Kashi, the former name for Varanasi, is the place to attain almost everything for a Hindu—education, spiritual merit, or even liberation from the cycle of life and death. The reverential tone in which its name is uttered gives it an almost mythical quality. Perhaps it was its far-flung location for Nepali pilgrims and students in the old days, or its location on the banks of Ganga (Ganges), or the fact its everyday life is infused with piety and ancient Hindu customs that made it the Hindu city and visiting it a high point in a Hindu’s spiritual life.
Varanasi’s charm is that it has salvaged its character—so much so that the past tense is almost non-existent in Varanasi. What exists not only glorifies but perpetuates the past: temples have stood here for centuries; the same rituals that were performed on the ghats centuries ago are performed now. But Varanasi appears timeless not because it resists change but because it renews on a daily basis its connection with its roots. It is for a glimpse of such moments that people continue to come to this city that shines with the hallow light of an ancient culture.
Assistance at the airport upon arrival and transfer to hotel. Visit to ghats (platforms) beside Ganga (Ganges River) in the evening to witness the famous aarti ceremony.
The ghats of Varanasi are the venue of all the various spectacles associated with Hinduism. At any time, it is peopled with astrologers, mantra-chanting priests and their clients, barbers shaving heads, people stripping down for a dip in the holy waters of the Ganges and, if you’re near the cremation ghats, funeral pyres devouring the deceased. A dip in the Ganges waters is not only an act of washing away one’s sins; it is to immerse in the belief system handed down by one’s ancestors, to do what a grandfather or grandmother might have done in the past. Evenings on Varanasi’s ghats can cast a spell on you. The elaborate and meticulously performed aarati ceremony and the accompaniment of bhajans (devotional songs) and rhythmic clapping of the devotees charges the evening with a energy that takes hold of your senses.Overnight at hotel
Breakfast at hotel. Early morning boat ride on the Ganges to view sunrise and morning rituals on the ghats. People who wants to do shraddh can do in their own expense. Full-day sightseeing of Vishwanath, Tulsi Manas and Durga temples, and Benares Hindu University.
To start a day in Varanasi beside the Ganges is to follow the routine people of Varanasi have observed for time immemorial. The common sight of the rising sun bathing the waters in gold and red here becomes special because of the river’s status in the Hindu world. A boat ride on the Ganges is a great way to get a feel of the river Hindus call Ganga Ma, “Mother Ganga.” If anyone wants to any kind of ritual puja they are given couple of hours for that and then they can continue with other program in the day.
The Vishwanath Temple is the best example of Varanasi’s spiritual heritage as well as its ability to continue under challenges. Dedicated to Shiva’s Vishveswara (Lord of the Universe) manisfestation, the temple was built in 1776 by Ahalya Bai of Indore. Its towers were plated using 800 kgs of gold—a contribution of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore. The chance to perform puja at this most sacred of spots is reason enough for pilgrims to come to Varanasi.
Located near the Vishwanath Temple, the water from this sacred well is said to give anyone who drinks it an intense spiritual experience. This supernatural property of the water cannot be verified, however, because the well is now covered. It is also believed to act as a vault, containing the original Shiva lingam housed in a temple destroyed by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
This Nagara-style temple with multiple sikhara tiers was built in the 18th century by a Bengali maharani. The ochre-colored building houses an image of Durga in its inner sanctum.
The site of this temple marks the place where the poet Tulsi Das lived and wrote the Ram Charit Manas, the Hindi version of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Engravings of verses and scenes from Das’s book cover the temple’s walls. Daily performances of Hindu mythological tales are held on the second floor of the temple.
Founded in 1917 by Pandit Malaviya, the Benares Hindu University is a beacon of Varanasi’s old fame as one of the Sub-continent’s greatest centers of scholarship. The university offers degrees in traditional Indian art, music, culture and philosophy, and is of special importance for scholars of Sanskrit. Its major attraction for visitors is the Bharat Kala Bhavan, which exhibits miniature paintings, sculptures dating back to the 1st century and old photographs of Varanasi.Overnight at hotel
Breakfast at hotel. Early morning drive to Sarnath. Guided tour of the main attractions of Sarnath. Visit to Ramnagar Fort.
Sarnath, located only 10 kilometers from the throbbing Varanasi, seems ever ready to host another great philosopher’s speech. Its large gardens filled with bird and scurrying squirrel press upon the visitors the gift of tranquility. Here, silence needs no prompting. The historical and spiritual significance of the fact that the Buddha delivered his first sermon somewhere in this expanse of gardens makes you more attentive to the surroundings. The senses are equally engaged by the hulking remain of the 34-meter-high Dhamekh Stupa. Although the present edifice dates back to 500 AD, excavations of the site have yielded bricks dating back to 200 BC. The ruins of a large monastery and the partial Ashokan pillar all hark back to the heyday of Buddhism in the area.
Standing majestically across the Ganges from Varanasi, the Ramnagar Fort is an alluring monument. It is the residence of the former Maharaja of Benares, and although it no longer has the bustling atmosphere of a palace, it captives with its trappings of regal life ranging from vintage Fords and Cadillacs to gold-plated elephant howdahs to silver palanquins. The most interesting object on display in this museum is an astrological that besides showing time also shows position of the sun, phases of the moon, and gives astrological information. You can feel like a monarch for a moment standing on the stone platforms on the palace’s western end, with the Ganges flowing below and the ancient Varanasi across it.Overnight at hotel
Breakfast at hotel. Transfer to airport for departure.