The city is sacred to Hindus and Jains and also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with settlements dating back to the 11th century BC. Many Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi brings salvation/nirvana and so they make the trip to the city when they realize that they are close to death. For some, the culture shock of the burning corpses in plain view and the feces overflowing from the Ganges can be a bit overwhelming. However, the scene of pilgrims doing their devotions in the River Ganga at sunrise set against the backdrop of the centuries old temples is probably one of the most impressive sights in the world.
The city can be scorchingly hot in the summer months so, if possible, time your visit to fall between October and March, and bring something warm to wear for chilly days and nights, instead.
Varanasi is well connected by plane, train, and bus. The trains and buses are dirty and overcrowded.
Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport (IATA: VNS) is located 25km northwest of the city center. A taxi to/from the airport takes an hour and costs ₹750, while a tuk-tuk/auto-rickshaw can take twice as long and costs ₹500. Allow extra time due to traffic. Air India, JetKonnect, SpiceJet, and IndiGo all operate regular flights to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Khajuraho, and Visakhapatnam. There are flights to Kathmandu on Buddha Air, flights to Colombo on Mihin Lanka Airlines, and flights to Bangkok on Thai Airways.
Varanasi is served by three major railway stations:
- Varanasi Junction (IR station code : BSB) - the trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹100 in a tuk-tuk.
- Manduadih Railway Station - the trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹100 in a tuk-tuk.
- Mughal Sarai Junction (IR station code : MGS), about 20km east of the city - the trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹500 in a taxi.
Here is a list of useful trains to reach Varanasi:
|Train Number||Train Name||You may board at||You may alight at|
|12424||Rajdhani Express||New Delhi||Mughal Sarai Junction|
|12436||Rajdhani Express||New Delhi, Lucknow||Varanasi Junction|
|12560||Shivganga Express||New Delhi||Varanasi Junction|
|12165||Lokmanya Tilak (T) - Varanasi Express||Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Mumbai)||Varanasi Junction|
|12336||Lokmanya Tilak (T) - Bhagalpur Express||Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Mumbai)||Mughal Sarai Junction|
|12333||Vibhuti Express||Howrah (Kolkata)||Mughal Sarai Junction, Varanasi Junction|
|12307||Howrah-Jodhpur Express||Howrah (Kolkata)||Mughal Sarai Junction|
|12669||Ganga Kaveri Express||Chennai Central||Varanasi Junction|
|12295||Sangamitra Express||Bangalore City, Chennai Central||Mughal Sarai Junction|
|17091||Secunderabad-Patna Express||Secunderabad (Hyderabad)||Mughal Sarai Junction, Varanasi Junction|
|14854||Marudhar Express||Jaipur, Agra Fort||Varanasi Junction|
|14864||Marudhar Express||Jaipur, Agra Fort||Varanasi Junction|
Also see Rail travel in India
The bus station in Varanasi is located just east of the Varanasi Junction train station. A tuk-tuk from the bus station to the Ganges area costs ₹100.
Arriving from Nepal
Buses are available from major cities in Nepal to the border city of Sunauli. From the Sunauli bus station, take a rickshaw (200 NPR) to the border crossing, get your passport stamped on the Nepali side then walk through the border. After 100m of walking through no-man's land, you will find the Indian immigration office hidden away on the left hand side of the road. After going through Indian immigration, walk 300m and find the bus stop on the right hand side. From there, take the government bus to Gorakhpur, not the private lines which are far less comfortable and stop everywhere. The bus trip between the border and Gorakhpur takes 4 hours and costs ₹60. To reach Varanasi from Gorakhpur, you can either take a train from the Gorakhpur Junction train station (5-7 trains per day, 5.5-7 hour journey, ₹200-800 cost) or a bus (hourly, 8+ hour journey, ₹130 cost).
Arriving from other cities in India
There are buses run by state government from Lucknow (8 hours, ₹160), Gorakhpur (8+ hours, ₹130), Khajuraho (12 hours, ₹250), Kanpur (9 hours - ₹195), Faizabad (7 hours, ₹105), Bodhgaya (7 hours, ₹250) and Allahabad (3 hours - ₹107 for AC, ₹60 w/o AC).
Note that many streets are too narrow to be reached by cycle-rickshaw, auto-rickshaw, and car and therefore, you may have to walk a bit to reach your destination.
By foot is the only way to see the waterfront and the ghats - but be ready to be hot, sweaty, and lost - locals are usually happy to point you in the right direction. The names of ghats and signs pointing to restaurants and hotels are often painted on the walls in Roman letters. For better orientation, walk into any book store and pick up a small guide/map book that will have the list of all the ghats and their historical background.
