Varanasi, or Benaras, the holy city. All of the intensity of devotional India can be found here. These days, you can fly to this ancient city. Varanasi Airport is twenty five kilometers from the city center. Buses run daily to the Nepali border, while Varanasi is well connected by train to other India cities such as Delhi and Calcutta.
Varanasi has two histories, one legendary, one academic. Legend says the city was founded by Lord Shiva several thousand years ago, and that the city stands upon his trident.
For much of its history, Varanasi was part of the Kingdom of Kashi. Today, Anant Narayan Singh is Varanasi’s figurehead king.
In Varanasi, activities depend upon the visitor; some will take an active part in the rites and rituals of the city. Others will be observers, content to wander the ghats, visit the temples, take a boat out on the river and watch Varanasi, with the smoke from the funeral pyres and the music of devotional chanting, change the way they see the world.
There is an abundance of food of all kinds; vegetarians in particular will have more options than ever. Try thandai, and lassi to drink. To eat, sample kachaurl jalebi for breakfast, samosas for lunch, and your choice of North or South Indian, or even Chinese, Thai or Western for dinner.
For something different, arrange a trip to nearby devdari or rajdari. The waterfalls near these places provide a tranquil contrast to the bustle, sounds and smells of Varanasi.
Varanasi is believed by some to be the oldest city in the world. A clear date of origin for Varanasi is not yet known.
Try to eat at good restaurants to avoid food poisoning. There’s no need to avoid local food, but try to pick busy restaurants as the food will be fresher. Be careful accepting drinks, cigarettes or food from strangers, even holy men, as there have been cases of drugging and theft. As with any busy city, stay wary but remember to enjoy this incredible destination.