Varanasi is the holiest city in all of India and is most well known for its sacred waters of the Ganges River where Hindus bathe or worship. Another reason why so many people flock here is for the burial rituals, where the dead are cremated on the banks of the river. Aside from its extremely spiritual side, Varanasi is also a fabulous place to explore on foot, especially in the old part of the city which is famous for winding lanes and traditional markets.
The ghats in Varanasi are its most famous feature and are simply the stairs that connect the city to the River Ganges. There are over a hundred ghats in the city, with around 25 in the main section of town. Walking around the ghats can be an amazing experience, especially if you go early in the morning. A great thing to do is take a small private rowing boat which will take you along the most prominent ghats at sunrise. You can expect to find people bathing in the holy waters as well as preparing food, and people are also cremated here, often all in the same place.
Of all the ghats in Varanasi perhaps the most spectacular is the Dasaswamedh Ghat which is situated near the Vishwanath Temple. This ghat has a legend that Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses on this very spot, and it is best to visit here in the evening. If you do, you will get the chance to witness the Aarti Fire Ceremony, a ritual in Hinduism in which torches or candles containing ghee or camphor are lit and presented as offerings to the deities.
The Golden Temple
Vishwanath Temple, also known as the Golden Temple, is associated with several Hindu legends involving Brahma and Vishnu and sits next to the famous ghats and River Ganges in Varanasi. The temple is an amazing sight, as it is topped with golden domes and the architecture inside is truly stunning. If you can, try and combine a visit to the temple with a trip to the neighboring ghats to see a cremation ceremony. Many Hindus will try to visit the Golden Temple once in their lifetime, and it is traditional for visitors to pray here and then give up one earthly desire after their trip, such as smoking or gambling.
Varanasi is one of the holiest places not only in India, but maybe in the world, and it is a truly unusual city to visit. On a trip here you can expect to see ceremonies not easily seen in other parts of India, such as open cremations and the Aarti Fire Ceremony, so it is definitely worth stopping off if you think you can handle it. Aside from the amazing sights that line the River Ganges, the center of Varanasi is also not to be missed, and you can spend hours wandering the winding streets in the old downtown area.