the food is very good.
Another recommendation is the Lassi and the milkshake of the Open Hand cafeteria (it appears on the Lonely Planet). It is in the Assi Ghats, a little away from the main ghats, but it is worth a walk to enjoy a fresh and delicious lassi! Yes, prepare the pocket, are about 100 rupees on average.
What to see in Varanasi
The most interesting, are the Ghats (about 80) that run along the bank of the Ganges. Open your eyes, look at all the dice, let yourself be carried away by sounds, colors, smells, everything! Learn about Hinduism by talking to a stranger (who will then ask you for a rupee or to go to your store), or learn about the cremation ritual from a worker’s hand. What to say about the Varanasi ghats!
The main Ghat is that of Dashashwamedh. In this Ghat the Ganga Aarti (ritual) is performed every day at sunset. This is the most famous but not the only, in the other ghats, the ritual is also done but less “crowded,” so if you want to see it exclusively for you, you can go for example to the Shivala Ghat.
The ghats of the cremations or the “Burning Ghats.”
There are two ghats where the main Manikarnika and the secondary Harishchandra are performed.
In Manikarnika, you can only make Hindus cremations that have died a natural death (no violent deaths, accidents, etc.)
In Harischandra cremations are made of other religions, except Muslims, and the rest of bodies that cannot be burned in Manikarnika.
The Sunrise on the Ghats and a Boat ride
One of the “early risers” of your trip is going to be to see dawn in the ghats; it seems another city. All is calm. Many men sleep on the floor or the steps of the gaths. You breathe peace, people bathe and wash clothes in the river (including hotel sheets).
One of the most popular ways to walk around the sun is to do it by boat. A rowing boat costs 100 rupees per person, and they will give you a walk of about an hour, reaching the cremation ghat.
If you are lucky enough to catch a clear day, you will enjoy a spectacular sunrise. Workers washing the sheets of hotels in the Ganges
Bodies floating in the Ganges Truth or myth?
Not all people have seen it, but it is true and has an explanation. There are five types of people that can not be burned; these are children under ten years old, pregnant women, babus, lepers, and those who have died from cobra bites. These people are tied to the body with stones and thrown as is. This can logically lead to the body coming to the surface. Of course, it is not usual.
Black magic in the Ganges
One of the things they explained to us is about “what happens on the other side of the Ganges”. From the Ghats, you can see the other side of the Ganges. Several boats make the journey between banks. Many families that do not have the economic resources to burn their loved ones in the crematoria Ghats, move to the other shore to burn them.
There you can find remains of bones. One of the most macabre things is finding open skulls. This is so because the black magic practitioners are going to look for the remaining human remains (brains, etc …) for their rituals.
We did not see them, but an American boy showed us the photos he had taken from there, and they were scabrous.
Other things to see in Varanasi
In our opinion, once the ghats and the adjacent streets are well traveled, the rest of the city is accessory and dispensable.
But if you are going to be more than two days in Varanasi we can tell you other things you can do:
Vishwanath temple: It is the most famous of Varanasi. It is hidden among the alleys that flow into the ghats. You will realize that you have arrived because you will see a lot of police and soldiers. Entry to foreigners is prohibited. Anyway, the long queue to enter and the prohibition to enter with cameras, already takes away attractiveness. Anyway, we recommend you go ahead; it’s a good place to take pictures.
In the tourist map that will give you in your hostel/hotel appear other temples of interest. In our opinion, if you have enough time, you can go, but if you go right on your route, they are dispensable.
Excursion to Sarnath – It is the city where Buddha gave his first speech and is part of the sacred cities of Buddhism. It is about 10 km from Varanasi, and you can go by private car or taxi.