Varanasi is a city filled with life and death. Open cremations and prayers for newborns fill the air of this mystical Indian city. It is an extremely revered pilgrimage site for Hindus but even non-believers are bound to find peace here. The sight of thousands of devotees performing their religious prayers at sunrise alone is worth the trip. It’s a city built on the banks of the Ganga, a sacred river in which over 60,000 people bathe each day! The belief is that one dip in its holy waters will clear your soul from all sin. The ghats that lead down to the Ganga are a calm spot to take in all the magic of Varanasi. The days here promise to be colorful, energetic, and fascinating. But a boat ride through the night will truly allow you to reflect on and feel the spirituality and devotion that surrounds this holy city.

Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, and one that has successfully preserved its ancient heritage. Take a slow walk down the narrow streets where it’s easily to time travel, since the streets and structures are possibly over a 1000 years old!

While there are passionate displays of religion and spirituality all around India, it’s hard to meet the intensity of Varanasi. Few places around the world will make you ponder about the meaning of life, as Varanasi will. Sarnath, located only a short distance away, will introduce you to the Buddhist influence in India where you will visit the site where Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment.

Sights & Activities

Evening sunset Aarti with boat ride

The spiritually stimulating holy town of Varanasi comes alive at 7 pm every evening, when the ghats (banks) of the River Ganga echo with the holy chants, fire and dances of the evening aarti (prayers). The prayers take place on the town’s most popular ghat, the Dashashwamedh Ghat, and despite the crowds of visitors, hawkers, peddlers and holy men, there is something tranquil about watching the river painted by the hues of sunset in the backdrop of energetic, almost hypnotic chants. A better (and quieter) place to witness the aarti is on a sunset boat ride along the river, with the holy waters and your boatman as your only companions.

Early morning sunrise boat ride

Varanasi is a place where life and death coexist in harmony. At the break of dawn, pilgrims gather around the River Ganga as it glows in the warm morning light, to pray to the sun, bathe in the holy waters, and cremate the dead. The Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghats are the most significant of the cremation ghats, and it is here that you come face to face with your own mortality. Row away on the waters of the Ganga as the flames rise and ritual chants echo from the shores, watch the town wake up and wash themselves, their clothes, and their cattle in the waters, and feel alive.

Archaeological Excavation Area

A significant site on the Buddhist pilgrimage trail in India, Sarnath houses the crumbling remains of several ancient Buddhist monasteries, stupas and temples. The town remained under oblivion from the 13th to the 19th centuries, when an accidental excavation brought to light carved pillars, shrines, and other antiquities that revealed its significance in the journey of The Buddha; the Dhamekh Stupa remains the most magnificent and well preserved of these remnants. The oldest museum of the Archeological Survey of India, built in 1904, stands adjacent to the Sarnath excavation site and displays excavated remnants dating as far back as the 3rd century B.C.

The Dhaemkha Stupa

During the ancient rule of the Mauryas, the revered King Ashoka built several stupas (shrines) to preserve the calcified bones and other relics of the Buddha and his disciples. Dhamek Stupa is one such grandiose stupa located 13 km from Varanasi, at the site of a deer park where the Buddha gave his very first sermon to his disciples, after he was believed to have attained enlightenment. The structure has undergone much wear and tear due to the elements of nature, but its intricate floral carvings and ancient inscriptions have stood the test of time.


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