“Older than history, Older than time.”
Banaras, Varanasi, one among the oldest city in the world was in my list of must-visit places in India, but the right opportunity to go visit it came to me recently.
2021 has been an year I’ll cherish for eternity. No, not because of the second Covid wave and the mess it brought upon the world, but for the travel opportunities I got in the year.
Banaras was my 8th destination to travel to this year. For a person who claims “travel feeds his soul“, this year was an ultimate treat for my lost soul.
Today we discuss about Banaras – it’s ghats, it’s temples, it’s food, it’s vibe and how it feels to stroll around the streets of the city.
Experiencing the Oldest city in Asia
It was my first time visiting the land of godly vibes where people don’t just come to feel alive in, but also to transition from this world to the next.
The first glimpses that the city offered me were the small and particularly busy street views as we paved our way through towards our stay – De Bougainvilla Hotel.
The hotel was pretty decent, but I’d recommend for you to check out some more options before going for it. The prices were a bit on the higher side and the service was not great.
Banaras was glimmering with people and worshippers when we arrived there. The small streets were all filled with heads held high in hope and down with respect for the Almighty.
People from different cultures come here for different reasons. Some for experiencing the heavenly vibe that the place holds, some to have a conversation with God, some to let the history of the city enlighten them and some to achieve Moksha (salvation).
Whatever the reason behind it, the oldest city in India – Banaras – has thousands of visitors arriving here every year to experience so many different things the place offers and to explore it’s story.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple – A Temple Dedicated to the Ruler of the Universe
One of the most famous religious temples in India was the first place we decided to go to on day 1 of our Banaras trip.
The temple of Kashi Vishwanath, constructed by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar in the 18th century, is considered to be an experience which can change one’s perspective about the world and make the person walk the path of righteousness, knowledge and devotion.
The temple contains one of the 12 holy Jyotirlingas which are believed to be a radiant embodiment of Lord Shiva himself. People say that one look at the holy jyotirlinga could be a mystical soul-cleansing experience.
The time we went there – during the festival of lights – it was one of those times when hoards of people come here from all over India and around to come visit the holy shrine.
As you walk down the road leading to the temple entrance, you will see millions of shopkeepers trying to stop you and telling you to keep your belongings in their shops as you can’t go forward without doing that. Do not believe them.
I would recommend for you to keep going till you reach the entrance and only then keep your wallet, shoes, mobile phones, etc. inside a shop.
One small tip – if you don’t want to be standing in line for long hours just to catch a glimpse of the holy Vishwanath temple, you will get guides who can take you from the backside and have you get your darshan of the mystical shiva linga and Goddess Annapurna – Hindu Goddess of food and nourishment.
They don’t even cost much.
The experience of the Golden Temple of Lord Shiva was a really fast – but still kinda calming one as we moved from one part of the holy shrine to the next.
The Enchanting Ghats and Ganga Aarti in the Oldest City in India
Next stop for us after the temple was to go visit and experience the infamous Ganga Aarti that happens at the Ghats of Banaras.
It was a few kilometers walk from the temple towards the Ghat and it was evening time so we decided to go and experience a boat ride on the holy Ganges while glimpsing the infamous Ganga Aarti.
The walk towards the Ghat was full of people, all kinds. But what I loved about the walk was this.
See this couple? I found them mid way while walking towards the nearby Ghats of Varanasi, and till we reached – they didn’t for once leave each others hands. It was incredible to see and feel the love they had for one other.
This kind of love is what I want everyone to have – a love till eternity.
As we reached the Dashashwamedh Ghat, it was full of people – just packed right from top to bottom. Still we managed to get and hire a boat to stroll through and watch the Aarti.
You can enlist conventional paddling boat, which is constrained by a boatman.
Up to six individuals can go in one paddle boat. An individual is charged around 200 INR for an excursion that stretches for 90 to 120 minutes. Speedboat can convey more individuals. A speedboat costs 1500 INR for each outing.
We had an interesting experience on our boat ride. After not even half the round was complete, our boat guy saw that the Aarti is about to start and took us to the shore to park the boat for some time so we can see the Aarti (although it mostly remains to be glimpses due to the distance and so many people covering your view).
