- UTTAR PRADESH
known to the devout as Kashi, is said to have been founded
by Shiva, Lord of the Universe. One of the oldest living cities
in the world, as also one of the most important pilgrimage
sites in India, Varanasi is a major tourist attraction. Situated
on the banks of the sacred Ganges, the city has been a centre
of learning and civilisation for over 2000 years. It was at
Sarnath, only 10 km away from Varanasi, that the Buddha, first
preached his message of enlightenment, 25 centuries ago.
Varanasi derives its present name from the two tributaries
of the Ganga - Varuna and Asi - between which it is situated.
According to historians, the city was founded around ten centuries
before the birth of Christ. The city finds mention in holy
scriptures like 'Vamana Purana', Buddhist texts and the 'Mahabharata'.
The unique relationship between the mighty Ganga and the city
forms the essence of Varanasi - 'the land of sacred light'.
What to See
Ghats: Varanasi's principal attraction
is the long string of ghats, which line the west bank of the
Ganges. Ghats are the steps which lead down to the river.
There are around 100 ghats in Varanasi, each with its own
significance. Most Indians believe that anyone dying on the
banks of the river, in Varanasi, attains instant 'moksha'
or enlightenment. The Dasaswamedh Ghat is the most significant
ghat here, and conveniently placed at the centre. The Manikarnika
ghat is associated with Goddess Parvati, Lord Shiva's wife.
The five ghats where pilgrims are supposed to bathe in order,
and on the same day are Asi ghat, followed by Dasaswamedh,
Barna Sangam, Panchganga, and finally, Manikarnika, in that
order. Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats, are the ghats
used primarily for the cremation of the dead. Other main ghats
include Kedar ghat, a shrine popular with Bengalis; Mansarovar
ghat built by Man Singh of Amber; and PanchGanga Ghat where
the five rivers are supposed to meet.
Vishwanath temple: Dedicated to Shiva or Vishveswara
(Vishwanath) is the Golden Temple, the main temple of Varanasi.
The original temple was located across the road, but it was
destroyed by Aurangzeb who had built a mosque over it. The
present temple was built by Ahalya Bai of Indore in 1776.
The Mosque of Aurangzeb, has been built using columns from
the original temple razed by Aurangzeb. This mosque has minarets
towering 71 metres above the Ganges. The
Durga Temple, commonly known as the Monkey Temple,
was built in the 18th century by a Bengali Maharani, and is
stained red with ochre. This small temple, dedicated to Goddess
Durga, consort of Shiva, is built in north Indian Nagara style,
with a multicoloured shikhara or umbrella. The
Bharat Mata temple was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi
and houses one of the most perfect relief maps of India carved
out of marble.
Devotee: The unique Tulsi Manas
temple, built in white marble, has the entire Ram Charit Manas
(Ramayana) inscribed on its walls. Wonderful landscaping around
the temple adds to its appeal. Banaras Hindu University, founded
by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, is considered to be the largest
residential university in Asia. Within the University campus,
Vishwanath Temple and Bharat Kala Kendra (museum) are worth
a visit. Tel: 311833
Ramnagar Fort & Museum (16 km) - The residence of Kashi
Naresh (Former Maharaja of Varanasi) across the Ganga at Ramnagar
houses a museum comprising exhibits like palanquins, costumes,
swords, sabres etc. The vibrant celebration of Dussehra at
Ramnagar is an event not to be missed. The other attractions
are Raja Jai Singh's Observatory at
Man Mandir Ghat, Annapurna temple, Anand
Mayee Math, Kaal Bhairav temple, Nepali temple, Guru Ravidas
Mandir near the university and Kabir Janmasthali Lahartara.
Yoga: Tourists interested in Yoga can
pay a visit to the Malviya Bhavan at the Banaras Hindu University,
where courses in Yoga and Hindu Philosophy are offered. There
are also many private teachers and organisations offering
courses. Yoga clinic at D 16/19 Man Mandir runs seven day
courses in the principles of Yoga.
How to get there
Air: Varanasi is on several Indian
Airlines routes, including the popular daily tourist shuttle
Delhi/Agra/Khajuraho/Varanasi and back. There are flights
from Lucknow, Jaipur, Bhubaneshwar and Kathmandu also. The
airport is about 22 km away from the city, and the Indian
Airlines shuttle bus service runs from there to the city.
Train: There are not many trains
running from Delhi or Calcutta to Varanasi, but most Delhi-Calcutta
trains do pass through Mughalsarai, 12 km south of Varanasi.
Varanasi is connected by train to Mumbai, Allahabad, Patna,
Jaipur, Gorakhpur and Khajuraho.
Road: There are buses running from Varanasi to Jaunpur,
Allahabad, Lucknow, Faizabad, and Gorakhpur. No direct buses
run to Khajuraho.