Tips for Varanasi
Tips for Varanasi Reviews
Tips Feb 17, 2013
Varanasi is one of the seven holiest sites in India, and it receives countless pilgrims and visitors - from different regions of India and abroad. It sits on the banks of the sacred River Ganges and is considered to be one of the oldest cities in the world. It even gets a mention in sacred scriptures! To Indians, it is known as Benares. I think that anyone visiting northern India should strongly consider a visit to Varanasi, as it is a wonderful insight into Indian history, religion, society and even commerce. A few pointers from my days there:
- The ghats (bathing areas) along the river are all named in English and Hindi, so losing yourself when you have a good map is very difficult! With your hotel, just remember the route from your accommodation to your nearest ghat. After that, it’s pretty easy to remember your bearings!
- Be careful with hotel services. All the places I stayed at tried to offer add-on services (e.g., trips to local factories, setting up tours and boat rides, booking onward tickets etc.). Varanasi is very used to exploiting tourism (even compared to the other tourist places of India), so here, it pays more than ever to check your own prices and speaking with other travellers for research.
- Be careful with the Ganges water. It’s holy for sure, but its health properties are very questionable. The locals do everything in the water here, so I’d be careful about going in for a dip, or even drinking tea from sellers nearby (the cups are sometimes washed in the river…)
- Boat ride at sunrise is well worth getting up for. The waters are much more calm and serene, and the boatman will usually offer a good overview of the history and tales associated with the place.
- During the evening, Dashashwamedh Ghat is probably the best place to watch the evening aarti (prayer ceremony used to honour the sacred goddess Ganges). Quite a spectacle, but be careful with the priests at the end who ask you for donations. This is quite a normal thing in temples after aarti, and it's definitely nice to leave a few rupees as a sign of appreciation. However, while the donation you put in the glass box must go to the temple, providing a donation within the priest’s hands could end up elsewhere…
- The ghat at Manikarnika is famous as the burning ghat, where Hindus come to cremate their deceased family member(s). Considering what goes on at this ghat, photos are banned here. Even walking around with your camera could lead to suspicious stares and questioning, so be careful. You are perfectly allowed to see the cremations that take place here, so don't be shy at all. But if you are faint-hearted, this is not the place to pay too much attention. Also be careful with the priests here, who will talk about the ever-increasing price of wood and pester you for a donation.
Iconic, timeless and sacred, Varanasi is highly memorable. However, these qualities come with a downside, and it’s important to be street smart here to make sure you get the most of your time here.
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