Varanasi is the ancient religious capital of Hinduism; perceived by millions of pilgrims as a crossing place between the physical and spiritual worlds, all taking place around the mighty Ganges, river of salvation.
The city of Shiva is vividly colourful, charismatic and spiritual, vibrating to the sounds of temple gongs and bells. Pious pilgrims come to wash away their lifetime’s sins in the holy river or to cremate their loved ones on its banks.
The city’s most fascinating and photogenic feature is its ghats: flights of giant stone steps leading down to the river, strewn with yellow marigolds, red chalk and multi-coloured saree-clad bathers. Around 80 of these ghats extend along the western bank of the Ganges, with colourful patches of washing laid out in between. The best time at the ghats is dawn, when golden rays light up the river and morning devotees and the air is still cool.
Other sights include the Vishwanath or the Golden Temple; the Ramnagar Fort and Museum; and the Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum at The Benares Hindu University, with its wonderful collection of miniature paintings, ancient manuscripts and sculptures.
Brimming with magic and all aspects of humanity, this famous city is where the most intimate rituals of life and death take place as they have done for centuries.
The golden light of sunrise on the bathers at the ghats | A sunset boat ride on the Ganges | Ganga aarti’s floating lamps at sunset
− Varanasi is the oldest continually inhabited city on earth
− The dome of the Golden Temple has over 800kg of gold plating
− Varanasi was previously named Benares and Kashi (City of Light)
− Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi offers ‘moksha’ – liberation from the cycle of birth and death