I am so much addicted to hills, beaches and jungles and I always think this is not the age or time to visit pilgrimage places because tours to spiritual places can be done at later stage of life. With this mind set-up I hardly make any trip to pilgrimage places but the concept has changed after I have visited Varanasi (April – 2014) – one of the most sacred places and pilgrimage centers in India. I knew there was nothing to explore except the temples but I must confess that there is much more to see and explore than I expected. It is completely a different feeling when you watch the “Sandhya Aarti” at Dasaswamedh ghat near Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The “Sandhya Aarti” at Dasaswamedh ghat is really a grand event for the thousands of pilgrims irrespective of castes, creed and religion. It is a great spot for the photographers who are passionate to capture splendid moments in the lenses.
I visited the place in April, 2014 from Kolkata via Mughalsarai railway station. There are direct trains to Varanasi station but as reservation was not available we took the journey up to Mughalsarai station which is approx. 45 min away from the main spot or area in Varanasi. Mughalsarai and Varanasi are located on either side of the river Ganga and is connected with a bridge. It is an overnight journey from Kolkata to Mughalsarai and then a 45 min auto ride from Mughalsarai station to Godowlia in Varanasi. Godowlia is the main centre in Varanasi where the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple is located. The popular Dasaswamedh ghat is located at 5 min walking distance from the temple. So Godowlia is considered to be the prime location to stay at. It is a very happening place with tourists, pilgrims, hawkers, stalls, shops, eateries, restaurants, hotels and many more.
There are nearly hundreds of ghats in Varanasi but the most famous ones are Dasaswamedh ghat, Assi ghat, Manikarnika Ghat and Raj Ghat. It is not possible or I don’t suggest going for all the ghats but one explore the ghats or see around the ghats from a boat ride along the river Ganga. I would always suggest taking your hotel at or near Dasaswamedh ghat in Godowlia and then take a boat ride along Ganga River (Ganges) from Dasaswamedh ghat to explore other popular ghats in Varanasi. The best time to start off with a boat ride is around 5 pm. The boatman will take you along the river and make a sightseeing of all popular and nearby ghats and then return to Dasaswamedh ghat around 6 to 6.15 pm to anchor the boat by the ghat because the “Sandhya Aarti” starts from 6.30 pm sharp which is the major attraction to all. You won’t be asked to leave the boat rather you are provided with the boat to experience the “Aarti” from water with the “Pandits” in front of you who conduct the “Sandhya Aarti”. The “Aarti” lasts around an hour and the boat is all yours till it ends. We paid Rs 400 for a 2 hour boat hire (approx.). The sightseeing of the ghats took an hour and the other hour was spent watching the “Aarti” from the boat.
Major Ghats in Varanasi are:
The most important attraction in Varanasi is the Kashi Vishwanath Temple which is said to be the most sacred and holy place for the Hindus in the world. Lord Shiva is worshipped here. No doubt there would be high traffic and rush to the temple throughout the day but the best time to offer puja is the noon or afternoon time when the traffic to the temple remains relatively light. Kashi Vishwanath Temple is only 2 min away from the Chawk (crossing) at Godowlia. I must mention the security check we went through while moving in to the temple. It is a very high security zone and you will have to pass through more than 10 security checks before you finally reach the main hall of the temple.
The Annapurna Temple adjacent to the Vishwanath Temple within the same premises is another popular attraction to the pilgrims. Goddess Annapurna is worshipped here.
Major temples in and around Varanasi are:
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Maa Durga temple
Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple
Birla temple at Banaras Hindu University complex
Sarnath – the place where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma is another attraction to tourists visiting Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Sarnath is located around 13 km from Varanasi. The tall Buddha statue is a must see piece in Sarnath and the temple with such a beautiful garden all around is a good piece of attraction too. I would say Sarnath is a must visit place for all tourists in Varanasi.
Ramnagar Fort is also a popular tourist destination near Varanasi. It is the house of the ancient king which is presently turned in to a museum showing the cars and carriers used by the king family, armory and many more. I am sure you will enjoy your visit to the ancient fort and the museum showing the vehicles and the weapons used by the king’s army. The fort is located by the river and the view from the top of the fort is really amazing. The inheritors of the king still stay there in the fort and if you are lucky, you can also have a chat with them.
The best way to cover and visit Sarnath, Ramnagar Fort and few other temples is by hiring a vehicle. We had to pay out Rs 1,600 for a round trip in an AC Tata Indigo which can accommodate 4 persons at a time. A bigger or more luxury vehicle like Innova or Xylo or Scorpio will cost around Rs 2,000. If you set out around 7-7.30 am in the morning for the sightseeing, you can get back to hotel by 1.30 or 2 pm.
Major Places To Visit In Varanasi:
Dasaswamedh Ghat – The place for “Sandhya Aarti”
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple
Banaras Hindu University
Finally I would say that Varanasi is a good place to visit on a 1 night – 2 days or 2 nights – 3 days trip. The place is a heaven for the photographers. I can make sure that you will get some lifetime shots there specially along the river and the ghats. “Sandhya Aarti” is also a great time to capture some specious moments through the lenses. Do stay near the Dasaswamedh ghat. It is the most happening place in Varanasi.