But at that exact time somehow, the boat engine went down and the boatmen were all trying to fix it. Many of our boat members told him to stop it and scolded all the boatmen as well. We understood that it wasn’t their fault. They said just give us 10 minutes and we’ll complete your ride as promised if not in this boat then another.
It was late evening, and the Ganges was really cold – we could feel it through the wind. Then too, the boatman dived into the Ganges just to go check the engine issue from the bottom. It showed his determination.
Sometimes, while we travel, we take these people for granted. But if you really get to realize their scenario – you’ll know they have a story too.
After a while, we got another boat and the guy finished our ride taking us through the different ghats across the Ganges. It was cold and the vibe was fascinating.
You can see many bigger boats cruising through the river filled with colorful lights.
Dinner at Pizzeria Vatika – Under the Star & Near the Shore
The last thing we did on our first day of exploring the oldest city in India was to have dinner at the most famous pizzeria in town – the Pizzeria Vatika.
Situated wonderfully at the shores of the Assi Ghat, the Pizzeria Vatika is run by a few friends and has a very friendly vibe about it as well.
The Pizza, Pasta and specially “the Apple Pie with Ice Cream” over here is highly recommended to enjoy with friends or family while you are surrounded by glorious lightings.
The only issue? Well, it is not that of an issue – but it is recommended that you do not by any chance try and take your personal four-wheeler to the spot.
The streets are really small and people who live there park their bikes on the roads, so there’s even less space to move forward with ease without actually hitting someone’s ride.
Banaras is a city of ancient times – so shall be the way to explore it.
Take a walk throughout the streets, go as far as you can and come back. Another option is the Tuk Tuk – they are small, battery powered, less noisy and even less costly.
Infamous Food of the Oldest City in India – Kachori
Next morning, the first thing I wanted to do here in Banaras was to try the infamous Kachori Sabzi that is proclaimed to be the best food in the city since years now.
We went looking and searched for about an hour when we finally found the best Kachori Corner in the city – but unfortunately it was closed.
But that didn’t mean we lost, right?
After asking a few locals and shop owners we reached a small food corner called Madhu Kachori Bhandar. As per locals, it was the second best food corner in the entire city to have the Kachori.
The Kachori tasted okay-ish, it wasn’t that of an overwhelming experience, the sabzi was like a blend between the basic vegetables and also had a sweet texture to it.
To be honest, we didn’t connect with the taste as much (part of that could be because we are from Lucknow – and it is like a hub for mouth-watering street food options that we have been trying time and again since childhood) – but their Jalebi had a different story to tell.
Much more than the Kachori Sabzi, I loved the Jalebi of Madhu Kachori Bhandar so much. And it had been months since I had appreciated a Jalebi with so much heart.
The sweetness was just right, the chashni was the superior element and the vibe it gave my taste buds was – inexplicable!
You must visit the Madhu Kachori Bhandar when you are in Banaras – if not for the Kachori, then definitely for the Jalebi!
Now, it can’t be that we come to Banaras and not even try the Banarasi Paan, right?
That’s exactly what we did next.
The Banarasi Paan is basically a very thin paan which some sweeteners and not much more – but still it manages to be an incredible item to have in the city due to it being a “melt-in-the-mouth” sort of paan.
Visiting Sarnath in Banaras | Places to Visit near Sarnath Temple
Sarnath was about 10 kilometers from our hotel, we took an auto that could take us there and back.
The autowallahs in Banaras also are the most deeply knowledgeable guides which can take you throughout the city and show you the Banaras where they grew up in. It is an experience that not many people can provide.
Now, when visiting Sarnath Temple or Boudh Stupa, there are also other places we shall venture towards to really understand Sarnath.
A few blocks away from the Sarnath Stupa and Temple is a Japanese temple, built with unique designs both inside and outside the temple.
Frequently promoted as Nichigai Suzan Horinji Temple, it has immense publicity among Buddhists.
