For millennia, Varanasi has captured the imaginations of
travellers to India. This ancient settlement - whose history
stretches back to the 11th century BCE - isn't only one
of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world; it's also
one of the subcontinent's holiest landmarks. Prepare to experience
the sacred Ganges River, the stunning ghats leading up to its
waters, and no shortage of religious ceremonies - but also seek
solace in tea ceremonies, luxurious hotel stays and stunning
wildlife refuges. Begin your discovery of this gorgeously chaotic
city, then, with our suggestions for 10 of the top things to do in
Varanasi. There's certainly no other destination like it.
Ganges Boat Ride at Dawn
A dawn boat trip along the
Ganges is a must © mrinalnag/iStock/Thinkstock
Varanasi is utterly inseparable from the Ganges, or Ganga, River
- known in Hindu theology as a goddess, the river is said to purify
devotees of their sins. If you're not inclined to bathe yourself,
the best way to experience its beauty is during a dawn boat ride.
As the sky turns various pastel hues and birds circle around the
ghats, a languorous trip is sure to spellbind.
Tea at Ganges View
Among the top things to do in Varanasi, few are as peaceable as
an escape to the Ganges View Hotel. A restored colonial mansion
filled with historic furnishings and artefacts, the Ganges View is
also host to a delightful tea ceremony - a cup of chai is just the
thing to recover with after a busy afternoon of explorations.
Wander the Ghats
Varanasi's iconic ghats are a
must for wanderers © anandoart/iStock/Thinkstock
Referring to the steps that lead down into the Ganges, the
Varanasi ghats are an iconic symbol of the city. While there are
close to 100 separate ghats, one of the most scenic and
visitor-friendly is the Assi Ghat. Home at any given moment to
worshippers and travellers of all stripes, it's also a frequent
host to festivals and other ceremonies.
Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple
The Golden Temple at Amritsar isn't the only gilded landmark in
India worth discovering. Enter the Shri Kashi
Vishwanath Temple - the best-known temple in Varanasi, and
practically unmissable thanks to its gleaming spires.
Sarnath is an ancient site that
draws Buddhist pilgrims © saiko3p/iStock/Thinkstock
Located on the edge of Varanasi, the city of Sarnath continues
the theme of sacred sights, though it's Buddhists, not Hindus, who
make the pilgrimage here. Once home to Gautama Buddha, the ancient
settlement hosts stupas and other landmarks that date to over 2,000
years old; they're still in impressive condition today.
Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary
Outside of the heart of bustling Varanasi, you'll find one of
Uttar Pradesh's prettiest oases: the Chandra Prabha Wildlife
Sanctuary, which was founded in the 1950s. Today the lush and leafy
destination is home to gazelles, boars, and pythons, as well as
hundreds of avian species.
Taj Nadesar Palace
The Taj Nadesar Palace is a
luxury haven in Varanasi © Taj Hotels
If you're looking to pair your Varanasi visit with a touch of
opulence, make the Taj Nadesar Palace your first port of call.
Long host to royalty and celebrities, the hotel offers 10 high-end
suites, a Jiva-brand spa and hosts nature walks of the surrounding
Charmingly dilapidated, the 18th century Ramnagar
Fort is a crumbling vestige of another era. The sandstone
structure, which abuts the Ganges, is still striking to behold,
while the on-site Saraswati Bhawan museum hosts an eccentric
collection of artefacts.
Aarti Ceremony at the Dashashwamedh Ghat
The fire-lit Aarti ceremony
takes place every evening © Byelikova_Oksana/iStock
Among the top things to do in Varanasi, the traditional Aarti
ceremony is doubtless one of the most memorable. Each evening, the
sprawling Dashashwamedh Ghat plays host to the elaborate religious
ritual, which is marked by its flame-lit choreography as fire and
flowers are offered to the Goddess Ganga.
International Music Centre Ashram
For a haunting experience of Varanasi's local culture, schedule
some time for a trip to the International Music Centre Ashram. Work
on your Indian classical scales during a singing lesson, or attend
performances by the ashram's talented family musicians.