Varanasi is considered by many to be the holiest city in India. Read here what this special city has to offer. A visit to Varanasi requires a visa, so apply for your Indian visa on time.
The Ganges River
The Ganges is a 2510 kilometre long river that flows through both India and Bangladesh. The river has its source in the western Himalayas and flows into the Bay of Bengal. The Ganges is especially known as the holiest river for Hindus. But millions of Indians also live along the banks of the river. The river therefore not only has religious significance, but is also crucial to the daily existence of many Indians who depend on the river.
The Ganges attracts pilgrims from all over India, who come to the river to hold religious ceremonies. In Hinduism, it is believed that the holy waters of the river have a purifying effect. For this reason, many Hindus in Varanasi are seen washing themselves in the river. They do this not to remove dirt, but to cleanse their soul. Hindus also believe that the river is a direct path to the afterlife. It is not unusual to see the bodies of deceased people floating in the Ganges. Usually, the deceased are cremated first, after which their ashes are scattered in the river, but if cremation is not possible, for example for financial reasons, the whole body is placed in the river.
A word one often hears when talking about Varanasi and the Ganges is “ghat”. The ghats are stone steps that lead from the city to the banks of the Ganges. There are many ghats in Varanasi, which have different functions. One of the oldest is Bhadaini Ghat and one of the most famous is Panchganga Ghat. The ghats where the deceased are cremated are called “burning ghats”. For many tourists, this can be a disturbing experience, but for Hindus it is an important religious ceremony. One of the best ways to admire the ghats is from a boat on the Ganges.
The holy city of Varanasi
There are many cities along the main stream of the Ganges, and therefore also many places of interest. The largest and most famous city that lies on the banks of this holy river is Varanasi, also known as Benares. Varanasi is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was built by the god Shiva. Because of this direct connection with Shiva, one of the most important gods in Hinduism, Varanasi is considered one of the holiest cities in Hinduism.
Varanasi has a colourful society and a visit to this city is an unforgettable experience for many travellers. Since you are allowed to arrive at the Varanasi airport with the Indian visa, you can easily visit this city once the visa has been acquired.
Not only is the city the holiest city for Hindus, but Varanasi’s cuisine is also famous across India. For instance, enjoy a plate of chaat, a savoury snack made of deep-fried dough with various spices. Varanasi is also rumoured to have the best samosas in India. When visiting Varanasi, it is also a good idea to try the traditional yoghurt drink, lassi. This comes in both sweet and salty spicy flavours.
Despite being a holy city, Varanasi can seem chaotic to travellers, with shopkeepers shouting at every corner, and the busy ghats. However, for many people, this is part of the charm of this city.
Luxury lovers, too, will find Varanasi to their liking. In the centre of the city, at the top of the steps of Darbhanga Ghat, lies the five-star hotel Brijrama Palace. This 18th century building was converted into a hotel in 1994, without significantly altering the old architecture.
In the evening, Varanasi often hosts exhibitions, such as the Ganga Aarti. An Aarti is a ceremony in which fire plays an important role. As the name suggests, the Ganga Aarti is a ritual in honour of the goddess Ganga, after whom the river is named. During this ceremony, diyas, small bowls with a candle and flowers, are placed in the Ganges. Often, there are so many diyas that the river becomes a light show thanks to the candles. It is highly recommended witnessing this ritual if you have the opportunity during a visit to Varanasi.
Useful tip: apply for a visa
Varanasi is one of the most impressive places in India, but it is important to prepare your trip well. For example, it is good to know that scamming in Varanasi is a frequent occurrence. The city is very popular among tourists because of the high quality fabrics that can be found there, but there are shopkeepers who take advantage of this. These shopkeepers try to sell fake silk to tourists for high prices. One should also be careful at the “burning ghats”. Near these ghats, it happens regularly that scammers ask for money to buy wood for the cremations, but they often ask much more than the actual price. The best thing you can do in such cases is to walk away without answering.
Another important preparation for a visit to Varanasi is to apply for the right Indian visa. The online visa for India comes in three forms: the eTourist visa, the eMedical visa and the eBusiness visa. Tourists can use the eTourist visa which allows you to stay in India for up to 90 consecutive days. The visa is valid for 365 days and can be used for multiple trips to India. The e-visa India allows you to arrive at the airport of Varanasi, among other places. During the maximum stay of 90 days, you can also visit other cities along the Ganges, such as Rishikesh, one of the most important yoga cities in the world.