Walking Tours are operated by many companies, with the cheapest being the daily tours operated by Stops Hostel (₹100 plus transportation, 3 hours). Walking tours are a great way to see some of the harder-to-find sights such as the Flower Market and Ayurvedic Herb Market.
By cycle-rickshaw and auto-rickshaw
The chaotic streets of Varanasi are sometimes too much to handle by foot. Therefore, it will often be convenient to travel by cycle rickshaw or auto-rickshaw. A short journey of a few kilometers should cost under ₹50, while a longer journey within the city, such as between the ghats and the train station, will cost ₹100. Further journeys, such as to Sarnath (10km), cost ₹200 each way by auto-rickshaw.
There is a pre-paid auto-rickshaw stand at the Varanasi Junction (Cantt) train station.
By car or taxi
While taxis and cars-for-hire do exist, traffic makes them impractical.
Bicycle rental is available from many vendors. Inquire at your hotel.
Varanasi is not a city with distinct tourist destinations; the experience is in watching the spectacle of life and death on the river and meandering through the alleys of the old city.
Ghats and the River Ganges
While the use of ghats for cremation is well known, they are also used to give last rites to those who do not need cleansing by fire to purify their soul, including young children and pregnant women. Instead, their bodies are wrapped in cloth, weighted with stones and deposited into the Ganges. However, it is fairly common for the ropes to give way, resulting in putrefying corpses washing up on the east shore across from the city. Steer clear if squeamish.
The River Ganga is a sacred river for the Hindus and you will see traditional rituals and bathing occurring at all times of the day. On the Eastern banks, the River Ganga is flanked by a 300m wide sand belt, beyond which lies a green belt, a protected area reserved for turtle breeding. The western crescent-shaped bank of the River Ganga is flanked by a continuous stretch of 84 ghats, or series of steps leading down to the river, stretching for 6.8km. These ghats were built by Hindu kings who wanted to die along the Ganges, and they built lofty palaces along the river, most of which are now hotels, to spend their final days. You can walk along the river and see all of the ghats, but the best option for viewing the ghats is to charter a boat and see them from the river.
Hindus consider it auspicious to die in Varanasi, so some ghats are known as burning ghats, where over 200+ corpses per day are cremated in full view before their ashes are eased into the Ganga.
Some of the most popular ghats, from north to south:
- Panchganga Ghat. the meeting of the five rivers.
- Manikarnika Ghat. the main cremation ghat; a must-see, but remain quiet and never take photographs (note: scams are plentiful here; see the "Staying Safe" section).
- Dasaswamedh Ghat. known as the 'main' ghat, this is the site of the large evening aarti ceremony
- Rana Ghat. The ghat is located on the banks of Ganga which helps people to do religious ceremony without any difficulty.
- Kedar Ghat. brightly painted in stripes and busy with bathers, very photogenic.
- Narad Ghat. the ghat on which bathing with spouse is not advised because the myth of contention.
- Harishchandra Ghat. the cremation place where Raja Harishchandra did the last rituals of his son.
- Hanuman Ghat. It was previously known as Ramesvaram Ghat and located at holy spot known as Juna Akhara in Varanasi. People believe that the Ghat was constructed by Lord Rama and hence it is dedicated to his favorite disciple, Lord Hanuman.
- Shivala Ghat. The ghat is constructed by King Balwant Singh and it played important role during Middle Ages. It comes under western part of Varanasi and as name suggests disciples connect it with Lord Shiva.
- Tulsi Ghat. site of the large water purification plant.
- Assi Ghat. a popular place to stay, with many hotels, restaurants, and internet cafes.
- Alamagir Mosque. Overlooking Panchganga Ghat, it's a great place for a bird's eye view of the area.
- Bharat Mata Temple. The Bharat Mata temple at Varanasi is the only temple dedicated to Mother India. It is located in the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth campus. The Bharat Mata temple was built by Babu Shiv Prasad Gupt and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. The statute of Bharat Mata is built in marble and is a model of undivided India, depicting the mountains, plains and oceans. The most peculiar thing about the Bharat Mata Temple is that instead of the customary gods and goddesses, it houses a relief map of India, carved out of marble.
- Durga Temple. Built in 18th century, Durga temple is made as a tribute to Goddess Durga. It is also referred as ‘monkey temple’ and one of the well know temples in Varanasi.
- Gauri Matha Temple. The devi at this temple is supposed to be the sister of the lord Kashi Vishwanath. Its a tradition to visit her just before you leave Kashi. You buy sea shells at this place and offer them to the God saying that the virtues of donating the shells goes to her while you keep the virtues of having visited the holy shrines in Kashi and bathing in the ganges. The trip to Kashi is expected to yield results only after completing this custom.
