#Cheap Flights To Varanasi
Often referred to as India's holiest city, Varanasi, also known as Benares, sits on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh. Home to more than 200 temples, including one of Hinduism's holiest, the Golden Temple of Kashi Vishwanath, the city's greatest draw is nonetheless the river that runs through it.
A series of ghats - steps going down to the river - line the bank. Devout Hindus use them for bathing, washing clothes, offering "puja" to the gods and, on two or three specially-dedicated ghats, for burning their dead. The latter is particularly important: to die in this city, as a Hindu, is to free yourself from the otherwise endless cycle of birth, death and re-birth.
A sunrise boat trip along the Ganges is one of the best ways for visitors to acquaint themselves with the city. Monkeys scamper across the roofs of the brightly-coloured temples, ashrams and other buildings that line the banks while, down below, people wend their way towards the river.
Things To Do
The river Ganges is unmissable in this city. All roads seem to lead to its banks and there are plenty of boatmen offering river trips in small rowing boats.
- Row into the sunrise on the Ganges
Dawn is one of the busiest times on the river. A boat ride at sunrise offers the chance to see early morning pilgrims bathing off the Ganga ghats. Meanwhile, young boys bring buffalo down to the river to drink and bathe, and priests prepare for the first of the day's cremation ceremonies on the "burning" ghats of Manikarnika and Harishchandra.
Varanasi's narrow streets hide a lustrous treasure. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is not known as the Golden Temple for no reason: two of its three domes are covered in gold.
- Go by rickshaw to the Monkey Temple
Properly known as the Durga Temple, a visit here is a good excuse for a short rickshaw ride. The temple itself, dedicated to the goddess Kushmanda, is visually striking. The rich red of its stone walls, its intricate architecture and the monkeys who give it its colloquial name all make for some superb photographs.
Calendar Of Events
As befits such a holy city, Varanasi plays host to a number of important Hindu ceremonies festivals and "melas".
Ganga Aarti: The Ganga aarti takes place at Dasaswamedh ghat every evening at dusk. Priests, pilgrims, flower sellers, beggars and tourists all gather for the devotional "aarti". This sees small candles being sent off down the river on little boats ("diya") made from leaves or earthenware pots as an offering to Mother Ganges herself.
Dev Deepavali: More widely known as Dev Diwali, Varanasi celebrates this Hindu festival during the month of Kartika Purnima (usually in November). Crowds of people throng the city's ghats to see priests open the festival by chanting Vedic mantras. This is then followed by firecrackers, the floating of around a million "diya" lights and general merriment. There is also dancing and a twelve-foot statue of Mother Ganges.
Ganga Mahotsav: This is the city's own cultural festival. It takes place annually, between October and November. Aimed at celebrating Varanasi's heritage, its highlights include boat races and displays of martial arts. It is also an excellent opportunity to see, and purchase, examples of local silk weaving.