The sacred city of Varanasi, sat on the holy River Ganges, is one of the world’s oldest settlements. The city stumbles back from the great riverfront ghats, where thousands of Hindus come daily to bathe, in a series of ancient labyrinthine alleyways. A rich and magical place to explore, Varanasi is life, death and ritual laid starkly bare – a visit here is about soaking up the ambience and seeing the day to day activities, whether it’s from dry land or on the river itself.
The ghats are the most vibrant and fascinating area of Varanasi, offering prime people watching and an introduction to the rituals and traditions of the city. There are about 87 ghats running the length of the west bank of the Ganges, used for bathing, puja ceremonies and cremation – Varanasi’s ghats are the most auspicious place for Hindus to be cremated. A boat trip on the Ganges is the best way to both enjoy the sights and sounds of the ghats and appreciate the variety of architecture on the waterfront – sunrise is a particularly good time. Visit the holy Dashashwamedh ghat at sunset to see the river worship ceremony (Ganga aarti) that is performed every evening.
It is estimated that there are a staggering 23,000 temples in Varanasi. The most important temple is Vishwanath, dedicated to Vishveswara, which was built in 1776 and has 800 kilograms of gold covering its tower and dome. The Durga Temple is known for its resident monkeys, whilst the New Vishwanath Temple (open to all) is an interesting combination of architectural styles from all over India. Whilst many of the temples are closed to visitors, part of Varanasi’s appeal is exploring the old alleyways – this way you’ll come across a colourful, bustling temple on every corner.
Just 10 kilometres and an easy day trip north of Varanasi, Sarnath was the site of Buddha’s first ever sermon after he found enlightenment in 530BC. A series of magnificent stupas, temples and monasteries sprung up here and Sarnath became India’s most important Buddhism centre until religious tensions and invasion in the 12th century caused it to disappear off the map. Rediscovered and excavated by the British in 1835, Sarnath is once again thriving with plenty of temples, stupas and ruins to explore – visit the Archaeological Museum to see many ancient treasures.
A modern hotel with excellent amenities, the Radisson Varanasi sits at the heart of the city's business district in the Cantonment Varanasi area. Close to many of the city's attractions and offering complete comfort and relaxation, the Radisson is an excellent choice for exploring this ancient city.
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