5 Activities You Should Not Miss On Your First Varanasi Trip

In the holy city of Varanasi, rub your shoulders against the ancient ghats, galis, and bazaars for a pristine experience of the primaeval culture
A view of Varanasi
A view of VaranasiShutterstock

The ancient city of Varanasi, dating back to the 11th century, offers an array of experiences—from its delectable cuisine to the tranquil Ganges river. Situated on the left bank of the Ganges, Varanasi boasts approximately 2,000 temples scattered throughout the streets and ghats, some of which are the oldest in India. Visitors are captivated by the evening aarti, a ceremony of lights, performed on the ghats.

Travellers in Varanasi will need more than a day to properly absorb the culture there. The famous Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, visited the city and was moved by its “openness of death.” For the most effective exploration of the city, peruse this curated list of things to do in the City of Lights.

Morning Boat Rides

Boat rides in Varanasi
Boat rides in VaranasiShutterstock

Taking a morning boat ride on the Ganges in Varanasi is a popular activity for both tourists and locals. The rides are best enjoyed just after dawn, when the air is fresh and the city is peaceful, and the water is calm. During the ride, you will be able to witness the morning aarti at various temples in the distance, adding to the serene experience. The ride will also give you a panoramic view of the numerous ghats that stand in an endless chain, creating a memorable experience that you won't forget. As you ride, you'll see locals preparing their boats, setting up their stalls, bathing, and washing their clothes to get ready for the day. It gives you an authentic insight into the onset of an average day of Varanasi.

For a 90-120 minute boat ride, you can expect to pay anywhere from Rs. 200 to Rs. 1500. The cost will depend on whether you hire a local boatman or a motorboat. If you prefer a more organic experience, going with a traditional boat is recommended. However, if you're with family or a larger group, a motorboat might be a better option since it can accommodate more people.

The Temples

The temples of Varanasi
The temples of VaranasiShutterstock

While the city is dotted with about 20,000 temples, a traveller must ensure to take a little slice of that grandiose. A unique aspect of the temples of the city is that each operates along its own set of rules, regulations, and rituals. Most of these temples are deeply embedded with history.

When discussing Shiva temples in Varanasi, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is a must-visit, also renowned as the "Golden Temple" due to its two golden domes constructed using gold contributions from Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Another notable site is the Tulsi Manas Temple, built in 1964 as a tribute to Lord Rama. It holds significance as the alleged site where Tulsidas penned "Ramcharitmanas." Upon stepping through the temple's main entrance, one encounters an array of scenes and verses from the Ramayana intricately etched onto the marble walls.

The Ramnagar Fort

Ramnagar Fort
Ramnagar FortShutterstock

On the eastern bank of the Ganges in Ramnagar, Varanasi stands the Ramnagar Fort. This chunar sandstone structure was built in the Rajputana style by Kashi Naresh Maharaja Balwant Singh in 1750. Beyond its elegance, the fort also houses Saraswati Bhawan, a museum that displays vintage American cars, antique firearms, jewel-adorned sedan chairs, clocks and more. The fort also features an expansive clock that displays the date and time, as well as astronomical details of the sun, moon and constellations. Additionally, the king's abode boasts lavish courtyards, adorned balconies, and pavilions, as well as the Veda Vyasa Temple and the famous Dakshin Mukhi Hanuman temple.

The Bazaars

The bazaar of Varanasi
The bazaar of VaranasiShutterstock

It is not actually against the law to leave a place without buying anything, but if you want to enjoy your time in Varanasi fully, it is recommended to explore the city's alleys for some shopping. You will find a wide assortment of jewellery, bangles, artefacts, and sweets. However, the most popular item to purchase is the Banarasi silk saree, Varanasi's famous attire. The best place to find these sarees and bed covers is at The Banaras Silk Emporium, where you can be assured of high-quality items at reasonable prices. What makes shopping in Varanasi more exciting is the chance to haggle. To test your bargaining skills, visit Thatheri Bazaar, Godowlia Market, Vishwanath Lane and Chowk, and Shri Gandhi Ashram Khadi Bhandar.

The Street Food

The Blue Lassi Shop, Varanasi
The Blue Lassi Shop, VaranasiShutterstock

Each Indian state is known for its unique street food and Varanasi has its own distinctive culinary offerings. After a long day of sightseeing, indulge in Varanasi's popular dishes such as Kachori Sabzi, Choora Matar, Chena Dahi Vada, and Malaiyyo. Don't forget to visit the famous Blue Lassi Shop, which has been serving 83 different handmade lassi flavours for over 78 years. The chocolate, coffee, and banana lassi are particularly delicious among its many flavours.

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