I am writing down my highlights after recent visit to Varanasi. Varanasi is the spiritual and cultural city of India and is quite fascinating. Crowded, dirty, and bizarre, this city is both colourful and unimaginable exciting. It is a holiest destination for Hindus, and that feeling hangs heavily in the air. Cows are gods. Rats are revered, and pilgrims line up at the ghats to wash away their sins. India is more than a country: it’s a world, a state of mind, a state of being. And Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi will bring salvation.
Meeting Sadhu near the Ghats of Ganges Varanasi
Perched on the banks of the Ganges, Varanasi has been called “The Oldest Living City on Earth.” Mark Twain, a well-known lover of all things Indian, visited Varanasi in 1897 and described it as, “Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” Varanasi is indeed one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities on Earth, and the oldest continually-inhabited city in all of India.
Varanasi is old and said to be one of the continuous habituated cities of the world, also it is one of the holiest places in India.
The city of Varanasi has been a cultural centre in North India for thousands of years. It has been an inspiration for poets, writers and philosophers. Gautama Buddha gave his very first sermon here. Famous Chinese traveller, Historian and Buddhist Monk– Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) visited Varanasi around 635 A.D. and wrote of its prosperous culture, religious importance, political and social condition of those days.
Visit to Ramnagar Fort:
When one visits Varanasi, they can also see Ramnagar Fort, built in the 1700s and featuring an armory of swords and ivory works, as well as a rare astrological clock. Sarnath is a holy place where Buddha first taught the dharma. There are people who would do anything to see such things on top of observing the epic pilgrimage to the Ganges. And I am most fortunate to have been such a witness.
Varanasi is approximately one hour from Delhi to Varanasi. There are also direct flights from Bangkok and several other international cities. The best hotel in Varanasi Taj Nadesar Palace was built by the British East India Company, which took over India’s independent kingdoms one by one until relinquishing control to the British Army and Empire.
1. Taj Nadesar Palace (Best place to stay in Varanasi)
The Nadesar Palace is an amazing property with only 10 rooms. A former palace, it doesn’t feel like a hotel at all: it has an intimate ambience and authentic feel, not to mention great service.
After arriving and checking in to the Taj, we drove to Sarnath, one of the most important sites for Buddhists, about eight miles northeast of Varanasi.
2. Sarnath one of the most important sites for Buddhists
Sarnath consists of a museum and a large stupa. While the site is important to Buddhists, I don’t consider it to be a “must-see” for those who are pressed for time. Buddha gave his first preaching in Deer Park located in Sarnath and started wheel of Dharma.
3. Sunrise boat ride on Holy Ganges:
There are 84 Ghats in Varanasi, Ghats are steps of stone blocks shaped out along the river bank, where pilgrims perform their rituals. It is common saying amongst Hindus and all locals that if you take Holy dip in Ganges all your sins will washed.
We waited for the sun to rise and experienced the mesmerising beauty of Ganges. After boat ride we visited the narrow lanes near Ghats and witnessed the street barbers and workers and we saw Sadhus, priests giving blessings.
4. Traditional Wrestling
Later during the day we visited an “Akhara,” a traditional wrestling gym. The wrestling takes place in a sand pit. The wrestling arenas in North India are called “akharas,” and are led by a Guru who acts as the head instructor.
5. Evening Aarti ceremony.
In evening attended The Ganga Aarti. Initially, we watched the lighting of lamp and other ceremonies from our boat, from a distance. Then, we got on shore and reached directly in front of the priests performing the rituals.
This is India at its finest: rich, ancient, sombre, daunting, dirty, challenging, thrilling and other-worldly. This is Varanasi.