“Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together” – Mark Twain
An ancient city, a pious city, a heritage city on the banks of the holy Ganges. Varanasi (or Banaras – the Muslim name, or Kasi – the Hindu name) is much more than that. It is a magical place where chaos meets serenity. The best times to visit Varanasi would be during the festivals (like the Ganga Mahotsava, 5-day festive event held on the banks of Ganges around Diwali, or Bharat Milap during Dussera) or in general during the winters when the temperature is just about perfect for that quiet stroll along the ghats or that soothing boat ride at dawn/dusk. Some pointers if you wish to experience Varanasi in all its earthy splendor:
Ganga Aarti – A grand pooja-aarti ceremony for the Ganga performed in unison by 7 young priests at Dasaswamedh Ghat (the largest Ghat of the 360 odd ones in Varanasi), with thousands of tourists, visitors and devotees bearing witness to the grandeur.
Stroll along the Ghats – A must-do activity to experience Varanasi in its entirety, if you don’t mind the occasional cow dung and some solid waste on your way! The multitude of activities at the Ghats will consume all your senses – of artists painting the cacophony, of photographers adjusting their lenses for that perfect click, of devotees taking a holy dip to absolve of all sins, of dhobis engaged tediously in doing laundry, of bathers bathing, swimming, playing, singing, meditating, mourning and so much more. The Ghats are alive.
Boat ride – The river beckons and if you oblige, you won’t be disappointed. The best time would be at dawn, with the hand made wooden boat drifting along the river from one Ghat to another. In most cases, the Manjhi will be thrilled to narrate anecdotes and stories about the city, its people, and its history. Like what specific functions are assigned to specific Ghats, where to buy Benarasi sarees from, what not to do in the city and more.
Shopping/Walking through the gallis – Equally enthralling as the boat rides, the narrow gallis are overcrowded and overflowing with people, things, cows and bikes and rickshaws. Some of them are as narrow as two feet! Yet, it’s an experience to wriggle your way through these, to explore and discover the cramped shops. A truly unique shopping experience.
Local snacks & dessert – The rabri and lassi punch in matka and the multiple varieties of peda! Readily available when you walk along Luxa road, the main trunk road leading to the Dasaswamedh Ghat.
Varanasi is a perfect weekend getaway from Delhi – it’s near, its cheap, its colorful and its perfect if you are bored of quaint hill-stations, futile forest safaris and the desert forts. In case you intend to be a conventional tourist and explore nearby attractions like Ramnagar Fort, Sarnath et al, you might need more one to two days more depending on your speed and time.