"Varanasi: Hindusthan's City of Light." Top 5 Page for this destination Varanasi by Hmmmm
Varanasi Travel Guide: 654 reviews and 1,524 photos
Varanasi is an amazing place, so much to see and do. It was more than I ever expected, and I had expectations, believe me. It bewildered me, shocked me, touched me, mad eme soar, and showed me beauty on multiple levels.
the Ganga on which Varanasi lies is peppered with beautiful old ghats and historic stately palacettes towered above them, all ochre colured, smacking of yesteryear, yet totally alive with humanity, who come from all over India to wtness the magic of the river Ganges.
Old Varanasi that winds like a warren behind te ghats is a feast for the senses. smaking of colour. The amazing, narrow, twisting alleys that criss cross the area burst with stalls and shops of all kinds.
Then, Bang! The stop, and Varanasi city, obnoxious, big and loud slaps you in the sticky, stinky heat - you almost want to turn back and hide in the shade and the smells of the old city. But No, you negotiate it, little by little. Varanasi - is a feast, a veriatable feast of courses that are dispicable, palatable and absolutely incredible.
The Ganges snakes past Varanasi, like a serpeant, sometimes fat with rain and sometimes hungry for the lack of it. A boat ride in the Ganges is obligatory, especially at dawn..
At the Benares Hindu University there is a new Hindu temple there called the New Vishwanath Temple that is well worth a visit. It is a bit different to most other Hindu temples in that it is only a few years old, so large and clean. Also, and more importantly, non-Hindus can enter and explore. It is really nice, we recommend it. Other places of worship worth visiting include the Great Mosque of Arangzeb, plus the Golden Temple which is located down the maze of twisting alleys in the old city. We paid a rickshaw-wallah R100 to take us on a for a day of all the more far-flung temples. This young guy happily peddled ALL FOUR of us around on his rickshaw all day, and was good company.
Food: Did I mention we had the best food of our India and Nepal leg in Varanasi? Interesting, because the latest Lonely Planet INDIA says Varanasi food is mediocre at best. Our favourite was the Keshari restaurant which is a Brahmin restaurant, so not even eggs are served let alone meat.
If you have a Lonely Planet guidebook, the Keshari is in the last 3 editions at least. It is just off the main larger road (Dasaswamedh Ghat Rd) that heads down to the Main (Dasaswamedh) Ghat, and goes straight through the main Godaulia and Old City area that most budget travelers stay. So you won't have to walk far. This the area where Sri Venkateshawar Lodge is (where we stayed), as well as famous (trendy) Yogi Lodge (the real one, not New Yogi Lodge, or Jogi Lodge, or Old Yogi Lodge etc, there are apparently many imitators, BTW). The Keshari is down an alley on the left off this road just past the last roundabout as you head towards the ghats. If you have spent much time in the Old City, you'll know how hard directions are to give!! Anyway, it is such a well known restaurant in the area that if you ask anyone, esp. your guest house people, they will tell you how to get there. In fact, our Sri Venkateshawar Lodge people first told us about it. Other restaurants in the area are almost as good.
Don't forget to try famous Varanasi sweets. Small squares of slice confection in various shapes, often with coloured layers in them. They have a wonderful sweetened condensed milk flavour, and only cost R2 each for a 5cm X 5cm X 3cm (1.5" X 1.5" X 1") slice. YUM! Sold in little stall-like shops in the Old City.
Where to stay: The hotels around the river tend to be lower budget hotels, but I STRONGLY urge visitors to stay in that area rather than in the area where the large expensive hotels are (the Cantonment area). That is MILES away from the river and the heart of Varanasi. There are reasonably good hotels in the river area, particularly the Main Ghat area where we stayed. They are not all lowest budget hotels, check the India guidebook for one in your budget.
The Sri Venkateshawar Lodge near the main ghat where we stayed wasn't bad, reasonable western toilets, friendly management, close to the river. Its down one of those alleys, but not too far down to get hopelessly lost. It wasn't on the river itself, though. We were there in January 1998, price was R150 double with attached bath. Other visitors to Varanasi prefer to stay in places on the Ganges itself. Prices tend to be slightly higher in those places.
By the way, the dobhi-wallahs (washer men) that visit your budget hotel in Varanasi will wash your clothes in the Holy Ganges, alongside all the other dobhi wallahs and pilgrims. Our whites were never quite white after that! I have a photo of our clothes drying laying on the ghats by the Ganges.
Night life? However, there is a restaurant called Ganga Fuji, also in this area but further down the narrow alley labyrinth so I'm not even going to try to give directions. Its near the Golden Temple and Yogi Lodge, but again, ask for directions (also in Lonely Planet). It has live sitar and tabla music every night with your meal. It's a tiny restaurant with very friendly staff, and when we were there the musicians were extremely good. Well worth it. As for afters, we just cultivated a hangover, in our guest house. Below us all night that ghats were alive.
And finally... You cannot fail to be moved by India's holiest city, and the world's oldest living city and holy sites. It was our favourite place in India. Sure, the river is polluted, but we all knew that, didn't we? The filth is largely irrelevant to your personal experience of the place, all that is amazing and exotic is what its all about.
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