The design of the unique temple is in a regular Japanese style which incorporates a twofold story pagoda. The striking construction of the sanctuary looks like the globally eminent Japanese sanctuaries in Kyoto, Japan.
Not long before the entry of the fundamental hallowed place, there is a sculpture of Lord Buddha underneath a tree on the right side. Though, on the left side, Japenese engraving can be seen composed on a column.
Inside the main temple, there is an impressive wooden figure of the leaning back Buddha.
When you move forward towards the left of the temple, you will find a small stupa with Lord Buddhas’ sculptures over the four sides of the walls along with his preaching.
Behind the stupa, we see a the local society and homes of the Dharmachakra Indo-Japan Buddhist Cultural Society. This society has a major role in developing Sarnath and maintaining it throughout the years for the people who live here as well for those who come here seeking peace.
Another interesting thing is, that during the lockdown – what did we do?
I mean we were all at our homes, not getting to go out – we slept, ate, maybe did some exercising, or followed a hobby etc. Right?
But do you know what small school-going artisan kids of the Dharmachakra society did during the lockdown? Well they built something – an artistic entrance gate for the small Buddhist temple/stupa and two outstanding replicas of the Ashoka Pillars on each side of it. Take a Look.
Sarnath Art Museum
Banaras or the oldest city in India, is famous for many things – one of the most prominent among those things – is it’s Sarees!
So, our next stop was visiting the Sarnath Art Museum with basically a large store with all things made up of the infamous Banarasi silk – from sarees to suits to dupattas!
You can get silk sarees at as low an amount as 1500 to as high as 15000 and much, much more.
Textures woven in unadulterated yarns are of better than engineered mixes and in this way, more costly.
For example, various kinds of zari may appear to be comparable outwardly, be that as it may, genuine zari Banarasis are created in unadulterated silver rather than the reasonable make of tried zari regularly utilized in Banarasi sarees.
That’s what makes the sarees costlier as you opt for more and more high textured and softness in the traditional wears.
Sarnath Temple, Bodhi Tree and Dhamekh Stupa
The major attraction due to which pilgrims from all corners of the country come visit the oldest city in India or specifically Sarnath is not just because of the Buddha Stupa, but also for a wonderous temple that stands strong in the premise.
The Mulagandha Kuti Vihara Temple in Sarnath is a modern monastery and Buddhist Temple surrounded by scenic garden views of the city.
The temple’s architecture feels quite gothic with the primary pointy towers we see as the temple is revealed to our eyes.
When you head inside the temple, you feel as if you have been teleported to an elseworld.
With beautiful depictions of the life and teachings of Gautam Buddha portrayed on different walls with light colored mural paintings (done by a famous Japanese artist called Kosetsu Nosu), while a golden Buddha statue sits in the front and right at the middle so you can see him through the entrance.
The vibe is unmatchable and peaceful. Specially as you can also hear soft Buddhist chants from the nearby Bodhi tree.
The tree, situated near the temple is believed to be a descendant of the one below which Buddha sat and achieved enlightenment.
You can also see statues of Buddha and his disciples sitting near the tree and gaining knowledge about life and beyond with a peaceful surrounding.
The cloister or the monastery and different attractions of Sarnath are open daily and have admission expenses.
The exhibition hall is open from Saturday to Thursday and charges a different affirmation expense.
Note – Make sure to take off shoes when entering the cloister and stroll a clockwise way around the stupas. Signs in English give helpful data about the different landmarks and vestiges.
Last but not the least, Dhamekh Stupa is one of the most famous and prominent architectural and religious element in the city of Sarnath.
Standing at a height of approximately 44m with a radius of 14m, the Dhamekh Stupa is said to be the place where Lord Buddha gave his first conversation of Dharma – the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.
(Tell me in the comments below if y’all would give a read to a blog post depicting the 8 major teachings of Budhha?)
Banaras is the oldest city in India and is one of its most important cities as well. The city has a rich cultural heritage and offers numerous historical sites for tourists to visit. It shall definitely be on your list of places to see before the world ends!
If you’re interested in seeing some of these incredible sights, make sure to like, follow, or comment on our Facebook page for more travel tips and inspiration.
That’s All Folks!