For all my fear of unleashing fireworks in the toilet, Varanasi will be most remembered for its food. Perhaps one of the best I have had and as well-behaved as any home-cooked one. I would suggest visiting the city just for this. The rest comes later.
Choked with cows, people and vehicles from all sides topped by incessant honking, you’ll be on the lookout for a shop that sells Moksha. Varanasi is not for the faint-hearted and is sure to give even Indians a taste of what India is like. As much as I liked this city, hygiene is a word that probably parked itself outside and never entered. So do your bit to keep the place clean. Besides that, here is why Varanasi has to be on your travel-list
Top things to do in Varanasi
Eat at Kashi Chaat Bhandar
You will find food related recommendations on top because that’s what I enjoyed most. Kashi chat bhandar is one of the best out there to try just about anything. Park yourself there and order a plate of whatever you see on the menu. We did that and trust me, each one was divine in its own right. Easy to locate, right on the main road. If you had to pick 3 dishes here, try the tikki chaat, chura matar and gulab jamun.
Lassi at Blue Lassi Shop
Nestled in a corner near Manikarnika Ghat, this shop is as blue as the name suggests with many passport size photos of various tourists adorning its walls. With a menu spanning several pages serving millions of varieties, we went in for the kesar-dry fruits version. Loaded with malai and all possible dry fruits up to the brim, finishing the whole thing almost had me burping.
Walk to Manikarnika Ghat
Here comes the dark one. Picture Varanasi and one of the images is death. And one such ghat is Manikarnika which is considered a sacred site to be cremated and a gateway to moksha. You will see dead bodies 24X7, please respect the place and don’t try to click pictures. You will also get to see this if you opt for a boat ride.
Banaras Hindu University
Not on the ‘obvious’ list but I would highly recommend this. Spanning an entire town, don’t take this campus lightly and try to walk it out. It is massive! Each faculty has a dedicated building styled in the zamindar/victorian fashion making for a good photo op. The shiv temple inside the campus is one of the draws and is a good place to relax with its serenity.
Pan at Kuber Pan Bhandar
A shop away from Kashi chat bhandar is a tiny shop that serves the best pan I have ever had. For those uninitiated, Pan is a mouth freshener made with betel leaves and several condiments. It is one of those famous things to try in the city and if you do, this is the place. Go for the meeta (sweet) pan just the way he makes it. You won’t regret
About 10 kilometres away lies Sarnath where Buddha is said to have delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. The small town is a big draw for not only tourists but Buddhists from across the globe for whom it is a major pilgrimage site. You’ll start with a great Buddha statue modelled on the one destroyed in Bamiyan (Afghanistan). This area also houses what is believed to be the remains of Buddha. After this you get to the on-site museum housed by ASI, a great collection of artefacts. Right next to it is the complex where the Dhamek Stupa lies. A peaceful and green area with excavated monasteries
Well, the fort is quite badly kept but is worth a visit. Built in the 1700s in Mughal style by King Kashi Singh, this fortification sits on the banks of Ganga making for a great view. It also has a museum for which you pay Rs 5 but isn’t worth even 5 paise. The collection of cars, weapons, etc. are in a neglected state and you might just feel sorry for the king. But it’s still on the list because I loved it!
Saree Looms in Lallapura
Not far from the central area lies a place called Lallapura whose largely Muslim population has been engaged in the making of sarees for generations. Get there and you can see the entire process right from designing the plates to preparing the yarn to making the saree. The omnipresent clatter of the looms will tell you that just about every house is busy weaving a saree. You can also buy it from one of the shops there which would be much cheaper than the ones in the main market as this is the source.
While I have listed the top established places to eat, you’ll come across food vendors making chole-bhature, parathas, etc. on wheels. Try them, they are another experience altogether and cost absolutely nothing. We had 4 plates of chole bhatura at one such place and when the guy said Rs 35 after we were done, I was almost about to ask if it was per plate!
Where to Stay
We docked ourselves at Zostel, located not far from the ghats. It’s a pretty well maintained place taken care of by Mr Raj who makes the stay a whole lot better. He’ll tell you where to go, where to eat, what to see, etc and all to help you save money. The hostel has a nice terrace where you can relax, play games, etc. The dorms and rooms are clean + affordable. So here is where you need to be if you are in Varanasi.
Flights are aplenty, the airport is about 90 minutes from the city.
Travelling within the city
I would say walk. Next would be the cycle rickshaws, then the autos. Don’t even attempt using cars unless you want to be stuck to a place for 3 hours.