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Varanasi Hotels and Travel Guide

Varanasi, or Benaras, is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Varanasi's prominence in Hindu mythology is virtually unrivalled. Mark Twain, the English author and literature, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Banaras, once wrote: "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together".

One of the earliest descriptions of Varanasi is found in the Buddhist scriptures as also in the epic, 'Mahabharat'. The 'Pali' version of Varanasi was 'Baranasi' which ultimately gave birth to the name 'Banaras'. According to the 'Vamana Purana', the Varuna and Assi rivers originate from the body of the primordial person at the beginning of time itself. The tract of land lying between them is believed to be the holiest of all pilgrimages. The holy land between these two rivers is 'Varanasi'. Varanasi, also famous as Kashi (Derived from the root 'Kas' - to shine) is called the city of spiritual light.

SHOPPING:

The main shopping areas are Chowk, Vishwanath Gali, Thatheri bazaar, Lahurabir, Godoulia , Dashswamedh Gali and Golghar. The best areas to browse are the Thatheri Bazaar (for brass), Jnana Vapi and the Vishwanatha Gall with its Temple Bazaar (for silk brocade and jewellery) and the state run emporia in Godowlia are good.  

Qazi Sadullahpura, near Chhavi Mahal Cinema, lies at the heart of a fascinating Muslim neighbourhood devoted to the production of silk is a good place to browse. Upica, the government-run emporium has the advantage of fixed prices, with outlets at Godaulia opposite the Taj Hotel , Cantt. For tailoring, try Paraslakshmi Exports, Chandrika Colony Sigra (ph: 361496), a silk business providing a good and prompt service; they'll deliver to your hotel, and also offer ready-made waistcoats and boxer shorts.


CLIMATE:

The best season to visit Varanasi and its temples is between October and March. Some of the major festivals and cultural events also take place in this period. Summers can be quite harsh here with the temperatures going up to 45deg C. The monsoon season, which starts by late June or early July, brings torrential rains and high humidity which most visitors would prefer avoiding. Winters however are quite pleasant with temperatures remaining at around 20deg C during the day.

EXCURSION:

Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary about 55 km from Varanasi Established in 1997, Chandra Prabha Sanctuary, sprawls over an area of 78 sq km and is located on Naugarh and Vijaigarh hillocks in the Vindhya forest range, in Chandauli district. Although one of India's lesser-known sanctuaries, it is well endowed with beautiful picnic spots, dense forests, and scenic waterfalls like Rajdari and Devdari that attract tourists every year to its vicinity.

Jaunpur This bustling town 58km north-west of Varanasi sees few travellers but is of interest to architectural historians for its mosques , which are built in a unique style that is part Islamic and part Hindu and Jain. Founded by Feroz Shah Tughlaq in 1360 on an ancient site, Jaunpur became the capital of the independent Muslim Sharqui kingdom. The most impressive mosques were constructed between 1394 and 1478. T hey were built on ruins of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples and shrines, and are notable for their odd mixture of architectural styles, their two storey arcades and large gateways, and their unusual minarets. The modest but well-maintained Jaunpur Fort , built by Feroz Shah in 1360, overlooks the Gomti River. Continue 500m north of here and you come to the Atala Masjid , built in 1408 on the site of a Hindu temple dedicated to Atala Devi. Another 500m north-west is the largest and most impressive of the mosques, the Jama Masjid , built between 1438 and 1478. Other places to see include the Jhanjhri Masjid , the tombs of the Sharqul sultans , the Char Ungil Masjid and the Lal Darwaza Masjid


Annapurna Temple Varanasi
Annapurna Temple Varanasi


Benares Hindu University
Benares Hindu University


.River Front Ghat Varanasi
River Front Ghat Varanasi

Kaushambi 185km from Varanasi Mention of this town can be seen in the Mahabharata. It is said that the Pandav brothers lived here and Budhha visited many times and the gave sermons after his enlightenment in 6th and 9th century. Kaushambi developed as a major centre for Buddhism. The ruins of an old fort tell the saga of the towns antiquity.

Kaimoor Wildlife Sanctuary about 130km from Varanasi located on the Uttar Pradesh - Bihar border, is spread over an area of 500 sq km and is well worth taking time out for. The wildlife population comprises leopard, blackbuck, chital, chinkara, ratel and peafowl. For more information contact: Divisional Forest Officer, West Mirzapur Forest Division, Mirzapur, Telephone: 52404 Kaimoor is accessible by road from Varanasi and Mirzapur. The nearet town, Robertsganj, 3 km away, is connected by bus services to major centres in the region.

