Varanasi, or Benaras, is the holiest Hindu city in the world. It is among the most important pilgrimage sites in India and one of the four most ancient cities of the world. Varanasi is located on the banks of the sacred Ganges River and is famous for the distinctive ghats or bathing steps that have been built over the years. Most Ganges tours include Varanasi in their itinerary. Varanasi is visited by millions of Hindu pilgrims and tourists from India and abroad every year, thus proving its importance to tourism in India. The city is particularly attractive to many foreigners who come from far-off countries to study Indian religious scriptures like the Vedas here.
Tourist attractions in Varanasi:
There are around 100 ghats in Varanasi. These ghats start bustling with activity from dawn and the noisy activities continue till the end of the evening prayers. A visit to the ghats in the early morning is a wonderful experience. The sadhus and locals taking a dip in the holy Ganges and the collective chanting of ancient vedic mantras give a spiritual feel to the entire atmosphere. As the day progresses, more and more people come to the ghats to bathe or to pray. The Chatris, or sunshades are a characteristic feature of the ghats, and little scenes involving priest offering prayers on behalf of their clients, or little kids playing, or young men cracking jokes happen beneath these Chatris.
The famous ghats of Varanasi are –
Dasashwamedh Ghat – this is the main ghat of Varanasi. it is the scene of constant human activity all through the day. The most beautiful moment in this ghat can be seen during the evening prayers. The priests stand with ornate lamps and move in synchronized patterns to the constant chanting of mantras. A large number of people attend the evening prayers everyday. This scene hasn’t changed much over a period of thousands of years. Only, now the loudspeakers spread the chants to a larger area.
Manikarnika Ghat – this ghat is also associated with many mythological stories. The ghat is one of the most favored ones for cremation of the deceased. It is believed that Lord Shiva meets the deceased who have been cremated here, and asks them about his wife, Goddess Parvati’s earrings, said to have got lost here.
Harishchandra Ghat – this is another of the most favored cremation spots. This ghat is associated with the legend of raja Harishchandra , who was bought by the God of Death, Yam disguised as the owner of the ghat.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple – this is one of the twelve shrines of Lord Shiva, collectively called the Jyotirlingas. This temple is one of the best known and revered temples in India. Millions of pilgrims visit this temple every year.
Sankat Mochan Temple – Dedicated to Lord Hanuman, this temple is one of the most pious of the temples in Varanasi. It is the venue for many important religious festivals and fairs. Many marriages also take place within the temple compound.
The narrow streets of Varanasi are another of its characteristic features. The streets are lined by shops selling sweets, other food and religious items. Many of the sweet shops have become famous over the years and are mentioned in the tour itineraries.
Varanasi is also home to the famous Benaras Hindu University, one of the major centers of learning in India. Sarnath, one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage centers is located close to Varanasi.
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