- Kaal Bhairav Temple. is the temple for Kaal Bhairav - a dreadful form of Lord Shiva symbolizing death. Its a tradition to buy black threads (costs about Rs. 15 per 50 threads as of Sep 2009), keep it in the shrine and then wear it on the arm, wrist or around the neck as a protection against evil forces.
- Nepali Hindu Temple. A small golden temple, built in Nepali architecture, near Lalita Ghat.
- Sarnath. It is believed that in Sarnath Buddha gave his first sermon to his disciples after getting enlightenment. There is also a Museum in Sarnath. The exact location is also known as Deer Park. Sarnath is 13 km from Varanasi and is very peaceful. Several Asian countries have built Buddhist temples there following their own ancient architectural traditions.
- Tulsi Manas Temple. Located near very popular Durga temple, this marvelous temple is dedicated to lord Rama. Tulsi Manas temple was established during 1964 in the form of white marble structure.
- Shri Kashi Vishwanth Temple (The Golden Temple). Security is tight making entrance difficult and sometimes completely off limits to foreigners. No bags, cellphones or pens are allowed. They can be deposited in the shops by the temple entrance. The temple was destroyed multiple times by Mughal invaders and was re-constructed by Hindu kings who followed them.
- Banaras Hindu University. a very green and peaceful campus. Few actually know that this University was built during Indian freedom struggle and is known as Oxford of the East. This is the largest residential university of Asia, having approx. 124 independent departments. You can also visit Bharat Kala Bhavan, a museum of Art and Archeology inside the university. There is also a huge white marbled temple called Vishwanath Temple which was built by Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya, the founder of the university.
- Chunar Fort (15km southwest of Varanasi). A 2,000+ year old fort.
- Kriti Gallery, Raman Niwas, Mahmoor Ganj (opposite All India Radio Station), ☎ . 11AM-6PM. A place to interact with contemporary art in the city of Varanasi.
- Man Mandir Observatory. This observatory has instruments such as sun dial to measure the eclipse, time and other similar kind of elements.
- Ramnagar Fort (Located on the eastern bank of the river, opposite Tulsi Ghat). The fort of the King of Kashi. Built in 1750 in the Mughal style.
- Bathe in the Ganges - Over 60,000 people come to the ghats every day to take a dip in the sacred waters of the Ganga, most notably at sunrise. This is a fantastic sight to see. However, due to the sewage pipes that discharge feces into the river, along with sunken corpses, there is a risk of infection from numerous diseases such as hepatitis and bacteria such as e-coli. Reports have shown that the Ganges water has a fecal coliform MPN of 88,000 per 100ml, compared to a desirable fecal coliform MPN of 500 per 100ml.
- Boat rides - Very popular, especially at sunrise and sunset. Boats can either be rowboats or motorboats. The most popular sunset ride is to start at Dasaswamedh Ghat or one of the many ghats along the river and head up to Manikarnika Ghat to see the cremations, then down to Dasaswamedh just after sunset to watch the evening aarti ceremony from the boat. Sunrise is another magical time for a ride, when the ghats are filled with Hindus bathing and starting their day - one of the most famous sights in India. You can bargain the price of the boat ride to around ₹50/person per hour. During the boat ride, other boats, usually manned by children, will float up to your boat to sell bowls with flowers and a candle to be offered to the river (₹10) or masala chai (₹10), or various trinkets that are overpriced. It is recommended to avoid polluting the river further by 'offering' non-biodegradable objects to the river. At Nishadraj Ghat, a few minutes walk from Assi Ghat, you can find a boat driver named Bhomi, a local singer renowned for his incredible voice and charming, beautiful songs; during the boat ride he sings anything from local folk songs to modern film songs and old devotional ones, and often improvises lyrics over his own songs to communicate with you and the various people gathered on the ghats.
- Explore the alleyways - The sounds, sight and smells are just unbelievable! Walk along the ghats and up to the sights.
- Chhath Pooja (October/November) - The four day festival for the sun god, Dala aka Surya. Rituals include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water (Vratta), standing in water for long periods of time, and offering prashad (prayer offerings) and aragh (alcohol) to the setting and rising sun.
- Deepavali, or Diwali (October) - The five day festival of lights. The special decorations, ceremonies at the temples, and aarti ceremony at the ghats are spectacular.
- Maha Shivaratri (February) - A Hindu festival celebrating Lord Shiva, who lived in Varanasi according to Hindu mythology. On this day, the streets of Varanasi are filled with pilgrims and parades dedicated to Shiva occur all day. Entrance to temples will require long queue and the temples will be extremely crowded. The day of Shivaratri is also the last day of the Dhrupad Mela, a festival of "Hindustani" (a form of Indian classical music) that goes on night and day for about 72 hours.
