Varanasi, India, is one of the world's oldest cities dating all the way back to the 11th century B.C. The famous Ganges River runs through here. The city has been regarded as the religious and cultural center of northern India for thousands of years. Since ancient times, people have come to Varanasi to study Sanskrit and it is the site of many Hindu pilgrimages.
Varanasi has two local rivers, the Varuna and the Assi, which join the Ganges in the north and south, respectively. There is also a popular belief that the Varuna river was named Varanasi in ancient times, ultimately giving rise to the city's name, but this is not widely accepted. Lord Shiva and his consort, Goddess Parvati, are said to reside in Varanasi.
Are Kashi, Varanasi and Banaras all the same city?
The city is known as Varanasi, Banaras or Kashi. The most popular understanding of the name Varanasi comes from its location between two rivers—the Varuna and the Asi. However, many texts, including the Puranas, Ramayana, and Mahabharata, mention the names Banaras or Varanasi, while Kashi is mentioned in the Vedas.
The name Varanasi is also mentioned in the Matsya Purana and Shiv Purana. In folk pronunciation, it was known as "Banaras," which came to be known as "Benaras" during the period of British rule. But finally, on May 24, 1956, it was officially renamed Varanasi—the most common name used today.
Travel in Varanasi
I am confident Varanasi will become more than just a holy city in the coming years. I am happy with the government's efforts to develop and maintain cleanliness. In fact, the people are becoming more aware of the importance of keeping the city clean, and in turn, I hope this will boost the city's tourism sector.
Varanasi is known as the "Ghats City." This area has numerous famous ghats, with Dashashwamedh Ghat, Assi Ghat, and Mani Karnika Ghat being the most well-known among them. Here's a brief overview of each:
- Aarti, a grand event, is held every day at Dashashwamedh Ghat and people travel long distances to see it.
- Tulsi Das ji wrote Ramcharit Manas at Assi Ghat.
- It is said that those who die at Mani Karnika Ghat achieve salvation, and even Shiva has taken a seat here.
If traveling to see these ghats and temples, it will take you at least two days to visit all of them, so plan accordingly.
Places to See
Here are some more places I think are worth stopping by to explore if you're traveling to Varanasi.
This street is directly behind Vishwanath Street. This street's speciality is the majority of the shops are for kachori. That is why the street was named Kachori Gali. The shops here open in the morning and stay open until midnight. This street, like Vishwanath Street, begins near the ghat. This street also has shops selling books, texts, and photographs in addition to Kachori.
This street begins in Dalmandi and connects Dalmandi to Bansfatak, Kashi's main market. This is fun to explore. This street also has electronics stores if you are, by chance, needing a replacement for something that broke during your travels.
This street is located in the Chowk area, just before the Chowk Mazar. It has shops selling gold and silver jewelry, gems, and other items. Chowk, Coconut Market, and Resham Katra are all connected by this street.
It is also known as "Vindhyachal" street. This street contains a Vindhyachal Mata temple. It is a replica of the Vindhyachal temple statue in Mirzapur. As a result, the temple is known as Vindhwasini Temple. Vindhyavasini Gali was named after this person. This lane runs from Kashipura to Katra and meets silk.
The Gopal Mandir
This street runs from the Bulanala to the Gopala Mandir. There is an Ashtadhatu-made statue of Gopal Ji in this temple installed by Maharani Kunti. This idol is said to have been worshipped by Queen Kunti.
The temple and street are decorated in the style of a bride during Janmashtami.
This street is located in Vishweshwarganj. It begins at Bhaironath Square and ends at Kalabhairav Temple. Kalbhairav ji is the Kotwal of Kashi and Lord Shankar's chief commander. It is believed that a person can only live in Kashi with the permission of Kalbhairav ji. After Kalbhairav ji, this street was named Kalbhairav Gali.
Other Spots of Interest
Aside from the streets, there is Maa Ganga Aarti (Dasashwamedh Ghat), early morning (Assi Ghat), Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Shri Sankatmochan Temple, Baba Kaal Bhairav, and Ramnagar.
Kashi's culture is fascinating to explore as it is a living example of multiculturalism.
Accommodation and Dining
When visiting Varanasi, you can book a room at any hotel near Varanasi Railway Station and stay there. If you want to eat in Dharamshala, it is also located directly across from Varanasi Railway Station. You can also visit Durgakund, and here I suggest staying at any of the many Dharamshalas. You can also spend the night in Sarnath.
Wherever you are coming from, you are welcome to stay!