Kushinagar About 51km from Gorakhpur lies Kushinagar, a place famous for the Mahaparinirvana (death) of Lord Buddha. The town, once a celebrated centre of the Malla kingdom, has many of the stupas and viharas that date back to 230 BC?413 AD. One of the important sites to see here is the Mahaparinirvana Temple , where you can find the famous reclining statue of Buddha. The 20-feet-long statue is seated on a brick platform. Around the temple, one can find the ruins of as many as eight monasteries.

Attractions and Places to Visit in Varanasi

A.B.C. Art Gallery Prabhu Astha ( Opp. Tulsi Manas Temple), Durgakund. Holds exhibitions of contemporary art, mainly paintings, open only during the winter season i.e. October to March. Opening times: 3.00-7.00 p.m. Tel : 310434, 310967. Entry Free.

Annapurna Temple , located next to the Vishwanath temple was built in the 18th century by Peshwa Baji Rao I. The idol of Annapurna Bhavani (the provider of food), a benevolent form of Shakti, made in solid gold and carrying a cooking pot is housed here. There is also a striking silver-faced image of Shani (Saturn) within the temple. Shani is feared for his destructive powers and is propitiated to prevent any ill befalling the devout.

Archaeological Museum located in Sarnath. The main attraction at this excellent archaeological museum is the superb  Ashokan pillar. It has the Ashokan symbol of four back-to-back lions which has been adopted as the state symbol of modern India. Other finds from the site include many figures and sculptures from the various periods of Saranath - Mauryan, Kushana, Gupta and later. Among them is the earliest Buddha image found at Sarnath, Buddha figures in various positions dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries, and many images of Hindu gods such as Saraswati, Ganesh and Vishnu from the 9th to 12th centuries. The museum is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily, closed on Fridays. 

Benares Hindu University was founded by the great nationalist Pandit Malaviya in 1917 as a centre for education in Indian art, music, culture and philosophy, and for the study of Sanskrit and attracts students both from India and abroad. The five sq km campus houses the Bharat Kala Bhavan which has a fine collection miniature paintings and sculptures from the 1st to 15th centuries and old photographs of Varanasi. It's open from 11 am to 4.30 pm (7.30 am to 12.30 pm in May and June) but is closed on Sunday.

Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum lies within the sprawling grounds of Banaras Hindu University. Its outstanding collection of sculpture, painting and textiles began with the private collection of the enlightened Rai Krishnadasa. Ancient terracotta varing from ritual icons to toys to utilitarian objects date to the Indus Valley Civilisation, Mauryan, Sunga and Gupta periods. Among the stone sculptures are red sandstone reliefs from the 2nd century B.C, a Buddhist stupa at Bharhut and rare images and statues from well known schools like Gandhara, which saw the synthesis of Greek and Indian styles and Mathura, a powerful art centre during the Kushana period. The large and impressive collection of textiles contain precious example of Banaras silk and brocades, embroidered shawls from Kashmir and the rare Chamba rumals, once used to wrap ceremonial gifts and offering were richly embroidered pieces with designs and stories from the life of Krishna.

Bharat Mata Temple Dedicated to 'Mother India', this unadorned temple has a marble relief map of India instead of usual images of gods and goddesses. The map is said to be perfectly in scale, both vertically and horizontally and the place was opened by Mahatma Gandhi.

Carpet Weaving Centre Near Banaras is the famous carpet weaving centre at Bhadoi where handmade carpets are produced by skilled craftsmen who have acquired their rich repertoire of designs and techniques from their ancestral traditions. Banaras is also famous for its silk weaving cottage industry. Banarasi silk brocades have small, often minute , motifs made of gold or silver thread. Each motif has to be created individually using tiny shuttles. In the old days the gold thread was authentic, but today artificial fibres are used. For more shopping ideas please take a look through our Dining and Shopping pages.

Durga Temple is one of the most important temples in Varanasi and is built in the 8th century, by Bengali Maharani and is stained red with ochre. This temple is built in north Indian Nagara style with a multi-tiered shikhara (spire). The shikhara of the temple is formed by many small spires which are built one on top of the other. Durga is the 'terrible' form of Shiva's consort Parvati, so at festivals there are often sacrifices of goats. Non-Hindus can enter the courtyard but not the inner sanctum. It is commonly known as Monkey Temple due to many frisky monkeys that have made it their home.

