Varanasi

Varanasi, known to the devout as Kashi, is said to have been founded by Shiva, Lord of the Universe. One of the oldest living cities in the world, as also one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India, Varanasi is a major tourist attraction. Situated on the banks of the sacred Ganges, the city has been a centre of learning and civilisation for over 2000 years. It was at Sarnath, only 10 km away from Varanasi, that the Buddha, first preached his message of enlightenment, 25 centuries ago. 

Varanasi derives its present name from the two tributaries of the Ganga - Varuna and Asi - between which it is situated. According to historians, the city was founded around ten centuries before the birth of Christ. The city finds mention in holy scriptures like 'Vamana Purana', Buddhist texts and the 'Mahabharata'. The unique relationship between the mighty Ganga and the city forms the essence of Varanasi - 'the land of sacred light'. 

Ghats 

Varanasi's principal attraction is the long string of ghats, which line the west bank of the Ganges. Ghats are the steps which lead down to the river. There are around 100 ghats in Varanasi, each with its own significance. Most Indians believe that anyone dying on the banks of the river, in Varanasi, attains instant 'moksha' or enlightenment. 

The Dasaswamedh Ghat is the most significant ghat here, and conveniently placed at the centre. The Manikarnika ghat is associated with Goddess Parvati, Lord Shiva's wife. The five ghats where pilgrims are supposed to bathe in order, and on the same day are Asi ghat, followed by Dasaswamedh, Barna Sangam, Panchganga, and finally, Manikarnika, in that order. Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats, are the ghats used primarily for the cremation of the dead. Other main ghats include Kedar ghat, a shrine popular with Bengalis; Mansarovar ghat built by Man Singh of Amber; and PanchGanga Ghat where the five rivers are supposed to meet.  

Temples and other attractions 

Dedicated to Shiva or Vishveswara (Vishwanath) is the Golden Temple, the main temple of Varanasi. The original temple was located across the road, but it was destroyed by Aurangzeb who had built a mosque over it. The present temple was built by Ahalya Bai of Indore in 1776. The Mosque of Aurangzeb, has been built using columns from the original temple razed by Aurangzeb. This mosque has minarets towering 71 metres above the Ganges.  

The Durga Temple, commonly known as the Monkey Temple, was built in the 18th century by a Bengali Maharani, and is stained red with ochre. This small temple, dedicated to Goddess Durga, consort of Shiva, is built in north Indian Nagara style, with a multicoloured shikhara or umbrella.

The Bharat Mata temple was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi and houses one of the most perfect relief maps of India carved out of marble.

The unique Tulsi Manas temple, built in white marble, has the entire Ram Charit Manas (Ramayana) inscribed on its walls. Wonderful landscaping around the temple adds to its appeal.

Banaras Hindu University, founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, is considered to be the largest residential university in Asia. Within the University campus, Vishwanath Temple and Bharat Kala Kendra (museum) are worth a visit. 

Ramnagar Fort & Museum (16 km) 

The residence of Kashi Naresh (Former Maharaja of Varanasi) across the Ganga at Ramnagar houses a museum comprising exhibits like palanquins, costumes, swords, sabres etc. The vibrant celebration of Dussehra at Ramnagar is an event not to be missed.

The other attractions are Raja Jai Singh's Observatory at Man Mandir Ghat, Annapurna temple, Anand Mayee Math, Kaal Bhairav temple, Nepali temple, Guru Ravidas Mandir near the university and Kabir Janmasthali Lahartara. 

Yoga 

Tourists interested in Yoga can pay a visit to the Malviya Bhavan at the Banaras Hindu University, where courses in Yoga and Hindu Philosophy are offered. There are also many private teachers and organisations offering courses. Yoga clinic at D 16/19 Man Mandir runs seven day courses in the principles of Yoga.  

Some of the most exhilarating Pilgrimage in India include 
Ajmer Sharief (Rajasthan)
Badrinath (Uttar Pradesh)
Rishikesh (Uttar Pradesh)
Haridwar (Uttar Pradesh)
Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu)
Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu)
Trichy (Tamil Nadu)
Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu)
Velangani (Tamil Nadu)
Konark (Orissa)
Amarnath (Jammu & Kashmir)
Tabo (Himachal Pradesh)
Kangra Valley (Himachal Pradesh)
Pawapuri (Bihar)
Sikh shrines (Amritsar)
The Modhera Sun Temple (Gujarat)
Pushkar (Rajasthan)
Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh)
Kedarnath (Uttar Pradesh) 
Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) 
Rameswaram (Tamil Nadu) 
Tanjavur (Tamil Nadu)
Basilica of Bom Jesus (Goa)
Bhubaneshwar (Orissa)
Puri (Orissa)
Vaishno Devi (Jammu & Kashmir)
Buddhist sites (Himachal Pradesh)
Bodhgaya (Bihar)
Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh)
Shirdi (Maharashtra)
Madurai(Tamil Nadu)