‘Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.’
These few lines by Mark Twain say it all. The first city of Hinduism, an eternal city with vibrant past and myriad attractions, Varanasi has been the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Hindus since time immemorial. It is a city that people visit not only to explore, but also to die in; it is believed that a person who dies in this city attains salvation!
The city is a maze of narrow lanes and quaint alleyways which are filled with colourful shops selling interesting items, people walking up and down, and even the occasional cow roaming aimlessly around. Clearly Varanasi is a city with a heart — everyone finds a place here.
These alleyways invariably lead you to one of the countless temples, shrines or ashrams. The most revered temple here is the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, where the three-eyed lord of the universe, Lord Shiva, resides in a self-manifested form.
The major focal point of the city, however, is the holy River Ganges, worshipped as a living goddess with the power to wash away the earthly sins of mankind. The 90-odd ghats which line the river banks are each unique in its own way, and are a major attraction of Varanasi.
Life here starts well before dawn; the river glows as the sun comes up and the ghats burst into activity. You see people bathing, rituals taking place, sages meditating, boatmen wooing customers… These ghats are definitely the heart and soul of Varanasi. If you don’t have the time to roam around the ghats then the boat ride offers an unobstructed view of the city in all its splendour.
The sights, smells and sounds, and the deep profusion of legends that you experience make a trip to this city an incomparable experience. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get exploring!