Government Museum Mathura The rich treasure of antiquarian values unearthed by Cunnigham, Growse, Fuhrer and others formed the nucleus of this museum. The museum was founded by the collector, F.S. Growse in 1874. The collections were shifted to the present building in 1930. Regional in character its scope was limited primarily to the archeological finds from the Mathura region. The vast collection includes stone sculptures, bas reliefs, architectural fragments, inscriptions of various faiths and creeds, coins, terracotta, inscribed bricks, pottery pieces, clay seals, bronze objects and paintings. The museum has the richest and by far the most important collection of the Mathura School of Sculptures of 3rd century B.C - 12th century A.D.

Gyanvapi Mosque 4.8km from the railway station , this Mosque was constructed by Emperor Aurangzeb on the ruins of an ancient temple. Rare specimens of ancient temple art are still evident in the foundation and at the rear of the mosque.

Jantar Mantar The ruler of Jaisingh built an observatory in Varanasi in line with those built in Delhi , Mathura, Ujjain and Jaipur observatories. The Varanasi observatory has all the instruments which were required to record the motion, speed and properties of various stars and planets and other cosmic objects. The observatory was built in 1600 and still the instruments give the exact measurements which can match any modern instrument today.

Kashi-Vishwanath Temple Situated 3.8km from the railway station , near the ghats, the is the most sacred of the shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, the patron deity of Varanasi. (Originally constructed by Rani Ahillya Bai Holkar in 1776, it was reconstructed in the 18th century and its gold plating on the 'shikharas' was a gift of the one-eyed Sikh King, Maharaja Ranjit Singh). It is also popularly known as the Golden Temple . Non Hindus are not allowed inside the temple.

Man Mandir (Manmandir) Palace The archeological survey of India (ASI) has rediscovered the art behind the science of Man Mandir, the third observatory by the creator of Jantar Mantar, hidden for decades under a coat of crude lime plaster. The palace was built by Raja (King) Man Singh of Amber (Rajasthan) and the observatory houses five astronomical instruments for the study of the heavenly bodies.

Nepali Temple Situated on Lalita Ghat , was constructed by the late King of Nepal. Made of wood brought from Nepal, the walls have exquisite and lively carvings. Also known locally as 'mini Khajuraho' .

Pandit Malaviya Temple Pandit Malaviya wished to see Hinduism revived without its caste distinctions and prejudices - accordingly, unlike many temples in Varanasi, this temple is open to all, irrespective of caste or religion. The interior has a Siva lingam and verses from Hindu scriptures inscribed on the walls and is supposed to be a replica of the earlier Vishwanath Temple destroyed by Aurangazeb. It's open between 4 am and noon, and 1 and 9 pm.

Ram Nagar Fort and Museum This 17th century fort is the home of the former Maharaja of Benaras. It looks most impressive from the river, though the decrepit planking of the pontoon bridge you cross to reach it is somewhat of a distraction. During the monsoon access is by ferry. The interesting museum here contains old silver and brocade palanquins for the ladies of the court, gold-plated elephant howdahs, an astrological clock, macabre elephant traps and an armoury of swords and old guns.

River Fronts The most fascinating aspect of Varanasi is the life on the river ghats at dawn. As the first rays of the sun set the gently flowing Ganga afire, people flock here in large numbers every day to take bath and worship in the temples built beside the river bank. The centuries old tradition of offering puja to the rising sun is still maintained. Sarnath About 10km from Varanasi , is Sarnath, where lord Buddha gave his first sermon after enlightenment or as the Buddhist say set the 'wheel of dharma' or law rolling. Today Sarnath is considered as one of the best places to buy antiques from the Ashoka period to the 12th century. The Dharmarajika stupa here was built by Ashoka and is surmounted by a pillar. This pillar with four lions today forms the national emblem of India. Sarnath has many ruins of monasteries and stupas worth seeing and an extremely rich collection of Buddhist statues kept in the Archaeological Museum of Sarnath

St. Mary's Church Situated in the cantonment area of Benaras ( Varanasi ) the St. Mary's Church has a low tower, spire and projecting portico. Instead of windows the church has louvred doors to the sides and hooded ventilation slots beneath the cornice.

