Varanasi or Banaras or Kashi is the extremely consecrated place for the Hindus, located ashore the pious River Ganga (Ganges) in the North Indian state, Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi travel is a quaint experience as the atmosphere here is filled with a strong desire for Moksha, i.e. final deliverance. Along with its utmost religious significance, Varanasi is culturally important too, as it is either the birthplace or home of many dignitaries the fields of Indian classical music, literature, poetry and philosophy. It is the place where the great Saint Tulsidas created the eternal epic Ramcharitmanas. Varanasi also houses Banaras Hindu Vishwavidyalaya, the biggest residential university in Asia.
Varanasi is one of the most inhabited places on earth. Ancient Hindu text Rigveda has mentioned it as Kashi. It remained a main trade hub till Muslim invasion and later remained declined for some decades. During Maratha and Rajput ruler, it prospered again. It acquired the status of a dynasty from Mughal Empire and maintained it till Indian Independence in 1947.
Varanasi is a city of temples and ghats, therefore, during travel to Varanasi, you will come across lots and lots of them. The most important temple is that of Kashi Vishwanath, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Other major ones are Dhundiraj Ganapati, Dandapani, Annapurna, Durga Mandir, Tilbhandeshwar Temple, Vishalakshi Temple, Sankatmochan Hanuman Temple, Mrityunjay Mahadev Temple and many others.
A ghat is an access to river water and Ganga has numerous ghats, mainly meant for two purposes, holy bath and death rituals. Some prominent ghats of Varanasi are Assi Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Dashashwamedh Ghat, Shitala Ghat, Rajendra Prasad Ghat, Nepali Ghat, Scindia Ghat, Bajirao Ghat, Tulsi Ghat and many more. A boat ride on Ganga, at dawn and dusk is enjoyable, when you can watch various activities on the ghats.
There are also several Jain temples, as Varanasi was a prime seat for Jain religion too. So also, it has Buddhist significance because of the nearby Sarnath, where Buddha delivered His first public sermon. Due to Mughal rule, Varanasi also hosts many mosques like Chaukhamba Mosque and Ganj-e-Shahidan Mosque.
Ramnagar Fort and Museum are also must-see.
Varanasi has the outstanding Kachhua Sanctuary, within a 7 km stretch of Ganga, from Rajghat to Ramnagar, where several species of tortoises are protected, which keep the river water clean.
Varanasi is famous for its Banarasi Saree, which is made of silk and embroidered with gold or silver thread. Plus you can shop for various handicrafts like brassware, wooden and clay toys, ivory work, hand-knotted carpets from Bhadohi and Mirzapur and many such exquisite items. Some famous shopping areas are Thateri Bazaar, Vishwanath Gali, Lahurabir, Golghar, Dashaswamedh Gali and Chowk. Nadesar, Neechi and Lahurabir host government handloom shops.
While a boat-ride on River Ganges is a popular activity, wherein the boatman does all the hard work, you too can enjoy rowing a boat, which can be rented on any of the numerous ghats.
Varanasi is famous for its varied and delicious street foods, which is mainly vegetarian. However there are many Varanasi hotels too which serve all types of food. Typical Varanasi breakfast contains hot Kachauri, Tarkari (vegetable dish), Aloo (potato) curry and Jalebi. Plus there are delicacies like Samosa, Pani Puri, Aloo Chat and Dam Aloo.
Being the seat of Kashi Vishwanath (Lord Shiva), Mahashivaratri is the greatest event of Varanasi, held in March.
Other most spectacular event is Kartika Poornima or Dev Deepawali, in November, when all the ghats on Ganga are illuminated with earthen lamps, reflections of which in the river water produce mesmerizing effect.
Ganga Mahotsav is a 5-day festival held by Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department in October-November, when classical music recitals, sculpture exhibitions, material art exhibitions and a country boat race take place.
Plus there are various religious festivals like Ramleela and Nag Nathaiya, and classical music and dance events like Sankatmochan Sangeet Samaroha and Dhrupad Mela (February-March).