We always try to accommodate people in guest-houses or hotels on the river because it is where most of the action takes place in Varansi. We encourage people to spend as much time as possible simply observing life on the ghats (the numerous flights of steps leading from the city onto the river). But if you want to get up and go, there is much to do. Although it is the city of Lord Shiva, the whole of the Hindu pantheon are represented here, including the goddesses Kali and Durga, so there are many temples and shrines to discover. It's all rather bewildering and typically chaotic. Then there is the vibrant Moslem community who predominate in the silk factories that pepper the city back streets. And the back streets are more like a labyrinth of narrow alleyways just waiting to be explored, taking you to groovy little tourist shops and eateries, locally made food for the locals, small hotels, markets, music and craft centres, silk factories and a whole lot more.

Other activities might include a massage on the ghats, definitely a boat ride or two (best at dawn and dusk), attending a concert of classical music (a style unique toVaranasi) or a quiet 'get away from it all' day at Sarnath where the Buddha first expounded the Dhamma (and also a major centre for Buddhist research). At night you find yourself back on the ghats to observe new sights, have a cuppa and chat with other travellers.
Varanasi occupies a special place in the world of Hinduism for not only does the city exist as a physical destination but also it is believed to be a timeless, sacred zone, the abode of Siva, one of the gods of the great male triumvirate of Brahma-Vishnu-Siva. Indeed for the Hindu the whole landscape is an embodiment of the divine and India is mapped out by a series of sacred hills, valleys, rivers and cities which interconnect to become a sacred geography for the pilgrim. These places are known to the Hindus as 'Tirthas' ('crossing places'), where the mundane meets the spiritual realm, where earth and heaven meet. Varanasi is one of the great Tirthas of India where people come to cross over from the river of Samasara, the repeated cycle of birth and death to reach the shore of Moksha (liberation from Samsara). 

One of the names of Varanasi is Mahashmashana, 'The Great Cremation Ground' and unlike in most towns where cremation grounds are situated on the outskirts, (they are considered polluted places), in Varanasi they are very much in the midst of the city on the banks of the Ganges, for death in this holy city is enshrined in the Hindu Tradition as a wonderful blessing. For the faithful, dying in Varanasi ensures a direct passage to heaven. 

Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities on the planet and stood established on the banks of the Ganges even during the infancy of Western Civilisation. For over 2500 years it has attracted pilgrims and seekers and some of the great sages of India have travelled there to teach. It still remains a centre of learning, and many young pandits come to study the Vedas and the arts. Renouncers (sanyasins), come to stay in the monasteries and ashrams, widows come to stay in temples and beg for alms, the ill and dying come to spend their final days or householders from all over India come, sometimes in large groups, just to receive Darshan (blessing through the act of seeing) in holy Varanasi.
Varanasi is also known as Kashi, the city of light. Although this has a metaphysical explanation, it is hard not to get a sense of this on the mundane level, when, from a boat on the Ganges our view sweeps the shoreline of temples, shrines, pavilions and ghats, all illuminated by the early rays of the morning sun. 

Some hate it, most love it, few are undecided; it is the quintessential Indian experience. Oh, and by the way, the alleyways are also the passageways for the holy cows of the city so you have to be alert lest you step in the bull. 

The best time to be in Varansi is between late October and early March, at the end of the monsoons and before the searing heat of summer on the plains. 
Varanasi Impressions
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