Tulsi Manas Temple A short walk south of the Durga Temple is the modern marble sikhara-style Tulsi Manas Temple, built in 1964. Its walls are engraved with verses and scenes from the Ram Charit Manas, the Hindi version of the Ramayana. Its author, poet Tulsi Das, lived here while writing it. You can watch figures performing scenes from Hindu mythology on the 2nd floor for a small fee. The temple is open from 5.30 am to noon and 3.30 to 9 pm daily.

(New) Viswanath Temple This temple is situated in the premises of the university and has 'Geeta' engraved in its marble walls. It's about a 30 minute walk from the gates of the university to the New Vishwanath Temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple is the most sacred shrine in Varanasi. The original temple was destroyed by the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb which was later restored by Rani Ahilyabai of Indore in the 18th century. The Gold plating of the dome was done during the 19th century by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab . The original temple is said to have been over 1000 years old. The Gyan Vapi tank enclosed in a hall is said to contain the original shivalingam. Pilgrims offer prayers here before embarking on the Panchatirtha.

Assi Ghat This is one of the five special ghats which pilgrims are supposed to bathe at in sequence during the ritual route called Panchatirthi Yatra. There is a lingam under a peepal tree and a marble temple of Asisangameshwara (lord of the confluence of Asi). An ancient tank dedicated to sun worship, the Lolarka Kund (pool) lies 15 metres below the ground and is approached by a steep flight of steps worth seeing.

Bharat Mata Temple Dedicated to ?Mother India? this temple found to the north-wes t of Godaulia is a modern shrine, inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi. It has a huge relief map of the Indian sub-continent showing all its rivers, mountains and pilgrimages and is one of the few open to non Hindus.

Chauki Ghat to Chaumsathi Ghat Northwards along the river, Chauki Ghat is distinguished by an enormous tree that shelters small stones shrines to the nagas, water-snake deities, while at the unmistakable Dhobi (Laundrymen's) Ghat clothes are still rhythmically pulverized in the pursuit of purity. Past smaller ghats such as Mansarovar Ghat , named after the holy lake in Tibet, and Narada Ghat, honouring the divine musician and sage, lies Chaumsathi Ghat , where impressive stone steps lead up to the small temple of the Chaumsathi (64) Yoginis. Images of Kali and Durga in its inner sanctum represent a stage in the emergence of the great goddess as a single representation of a number of female divinities. Overlooking the ghats here is Peshwa Amrit Rao's majestic sandstone haveli (mansion), built in 1807 and currently used for religious ceremonies and occasionally, as an auditorium for concerts.

Dasaswamedh (Dashashwamedha) Ghat offers a splendid view of the river front. The name indicates that Brahma sacrificed (medh) 10 (das) horses (aswa) here. Conveniently central it's one of the most important and busiest ghats and therefore is a good place to linger and soak up the atmosphere. Note its status and the shrine of Sitala, goddess of smallpox. Boats can be hired at this ghat for a tour of the riverfront. It is also the most popular site for Hindus to perform ancestor worship rituals, and the entire ghat is lined with umbrella covered stalls where Brahmin priests undertake pujas (worship).

Scindia Ghat Bordering Manikarnika to the north is the picturesque Scindia Ghat, with its titled Shiva temple lying partially submerged in the river, having fallen in as a result of the sheer weight of the ghat's construction around 150 years ago. Above the ghat, several of Kashi's most influential shrines are hidden within the tight maze of alleyways of the area known as Siddha Kshetra (the field of Fullfilment). Vireshvara, the Lord of all Heroes, is especially propitiated in prayer for a son; the Lord of Fire, Agni, was supposed to have been born here.

How to Reach Varanasi

By Air: Vadodara airport has daily and weekly connections to Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad. The airport is 6km from the city and auto rickshaws and taxis are available outside. The bigger hotels also arrange airport to city transfers, if you are booked to stay with them.

By Train: Vadodara lies on the main broad gauge railway lines between Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Mumbai-Delhi, so there are several trains to choose from including the two superfast Shatabdi Express trains to Ahmedabad and Mumbai and the Rajdhani Express to Delhi.

By Road: Vadodara is very well connected by road to various parts of India. State government run buses ply to the neighbouring states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Within Gujarat, Vadodara is connected to Ahmedabad, Surat and Bhavnagar by regular roadways buses and deluxe air-conditioned coaches. Information and reservations can be done at the Central Bus Stand opposite the Vadodara Railway Station. You can rent a car and drive in ? cars can be hired from travel agents and car rental companies.


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