Varanasi Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Varanasi

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    Rana Mahal Ghat

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Rana Mahal Ghat

    Rana Mahal Ghat is located south of Dasaswamedh Ghat next to Darbhanga Ghat. It was built in 1670 by the king of Udaipur and is considered one of Varanasi's important ghats. Nearby is the Vakratunda Vinayaka Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Ganesh.

    I read that Rana Mahal Ghat is the place where ghosts are found at night. It, along with 6 other ghats has been chosen for beautification.

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    Early Evening Boat Trip on the Ganga

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Early Evening on the Ganga

    While the dawn boat trip up and down the Ganges is a must do, I think that the dusk trip is almost as nice and I would definitely recommend doing both. The lighting is different - dawn can be a little harsh until the sun appears.

    You can arrange a trip through your hotel/guesthouse before you arrive at the ghats but you won't have any problem finding a waiting boat down at the ghats, at least the busier ones.

    Most trips start at the centrally located Dashashwamedh Ghat, considered one of the most important - and busiest - ghats. This is a good location to go if you have not pre-booked a boat. There are more boats here - more choices - and you'll be able to negotiate a good price. Be sure to negotiate a price before hiring a boat!

    You can time it so that you stay in the boat for the evening aarti (THE must do in Varanasi!). Be aware that there will be a lot of boats surrounding yours so you are "stuck in the middle" until the aarti is well over. Oh...and there will be bats flying above your head, which for me was very distracting!

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    Make an Offering of Flowers & Fire on the Ganga

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Flower & Candle Offering

    Small diyas with a candle and flower are given as offerings to Maa Ganga, goddess of the most holy river in India, at sunrise and sunset. This ceremony is part of an aarti, a devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering. The lamps are floated down the Ganges and thought to acquire the power of the deity. After the ritual is complete, devotees cup their hands over the flame and raise their palms to their forehead to get purification and blessings from Maa Ganga.

    There are boys/men selling the diyas near the water's edge as well as in small boats that will come up to your boat. The diyas are inexpensive and it is a nice gesture to light the candle in memory of a loved one. Wherever I am, no matter what the religion, I always make an offering in honor of my father.

    It is quite pretty to see all of the lit diyas during the evening aarti.

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    Shopping in the Ganges

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Shopping on the Ganges

    While you are out in a boat for your early morning or dusk trip down the Ganges, a boat will approach with statues, diyas/flowers, water vials, etc. for you to purchase. We purchased diyas as well as a couple of water vials so I could bring home some Ganga water to my (Hindu) mother-in-law. It was very special to light the diyas and set them afloat as well as bringing the water to my MIL but some of the other items for sale were a little odd to be offered out in the middle of the Ganges!

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    Rituals in the Ganga

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    A Ritual Dip(Dunk)

    The Ganges is the most sacred river to Hindus. It is worshipped as the goddess Ganga, also known as Maa Ganga.

    Hindus from all over India flock to the Ganges. They believe that bathing in its sacred waters not only rids themselves of a lifetime of sins but also bestows heavenly blessings upon them. They pay homage to their ancestors, they offer flowers, and float lit diyas down the river. They carry small vials of Ganges water home with them to use in rituals.

    And in the end, if they cannot come to die by the Ganga, they hope a loved one will bring their ashes to the Ganga. This is considered very auspicious and will lead to salvation of the deceased.

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    Lalita Ghat

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Lalita Ghat

    Lalita Ghat is located north of Dasasvamedha Ghat. The ghat got its name from the Goddess Lalita and was built by the king of Nepal in 1841. The Nepalese style temple has a golden roof and wood carvings, including some erotic ones. It also houses an image of Pashupateshvara, a manifestation of Shiva.

    Lalita Ghat also has a Ganga shrine to Vishnu.

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    Kedar Ghat

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Kedar Ghat

    Kedar Ghat is located south of Dasashvamedha Ghat. It is easy to spot by its temple with a red and white candy-striped exterior. It was built by the Maharaja of Vijayanagar and is dedicated to Lord Shiv (Kedarnath). The Kedaresvara temple enshrines a lingam.

