Famously known as Banaras or Kashi, the holy city of Varanasi is located on the banks of river Ganga and is considered the holiest city in India owing to its location and history and the numerous temples in it.
The city of temples or Banaras, as it is popularly known, is a holy city on the banks of the River Ganga. Said to have been discovered by Lord Shiva, this city has immense historical as well as religious importance. Not just a place where pilgrims throng to visit the temples, Varanasi is also the destination where most people come to spend their last days as it is believed that a person who dies in this sacred place can attain salvation. Varanasi is one of the oldest continually inhabited places of the world and oldest in India. Its narrow lanes are filled with temples, amazing food outlets, cows and bulls standing midway and numerous people flocking here and there. Varanasi is also called the "Galiyon ka sheher", meaning the city of lanes, "the city of temples", "the religious capital of India". It is also called the "city of learning" as it has always been a big learning centre since the ancient past. The Benares Hindu University, one of the oldest and biggest Indian universities is also situated here. Varanasi is also famous for its Kashi Vishwanath Temple, which houses one of the 12 revered jyotirlingas. Sarnath, which is one of the biggest pilgrimage site for Buddhists, is located nearby and Varanasi is typically the base to visit Sarnath. However, the biggest attraction here is the River Ganga itself. The evening ritual, called the Ganga Aarti is a must see for everyone, without which, perhaps, a visit to Varanasi is incomplete.
Guest houses, as well as all ranges of hotels are available to the tourists in Varanasi. You can opt to stay in five-star hotels like Taj Gateway, Radisson and Ramada, or in decent hotels situated throughout the city. However, if you want to get the true feel of the city, stay at the numerous hotels situated on the banks of the Ganges and spend your day absorbing the tranquil atmosphere.
Varanasi has a distinct tint to its cuisine with a certain influence of dishes and styles of Bihar added to its platter. The popular delicacies of the area are Dum Aloo, Bati Chokha, Aloo-Tikki, Pani Puri, Kachori, Tamatar chaat as well as sweets such as Jalebis, Rabri and Banarasi Kalakand. Another essential relish of the town is its Paan, a delicacy of betel leaf. Other than these, do try out the Butter Toast with hot milk, typically almond flavoured. Also, try out the local drinks like Lassi and Badam Sharbat. Varanasi is also famous for its Thandai, which is a milk based drink with Bhang added in it, which is a form of cannabis legal in India. Apart from the traditional and local flavors here, one will find numerous options for Continental and typical Indian food. When in Varanasi, you can explore the variety of food from the delicious street food to the numerous cafes at Assi. The city really has it all!
Cycle rickshaws as well as auto rickshaws are available in Varanasi for travel in local areas. Mini buses are also available within the city. Boats are used for tours of the River Ganga.
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Kashi is a land of many charms. Its not your usual holiday. Dusty, narrow and full of alleys and cowdung, you may wonder why you decided to come. But don't form an opinion until you reach the Ganga Ghats, or Benaras' assortment of temples. The city will leave a mark on your pysche. And don't miss Dev Deepavali here!
Being a religious city, it is necessary for outsiders to understand and adhere to the customs and traditions of each area.
By Rohit Shroff
What are the local dishes I should try in Varanasi?