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This early morning sunrise boat cruise at holy river Ganges visiting Ghats and seeing people taking holy dip and worshiping, The city of Shiva on the bank of the sacred Ganges is one of the holiest places in India. Hindu pilgrims come to bathe in the waters of the Ganges, a ritual which washes away all sins. The city, also known as Benares (or Banares), is an auspicious place to die, since expiring here ensures release from the cycle or rebirths and an instant passport to heaven. It’s a magical city where the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public on the city’s famous ghats (steps which lead down to the river). It’s this accessibility to the practices of an ancient religious tradition that captivates so many visitors.    In the past, the city has been known as Kashi and Benares, but its present name is a restoration of an ancient name meaning the city between two rivers- the Varuna and Assi. It has been center of learning and civilsation for over 2000 years, and claims to be one of the oldest living cities in the world. The old city does have an antique feel but few buildings are more than a couple of hundred years old thanks to marauding Muslim invaders and Aurangzeb’s destructive tendencies.

Varanasi’s principal attraction is the long string of ghats, which line the western bank of the Ganges. Most are used for bathing but there are also several ‘burning ghats’ where bodies are cremated. The best time to visit the ghats is at dawn when the river is bathed in a magical light and pilgrims come to perform puja to the rising sun.
There are around 100 ghats in Varanasi, but Dasaswamedh Ghat is probably the most convenient starting point. A short boat trip can be interesting introduction to the river. Alternatively, if the water level is low, you can simply walk from one ghat to the next. This way you’re among the throng to the next. This way you’re among of the Ganges not only for a ritual bath, but to do yoga, offer blessings, buy paan, sell flowers, get a massage, play cricket, have a swim, get a shave, and improve their karma by giving money to beggars.      The city extends from Raj Ghat, near the major road and Rail Bridge, to Assi Ghat, is one of the five special ghats which pilgrims are supposed to bathe at in sequence during the ritual route called Panchatirthi Yatra. The order is Assi, Dasaswamedh, Adi Keshava, Panchganga and finally Manikarnika.
Much of the Tulsi Ghat has fallen down towards the river. The Bachraj Ghat is Jain and there are three riverbank Jain Temples. Many of the ghats are owned by maharajas or other princely rulers, such as the very fine Shivala Ghat owned by the maharaja of Varanasi. The Dandi Ghat is the ghat of ascetics known as Dandi Panths, and nearby is the very popular Hanuman Ghat.
The Harishchandra or Smashan Ghat is a secondary burning ghat. It’s one of the oldest ghats in the city. Above it, the crowded Kedar Ghat is a shrine popular with Bengalis and south Indians. Mansarowar Ghat was built by Raja Man Singh of Amber and named after the Tibetan lake at the foot of Mt. Kailash. Shiva’s Himalayan home. Someswar or Lord of the Moon Ghat is said to be able to heal diseases. The Munshi Ghat is very picturesque, while Ahalya Bai’s Ghat is named after the female Maratha ruler of Indore.
The name of Dasaswamedh Ghat indicates that Brahma sacrificed (medh) 10 (das) horses (aswa) here. Conveniently central, it’s one of the most important and busiest ghats and therefore is a good place to linger and soak up the atmosphere. Note its statues and the shrine of Sitala, goddess of smallpox.
Raja Man Singh’s Man Mandir Ghat was built in 1600 but was poorly restored in the 19th century. The northern corner of the ghat has a fine stone balcony and Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur erected one of his unusual observatories on this ghat in 1710.
The Meer Ghat leads to the Nepalese Temple, which has erotic sculptures. The Jalsain Ghat, where cremations take place, virtually adjoins Manikarnika Ghat, one of the oldest and most sacred in Varanasi. Manikarnika is the main burning ghat and one of the most auspicious places that a Hindu can be cremated. Bodies are handled by outcasts known as doms, and they are carried through the alleyways of the old city to the holy Ganges on a bamboo stretcher swathed in cloth. The corpse is doused in the Ganges prior to cremation. You’ll see huge piles of firewood stacked along the top of the ghat, each log carefully weighed on giant scales so that the price of cremation can be calculated. There are no problems watching cremations, since at Manikarnika death is simply business as usual, but don’t take photos and keep your camera well hidden.