    Most of the ghats have pilgrims from different communities. South Indians and Bengalis frequent Kedar Ghat. It is also considered of the significant pilgrim spots in Varanasi. The waters here are said to have healing properties.

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    Chousati Ghat

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Chousati Ghat

    Chousati (Chausatthi) Ghat is located south of Dasaswamedh Ghat next to Digpatiya Ghat. It is named after 64 (chausatha) goddesses. The steep steps lead to the Chausath Yogini Temple. A yogini is an assistant goddess and 60 of the 64 are enshrined in the temple.

    The temple is dedicated to the Goddess Kali, one of the most misunderstood Hindu goddesses, likely due to her wild and fearsome appearance. Kali has been called the goddess of death, destruction, and darkness. She is actually the mother goddess, with whom her devotees share a loving bond.

    Many Hindus come to the temple during the new moon day of the month of chaitra, an auspicious day when they take a dip in the Ganga. Non-Hindus are not permitted to enter the temple at any time.

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    Digpatiya Ghat

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Digpatiya Ghat

    Digpatiya Ghat is located south of Dasaswamedh Ghat. The palace-like structure was built by the Raj of Digpatia and is an excellent example of North Indian architecture.

    The structure goes almost to the river's edge and there are just a few steps (ghats) between the river and structure. It is very steep and narrow. Passing by in the early morning, there were few pilgrims/visitors here.

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    Manikarnika Ghat (Cremation Ghat)

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Manikarnika Ghat

    Manikarnika Ghat - also known as the burning ghat - is located south of Dasaswamedh Ghat. The main cremation ghat, it is one of the oldest and most sacred ghats in Varanasi. It is also one of the most auspicious places that a Hindu can be cremated. Hindus believe you are freed from the cycle of births and rebirths if you are cremated here.

    However, most Hindus simply cannot afford the cost of a cremation here. Most likely because of that, there is also an electric cremation center where the cost is about 1/4 of a normal cremation, though even that is considered expensive by Indian standards.

    If you are coming along the river it is likely that you will see and smell the smoke before you reach the ghat. Cremations take place all day and night, and at nightime you'll see the fires burning brightly. High piles of firewood are stacked on top of the ghat. (It takes about 700 pounds of wood to burn a body.)

    After being bathed in the Ganga by family members, the body wrapped in silk or linen shrouds (white for men, orange or red for women) is carried to the pyres for the ritual that precedes the cremation. The bodies are carried by doms who are considered both guardians of the dead and untouchables/outcasts. The oldest son - or closest male relative if there isn't a son - lights the fire.

    There are about 10 pits for cremations at Manikarnika Ghat where there are 200-300 cremations a day. You are able to watch the process from above (something I did not choose to do). Whether you do or whether you pass the ghat on a boat, be respectful and do not take any photos of a cremation or mourners.

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    Morning Boat Trip on the Ganga

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Boat Trip at Sunrise on the Ganga

    A very early morning - dawn - boat trip up and down the Ganges - the river to heaven - is often the highlight of any trip to Varanasi and really is a must do. You can arrange a trip through your hotel/guesthouse before you arrive at the ghats but you won't have any problem finding a waiting boat down at the ghats, at least the busier ones.

    Most trips start at the centrally located Dasaswamedh Ghat, considered one of the most important - and busiest - ghats. This is a good location to go if you have not pre-booked a boat. There are more boats here - more choices - and you'll be able to negotiate a good price. Be sure to negotiate a price before hiring a boat!

    As the sun rises, the boats move quietly and effortlessly to the southern end of the ghats to Asi Ghat before turning to the northern end and Panchaganga Ghat. As your trip progresses, you will see more and more people on the ghats and in the river going about their everyday business: soaping themselves up, brushing their teeth, and taking a ritual dip in the river, washing clothes, offering flowers and incense to the river, even taking swimming lessons! They seem oblivious to the tourists in the boats snapping photographs.

    Up on the ghats you will see people practicing yoga, resting, praying. A passing boat will offer to sell you a small brass container to collect water from the sacred river or flowers to make your own offering (usually in memory of a deceased loved one - a very nice thing to do).

