Benares or Varanasi is known as the eternal city or the city of the dead, one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites in the world. Located on the banks of the sacred Ganges River, it is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, almost 800 kilometers southeast of New Delhi.
Legend has it that it was founded by the god Shiva, around 3 100 BC and, practically from its origins, it has been a spiritual, religious center and of different teachings. The image of Benares will always be that of hundreds of people purifying themselves in the waters of the Ganges, despite their high degree of contamination. According to tradition, every Hindu must visit Benares at least once in his life.
The ghats, the stone stairs that descend to the Ganges, are the main attraction for tourists and locals. A chaotic city, perhaps dirty and that for any Western tourist would not be a destination for pleasure. However, the mysticism and the traditions that are lived in it make the trip something unique and remember throughout life.
Recommend Visits by MacroTraveller
The best time to approach the Ganges is at dawn. At that time the sacred river is already a hive of people purifying in its waters. There are people even asleep on the stairs waiting for the arrival of light. The silence and the postcard are really indescribable. Children play there, incinerate the dead, wash their clothes … You can take a night walk on the water and enjoy something almost overwhelming.
The ghats are the stairs that go down to the river Ganges. Almost all of them date from the 18th century, and in them, the incineration of the corpses that will be thrown into the river to purify themselves are carried out. At dawn, there is a tour on a barge that goes through all the ghats of Benares. There you will see people washing clothes, bathing, merchants, ascetics or sadhus with their orange toga, street artists, painters and so on.
Most of the city’s ghats are located around this old commercial district. It is a labyrinth of winding streets, narrow and winding, crowded with people since in it every morning some of the main street markets of Benares take place. Here you will see some of the most classic postcards of India, like the sacred cows that walk with total tranquility. Do not go on a Sunday, as its streets are almost deserted and without animation.
Bharat Mata Temple
Also known as the Temple of Mother India, it was built in 1918. This name comes from the fresco with the mythological figure of Mother India that is painted on it. Another of its attractions is the huge map of white marble, in which you can see India, which is sculpted on the ground. Within the tremendous bustle and chaos that is Benares, inside this temple breathes some peace.
Also known as the Golden Temple / its domes are covered with almost 800 kilos of gold) is one of the most sacred Hindu temples in the world. Non-Hindus tourists cannot enter the interior, but only with the outside view can we be more than impressed. Tremendous the golden dome, the patio (you have to enter with someone Hindu) and the floral reliefs painted on the walls of the temple. The environment around you is also indescribable.
Built in the 18th century, it is a tremendously impressive temple for the red and ocher color of its stone, as well as its domes, topped by a needle. It is also known as the Temple of the Monkeys since there are many of these animals living in it or its surroundings. It is dedicated to Durga, the mother goddess who keeps fertility in Hindu mythology.
Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum
Founded in 1920, it is possibly the most important museum in the city. To visit it we have to go to the Campus of the Hindu University of Benares. Its collection houses interesting pieces of sculpture, painting, and textiles, as well as the best of art and architecture of Benares and, by extension, India. It opens every day from 11 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
Maybe the best place to go shopping in Benares. There you will find the typical silk saris and other garments, as well as the best crafts of the city, souvenirs and gift items. If you do not intend to buy, it does not matter, since a walk around the shops of the bazaar is an essential leisure activity in Benares, so we live in first person the atmosphere and the main traditions of the city.
Excursions From Benares
Around Benares, there are places of essential visit. Just 10 kilometers away we have Sarnath, the place where, according to tradition, Buddha gave his first sermon and began his ministry. At 60 kilometers from Benares, we find Jaunpur, the city of mosques in Uttar Pradesh. Nearer, at about 14 kilometers, you have to know the Fort of Ramnagar, the residence of the Raja of the city.
The best area to go shopping is in the Chowk neighborhood. There, the main street markets of the city can be found, where we can buy the classic outlets and other silk garments, as well as herbs, spices, handicrafts, carpets, pieces of wood, bronze, copper or ivory, figurines of the gods … Do not forget either from Thatheri Bazaar or places like Godoulia, Gyan Vapi, Goldhar, and Lahurabir.
In Benares, the vegetarian is very popular, especially with chicken or curry and rice. There are typical dishes such as raita (herbal yogurt), chicken korma (chicken in yoghurt sauce, with cardamom and saffron), pulao (steamed rice with cheese and vegetables), or biriyani (vegetable stew, rice, and meat). To drink we have the lemonade, the lassi (yogurt shake), the chai and the occasional wine.
For religious and sacred city reasons, the nightlife in Benares is quite modest and simple. To spend the night in Benares, people often go to the movies, watch the classic Bollywood movies, or take a barge ride at sunset on the Ganges, enjoy Indian cuisine at the restaurants or street vendors on the streets. And if we want some music or have a drink, go to a hotel, which will have the best bars and pubs in Benares.
The climate of Benares is humid subtropical. It is characterized by very long summers (from April to October) and scorching summers, reaching 45 degrees. In winter temperatures average between 5 and 15 degrees (not too cold). It is precisely in summer when the monsoon season takes place, hence perhaps spring and autumn are the best time to travel to Benares. December or January is also highly recommended when the Ganges is lower, and the ghats can be seen in all their splendor.
The best way to get around Benares is on foot, as the traffic is hellish and chaotic. It is not advisable to rent a car to explore the city. For longer journeys we have buses, but they are always crowded, even on the roof. There are numerous taxis but, like the cars, the heavy traffic and the chaos of the streets and the people make it a nuisance to take them.
The best will always be to stay in a modern and international hotel, for greater security and comfort. Being such a tourist city, it has numerous offers of accommodation.