Above the steps here is a tank known as the Manikarnika Well; Parvati is said to have dropped her earring here and Shiva dug the tank to recover it, filling he depression with his sweat. The Charanpaduka, a slab of stone between the well and the ghat, bears foot-prints made by Vishnu. Privileged VIPs are cremated at the Charanpaduka. There is also a temple dedicated to Ganesh on the ghat.
Dattatreya Ghat
bears the footprint of the Brahmin saint of that naming a small temple nearby. Scindia Ghat was originally built in 1830 but was so huge and magnificent that it collapsed into the river and had to be rebuilt. The Ram Ghat was built by the raja or Jaipur. The Panchganga Ghat, as its name indicates, is where five rivers are supposed to meet. Dominating the ghat is Aurangzeb’s smaller mosque, also known as the Alamgir Mosque, which he built on the site of a large Vishnu Temple erected by the Maratha chieftain Beni Madhav Rao Scindia. The Gai Ghat has a figure of a cow made of stone upon it. The Trilochan Ghat has tow turrets emerging from the river, and the water between them is especially holy. Raj Ghat was the ferry pier until the road and rail bridge was completed here.

Vishwanath Temple

The Vishwanath Temple, or Golden Temple, is the most sacred temple in Varanasi and is dedicated to Vishveswara- Shiva as lord of the universe. The current temple was built in 1776 by Ahalya Bai of Indore, and the 800 kg of gold plating on the towers, which gives the temple its colloquial name, was provided by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore some 50 years later. It’s located in the narrow alleys of the old city. Non- Hindus are not allowed into the temple but can view it from the upper floor of a house across the street.
There has been a succession of Shiva temples in the vicinity for at least the past 1500 years, but they were routinely destroyed by Muslim invaders. Aurangzeb continued this tradition, knocking down the previous temple and building his Great Mosque over it.
Next to the Vishwanath Temple is the Gyan Kupor Well (Well of Knowledge). The faithful believe drinking its water leads to a higher spiritual plane, though they are prevented from doing so by both tradition and a strong security screen. The well is said to contain the Shiva lingam removed from the previous temple and hidden to protect it from Aurangzeb.

Durga Temple
The Durga Temple is commonly known as the Monkey Temple due to the many frisky monkeys that have made it their home. Located about 2km south of the old city, this small temple was built in the 18th century by a Bengali maharani and is stained red with ochre. It’s in north Indian Nagara style with a multi-tiered shikhara (spire). Durga is the ‘terrible’ form of Shiva’s consort Parvati, so at festivals there are often sacrifices of goats. Non –Hindus can enter the courtyard but not the inner sanctum. 

Tulsi Manas Temple

Only 150m south of the Durga Temple is the modern marble shikhara-style Tulsi Manas Temple, built in 1964. Its two-tier walls are engraved with verses and scenes from the Ram Charit Manas, the Hindi version of the Ramayana. Its author, poet Tulsi Das, lived here while writing it.


Benares Hindu University
Varanasi has long been a center of learning and that tradition is continued today at the Benares Hindu University (BHU), built in 1917. It was founded by the great nationalist Pandit Malaviya as a center for education in Indian art, music, culture and philosophy, and for the study of Sanskrit. The five sq km campus houses the Bharat Kala Bhavan which has a fine collection of miniature paintings, sculptures from the 1st to 15th centuries and old photographs of Varanasi.

New Vishwanath Temple
It’s about a 30-minute walk from the gates of the university to the New Vishwanath Temple, which was planned by Pandit Malaviya and built by the wealthy Birla family of industrialists. Pandit Malaviya wished to see Hinduism revived without its caste distinctions and prejudices – accordingly, unlike many temples in Varanasi, this temple is open to all, irrespective of caste or religion. The interior has a Shiva lingam on the walls. The temple is supposed to be a replica of the earlier Vishwanath Temple destroyed by Aurangzeb.   

Ram Nagar Fort & Museum
On the opposite bank of the river, this 17th century fort is the home of the former maharaja of Benares. It looks most impressive from the river, thought the decrepit planking of the pontoon bridge you cross to reach it is somewhat of a distraction. During the museum here contains old silver and brocade palanquins for the ladies of the court, gold-plated elephant howdahs (seats for carrying people on an elephant’s back), an astrological clock, macabre elephants traps and an armoury of swords and old guns.

Bharat Mata Temple
Dedicated to ‘ Mother India’, this unadorned temple has a marble relief map of India instead of the usual images of gods and goddesses. The map is said to be perfectly in scale, both vertically and horizontally.

Varanasi is famous throughout India for silk brocades and beautiful Benaraes saris. However, there are lots of rip-off merchants and commission people at work.
There’s a market west of the main post office called Golghar where the makers of silk brocades sell directly to local shop. Varanasi is also renowned for its ingenious toys, musical instruments and expensive Bhadohi carpets.

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