    There are so many ghats, different sizes and styles, and temples along the way - so much to take in. You'll pass Manikarnika Ghat, the cremation ghat but it's likely you'll see and smell the smoke before you see the ghat. Be sure to be respectful especially when taking photos. Don't take photos of a cremation or mourners.

    The whole trip takes about 60-90 minutes.

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    Away from the Ganga - Archeological Museum

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Archeological Museum

    The Archeological Museum in Sarnath is the oldest site museum of the Archeological Survey of India. The museum is actually located next to the excavated site. The museum has five galleries, and the sculptures and artifacts in the museum date from the 3rd century BC to the 12th century AD.

    As you enter the museum you will come into the main hall, the Shakyasimha gallery. On display there is one of the most special pieces in the museum - a sandstone Lion Capital of the Mauryan Pillar, which became the national emblem of India.

    One of the other galleries exhibits images of Buddhist deities, another displays images of Buddha in different attitude. One of my favorites was the Ashutosh gallery which exhibits Brahmanical deities such as Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, and Parvati.

    This museum and the excavated site are well worth a visit. I thoroughly enjoyed this museum and it was a wonderful, peaceful break from the bustle of Varanasi.

    Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday-Thursday

    Admission is Rs 2 (over 15 years old), Tickets are purchased across the street from the entrance.

    Cameras and bags are not permitted inside (lockers are available).

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    Away from the Ganga - Mulgandha Kuti

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Mulgandha Kuti

    Mulgandha Kuti is part of the Archeological Survey of India Ancient Site at Sarnath. Sarnath is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India.

    This is where Buddha used to sit in meditation. All that is left of the temple are the remnants that indicate that this was a huge temple. At a height of 61 metres, its walls indicate that it supported a lofty super structure. The temple itself was raised on a square platform with each side measuring over 18 metres.

    In the front was a long, open courtyard. The east entrance had a rectangular mandapa (pillared outdoor hall or pavilion for public rituals). Its architectural style, decorative patterns, and brick mouldings indicate it was constructed during the Gupta period.

    The Ancient Site here is very interesting and makes a nice break from Varanasi. Small admission charge. Try to avoid the heat of mid-day as this is an open park.

    Timings for Sarnath Complex is from sunrise to sunset daily.
    Admission: Rs. 5 for Indian nationals, Rs. 100 for foreigners.
    Additional charge for cameras.

    Please see my Varanasi travelogues for additional photos of the site.

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    Away from the Ganga - Dhamekh Stupa

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Dhamekh Stupa

    Dhamekh Stupa is part of the Archeological Survey of India Ancient Site at Sarnath. Sarnath is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India.

    This is believed to be the spot where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon. An inscription from this spot dates the Stupa to 1026 A.D. when it was named Dharma Chakra Stupa. This solid stupa measures over 42 metres (including its base) and is over 28 metres in diameter. Around the base are beautiful stone carvings of figures, flowers, and geometric designs.

    The Ancient Site here is very interesting and makes a nice break from Varanasi. Small admission charge. Try to avoid the heat of mid-day as this is an open park.

    Timings for Sarnath Complex is from sunrise to sunset daily.
    Admission: Rs. 5 for Indian nationals, Rs. 100 for foreigners.
    Additional charge for cameras.

    Please see my Varanasi travelogues for additional photos of the site.

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    Away from the Ganga - Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

    by Donna_in_India Updated Aug 31, 2013

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    Inside the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

    Sarnath is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India. The beautiful monastery here is tradtional Tibetan style. As soon as you come through the gate into the green and peaceful garden, you feel as if you are a world away from Varanasi. Tibetan monks in maroon robes walk the grounds. There is a large statue of Buddha among the greenery.

    At the entrance to the temple, in front of colorful paintings, are prayer wheels. The wheels contain prayers/mantras inside. As devotees spin the wheel clockwise (usually), the papers release. The purpose of spinning the wheels is to accumulate good karma and purify negative karma.

    The inside of the temple is very colorful. There is a huge golden statue of Buddha, a photo of the Dalai Lama, and the ceiling and walls are decorated with frescoes and Thangksa. Various other statues of Buddha in different forms fill the temple. Leisurely take in the details.

    See my Varanasi tavelogues for additional photos of this monastery.

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