Varanasi is chaotic, archaic, picturesque and above all, magical.
Situated on the bank of the River Ganges, Varanasi is considered the holiest city in India. With its endearing history, unique, ancient buildings and mesmerising, spiritual Ghats, Varanasi is a city like no other.
Due to an unfortunate train delay, my time in Varanasi was sparse. Therefore, I had to utilise the 24 hours I had in this unbelievable city…
If you are short on time when visiting Varanasi, be sure to squeeze in these four things:
Walk alongside the River Ganges
Start your day by having an amble around the Ganges and admiring its multipurpose Ghats.
Varanasi’s Ghats are timeless.
As you wander alongside these holy waters, there is something special in the atmosphere, which is hard to describe.
Everywhere you look, there is something heartwarming to admire. Joyous children flying their vibrant coloured kites, nonchalant cows smugly roaming along the riverside, locals bathing and playing in the Ganges, men crafting traditional wooden boats by the water, kids excitedly playing cricket amidst the crowd, families washing and drying their clothes on the sidewalk, masses of rowing boats floating atop the gentle water, and, most noticeably, the bodies, which are wrapped and embellished in vivid, iridescent materials, being carried through the city, towards their bed of rest.
Varanasi is a melody for the senses. Love it or hate it, this is the real India.
Visit the Blue Lassi shop
Whether you venture here for a light snack after wandering around the Ghats or for breakfast, lunch or dinner, this Lassi shop is a must visit whilst in Varanasi!
Blue Lassi has been making the yummiest lassis in town for three generations!
Nestled down one of Varanasi’s many rustic side streets, this lassi shop is a backpacker haven. Decorated in previous traveller’s notes, anecdotes and sketches, as well as photographs of the shops predecessors, Blue Lassi is a heartwarming and memorable experience, before you’ve even indulged in a spoonful of one of their delicious, creamy lassis.
With a choice of over 80 flavours (I know!!) ranging from your standard sweet, sour and salty to your more exotic ingredients of pomegranate, banana and chocolate, you are bound to have a hard time deciding which one to go for!
When they arrive, the lassis are garnished with all of the necessary fruity toppings and served in an adorable, traditional clay bowl.
Experience the burning Ghats
Spend some time watching and learning about the rituals, which take place at the burning Ghats.
The burning Ghats in Varanasi are something which, if you are travelling in India, you will without a doubt have heard about. Whether you have been told horror stories of burning flesh and floating limbs or tales of fascination and enlightenment, it is a tradition, which is so far-fetched from our own, you must experience for yourself!
Hindus believe that if you are cremated and scattered in the Ganges you will go to ‘Nirvana’ – it is the ultimate end to life for them.
Everyday, up to 400 cremations take place at the burning Ghats in Varanasi.
When I arrived at one of the ceremonies, the first thing that struck me, was the vast amount of bodies lined up, awaiting their turn to enter paradise… I knew that the Ghats were in high demand, but wow, that was alotttttt of dead bodies! The second thing which shocked me, was that all of the bodies were completely covered (I think the tales of burning flesh and floating limbs had taken their toll). The bodies were wrapped in beautiful, bright fabrics and draped in traditional embellishments.
The cremations are touching and insightful not explicit and scary. Embrace the opportunity to experience such a spiritual ceremony and learn a lot in the process!
The main burning Ghat is called Manikarnika however, there are also a few smaller ones scattered alongside the Ganges.
Go on a boat trip on the River Ganges at sunrise/sunset
Fit in a boat trip on the River Ganges at the beginning or end of your day.
Begin or end your day bobbing along the Ganges whilst watching the sunrise/set across the hazy horizon of Varanasi. If you choose to venture out at sunset, be sure to float along to the Dashashwamedh Ghat to watch the spiritual Aarti ceremony, which illuminates the Ganges every night at sunset (have a read of my post about the Aarti festival in Rishikesh here).