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"Varanasi and Mother Ganges - City of Dead"

varanasi in India Ghats in Varanasi in north India
Backpacking India: Varanasi

This article was last updated on April 08, 2012
All information below is subject to change

Varanasi, also known as Benares, has for centuries been known for its 'ghats' (a staircase leading to a holy river). Millions of people have bathed in the Ganges river, to soak themselves in holy water.

And millions of bodies have been cremated on the Ganges. If a poor family can't afford enough wood for fire, there can be chances that the entire body will not be cremated.

Body parts is just one of the many things that lays in the bottom of Ganges.

The locals have a strong belief that the water is holy, and they don't think about the diseases they can get by bathing in this water.

A cow in Varanasi, north India
Backpacking India Varanasi: Lively streets of Varanasi

We took a morning boat trip on the river and noticed that the water was of sewage consistency. Their belief is frightening, but also fascinating in some way.

Grab a cup of lassi while you're studying the life in the narrow streets.

Roaming the ghats was probably the most interesting part of my journey to Varanasi. Each ghat is special, aesthetically and spiritually. For example Main Ghat is where they carry out an evening ceremony (starts at 6 pm).

While walking in the ghat alleys, you will also stumble upon dead bodies in a procession. Don't be surprised - it's actually very common in Varanasi.

Varanasi itself is chaotic, and filled with noise and traffic (Old Delhi is worse). So the charm was definitely the ghats :-)

Enjoy Varanasi!

How to get to Varanasi

By air: Flights land at Varanasi airport, located 18 km from Varanasi city center. From there you can arrange pre-paid taxis to get into town. The ride takes between 1-1,5 hour. Since we were 6 people traveling together, we paid in total around Rs 850 (this was in March 2011).

I saw two taxi booths, one inside and outside. The most crowded taxi booth was the one outside the entrance of arrival hall. You'll see a man by a wooden table, waiting to book people. Have an address ready, so the taxi driver knows where to drive you.

If you're on a tight schedule, and want to save time by flying, you can check out Kingfisher and Jet Airways. Both fly in and out of Varanasi. I've tried both and recommend both.

From downtown to Varanasi airport I paid Rs 500 for a taxi. It was arranged through Hotel Surya.

Cheap flights to Varanasi:

By train: Varanasi connects with major cities like Delhi (12-17 hours), Agra (13-14 hours), Jaipur (17,5 hours), Calcutta (14-26 hours), Allahabad (3-4 hours), Patna (4-7 hours), New Jalpaguiri (16 hours - if you're heading for Darjeeling) and so on. The duration depends on which train you take. Express trains are the most efficient ones.

Important information for Varanasi:

  • Tourist police: Varanasi Junction train station, close at 7.00pm.
  • Hospital: Heritage Hospital in Varanasi is the most modern medical facility in the city. Their website: Heritage Hospital
  • Banks and ATMs: ATMs are scattered around the city.
  • Internet: Most guesthouses and hotels in Varanasi provide internet access.

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