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Varanasi (India) is one of the holiest cities in India and is home to the Ganges. The Varanasi Ghats have been written about and explored by international travellers and renowned journalists. A typical Indian city, Banaras (Varanasi was previously known as Banaras) is much more than just cows, tiny bazaars and noisy streets. Here are ten places in Varanasi that you must visit:


1) Soak in the tranquillity at Sarnath Museum-
Sarnath is one of the most well-known Buddhist pilgrimages in India and is located about thirteen kilometres on the north-eastern side of Varanasi. Sarnath is that place of quiet where you should go to sneak in some downtime, in the midst of its tranquillity. It is said that after Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodhgaya, He came to Sarnath in search of his companions and delivered his first sermon at Sarnath itself. When you go to Sarnath, you must visit the Chaukhandi Stupa, Mulagandha Kuti Vihar, the Ashok Pilla, Archaeological Museum, Chinese and Thai temples along with the Dhamekh Stupa and Monastery Ruins.


2) Witness the funeral pyres at Manikarnika Ghats-
One of the reasons for the Varanasi ghats to be known as the holiest city in the world, is the funeral processions that take place in the Manikarnika Ghats. A very intriguing thing about these Ghats is the funeral pyres and how you’ll find at least one pyre burning irrespective of the time you visit and the proximity at which you can understand that the process of life is something we get lost in. The ghats are also visited by people in attempts to wash off their worldly sins. A very important point of interest in Varanasi are the Manikarnika Ghats, meaning to say, a single visit to the Manikarnika Ghats will set you thinking about the cycle of life and death.


3) Visit Ramnagar Fort and museum-
The Ramnagar Fort and museum, the ancestral home of the Maharaja of Banaras (now known as Varanasi) was built in the 17th century. Some part of the palace has been turned into a museum where you can learn about the city’s history and also see a vintage car collection, ivory works, a life-sized astronomical clock and costumes from the medieval era. Located opposite the Tulsi Ghat, the Ramnagar Fort is crying to be restored and renovated but the beauty of the fort lies in it being a crumbling historical monument that still stands strong. Entry charges to Ramnagar Fort are Rs.20 for Indians and Rs. 150 from foreigners. The timings for visiting the Fort and museum are from 10am to 5:30pm.


4) Visit the Kashi Vishwanath Temples-
The Kashi Vishwanath temple located in the Vishwanath Galli of Varanasi is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas in India, which is considered a holy manifestation of Lord Shiva. You might have heard of or read about the Kashi temple as this is one of most famous Hindu temples and have been written about in Hindu scriptures, as well.


5) Learn about the Durga temple-
A fiery red temple, the Durga temple has a very beautiful past. It is believed that the idol of Goddess Durga at the temple was not built or constructed but had appeared at the temple on its own. Dedicated to Maa Durga, the Durga temple was built by a Bengali Maharani (queen) in the 18th century. Widely known as The Durga Kund Mandir in Varanasi, this temple is called so because it is built on a rectangular kund (tank) which is called Goddess Durga’s Kund. The temple is also a frequent spot for monkeys and so, has often been regarded as the Monkey Temple of Varanasi. As per the Puranas, Goddess Durga has been in Varanasi for centuries and continues to be the protective force for this holy city of India. If you visit Varanasi around Navratri (a nine-day festival), you’ll see herds of locals flocking to the Durga Temple to seek blessings from Maa Durga.


6) Admire the art at Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum-
Located within the confines of the massive Banaras Hindu University, the Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum was first established in 1920 with Rabindranath Tagore as the Honorary Chairman. The Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum in Varanasi was one of the first tourist spots to have been opened up to the public. The Museum displays miniature paintings, striking sculptures and the local history of Varanasi. A part of the museum also has a special art gallery that displays the works of Nicholas Roerich, a Russian artist.  The timings of the museum are from 10:30am to 5pm and is open on all days except Sundays, public holidays and University holidays.


7) Have a look at the architecturally rich Alamgir Mosque-
The Alamgir Mosque was built in the 17th century and stands tall even today at the Panchganga Ghat. A striking fact about the Mosque is that it is built where a Vishnu temple was previously desecrated. Also known as Beni Madhav Ka Darera, the Alamgir Mosque was built by Aurangzeb, a Mughal Emperor, during the invasion of the Mughals in India. The Mosque has beautiful architecture, with carved pillars making strong foundations of the mosque, grand domes and turrets, bringing in the perfect mix of Persian and Indian architecture, all in one majestic mosque.  

This photo of Alamgir Mosque is courtesy of TripAdvisor

8) Dine at the Brown Bread Bakery-
The Brown Bread Bakery is a rooftop restaurant that is situated near the Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi. You will find fancy eats at this rooftop restaurant, right from delish cookies, decadent cakes on the snack menu to a separate cheese counter for cheese lovers. They have a variety of the different cheeses produced in India, the best thing here is that these cheeses are all natural, that is, without any added preservatives. If you’re following a vegan or an organic food diet, this bakery will is the best option for you as they have a delectable vegan and organic food menu, very suitable for those with special dietary requirements. The bakery remains open from 7am to 10:30pm.

This photo of Brown Bread Bakery is courtesy of TripAdvisor

9) Lounge around the Lotus Lounge-
The Lotus Lounge is the perfect place for you to unwind with a group of friends or in the presence of your family. The lounge has a comfortable set up of tatami mats, lounge cushions and has clean interiors. After all the hustle-bustle at the Varanasi ghats, Lotus lounge is the best place to have some quiet time with yourself while you sip on some mugs of thick hot chocolate at the lounge. Lotus lounge remains open from 8:30 am to 10 pm, don’t miss out on this place!


10) Shop from the Godowlia market-
You can’t miss shopping from the Godowlia market in Varanasi, one of the oldest and most loved markets in Varanasi. Pick up anything from regular household items, colourful glass bangles, funky jewellery, brocade fabric, wood-carved gift items and anything else that crosses your mind. You will find everything you want from this market in Varanasi, all you’ve got to do is look! Your trip to Varanasi will be incomplete if you don’t shop from the Godowlia market so don’t miss it.

How to reach Varanasi?
By air: You can take a direct flight to Varanasi airport from Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta.  By road: Varanasi has a good network of roads which are suitable for road travel. You can either hire a private car or take public buses that ply from neighbouring cities to Varanasi.
By rail: The Rajdhani Express is one of the best trains that runs from major Indian cities and takes you to Varanasi Junction and Kashi Junction (another train station in Varanasi).

A visit to Varanasi will take you through the rich culture and heritage of India while also triggering some insightful thoughts that will change your perception of art, culture and life, as a whole.


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