- Sanjeevani Booti (संजीवनी बूटी), Assi Ghat, e-mail: email@example.com. A sexual health, drug, and HIV education NGO. There is always demand for foreigners to visit because there is always work related to public health education to be done. A great volunteer opportunity.
Yoga classes are very popular among visitors to Varanasi.
- Yoga Training Centre, D.5/15, Shakarkand Lane (Near Meer Ghat), ☎ . Run by Sunil Jhingan Kumar. Highly recommended.
- Siddharth Yoga Center, Mansarowar Ghat (below Lotus Lounge Restaurant), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Small-group yoga classes with a view of the Ganges. Taught by Siddharth.
Ayurveda treatment classes
Ayurveda treatment is common in Varanasi and you can take classes to learn the techniques:
- Punarnava Health, Raman Nivas Campus, Mahmoorganj (In front of Radio Station), ☎ , e-mail: (ask for Dr.Pramod Kumar)email@example.com. Classes and treatments in Ayurvedic food habits, daily routine, massage, Shirodhara, steam bath, leech therapy, Panchkarma, etc....
- Hindi Language Center, B1\150 L-10 Assi (near Banaras Hindu University), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Classes in Hindi.
- Benares Hindu University. Offers a wide range of classes taught in English on topics related to classical Indian studies.
Varanasi is famous for its fine silk - it's on offer everywhere, but shop around and haggle!
- Dirty Laundry (Located on the main road that runs along the length of the ghats. If you walk out to the main road from the small burning ghat go to the right and walk about 1km. If you go to the road from the main ghat head to the left for about 1km. Look for the big purple signage.). A traveler's secondhand shop, Dirty Laundry sells used clothing, electronics, books and other travel essentials. They will take your old goods on exchange.
- Loan Arts & Crafts, S-20/52a, Nepali Kothi (next to Hotel Surya and Varanasi Arts Emporium), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 12. Silk carpets, hand-made, hand-knotted oriental Persian carpets, silk products, silk pashminas, hand embroidered and hand stitched cashmere wool, papier mache and lots of handicrafts.
- Mehrotra Silk Factory, K 4-8A, Lal Ghat, Raj Mandir (near Brahma Ghat, follow the multiple yellow signs), ☎ . Government Approved. Has set, reasonable prices and a good selection of handwoven pure silk Sarees, dress materials, bedcovers and hot chocolate and other silk materials.
- Pratha, Shop No.38, Kashi Anathalaya Building, Maldahiya (by the Main Anathalaya Building), ☎ . 12PM to 8PM. A small shop by the corner, showcasing Hand Block printed cotton kurties, suits and accessories. This store does not offer commissions to guides.
- Sri Guru Perfumers, D, 32/15, Munshi Ghat, Bengali Tola Lane (Before Spicie Bites. Enter Bengali Tola Lane on the way to Dasaswamedh Ghat. Turn at the Bank of Baroda ATM. There is another perfume shop on the corner before Sri Guru Perfumers, so be aware.). Very nice selection of perfumes and natural oils, some of them are made by the family of the owner Shankar Roy. Homemade incenses are great.
- Wow India, B 1/153, Assi Ghat Road, Ganga Math, Assi Ghat (the big corner shop, follow the tourists). A large collection of handicrafts from all over the country, a good herbal teas, incense and plenty more. Prices are moderate and fixed.
Banarasi Khana, or local delicacies, are known for their flavors. Many dishes here are flavored with asafoetida, ginger, bay leaves, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and/or dried fenugreek leaves.
Benares Dum Aloo is different from the dum aloo cooked elsewhere in India because the potatoes are stuffed with and cooked in a gravy that includes jaggery, fennel, and chili paste.
Varanasi is also known for its street food and chaat vendors. Aloo chaat is very common.
Varanasi Paan is famous all over India and the world. Paan is an assortment of flavors wrapped in a betel leaf. There are two versions: One that includes tobacco, and one that includes only sweet flavors. The exact ingredients depend on how much you offer, which can be as little as ₹10 or as much as ₹300. To eat the sweet version, shove the entire leaf in your mouth at once and chew until you swallow!
Rabri Malai Balai is a popular dessert in Varanasi that includes milk, sugar, almonds, and pistachio nuts. You can find it served in hole-in-the-wall or sweet shops.
There are plenty of food outlets with a very dynamic range in quality. The restaurants closer to the ghats cater more to foreign tourists, with variable success.
- Kashi Chat Center: (near Godowlia Crossing) Good assortment of exotic chats. Try out the Aloo Tikia Chat.
- Lotus lounge: (at mansoravor ghat) through the alleys, great food a must for every visitors.
- Madhur Jalpan:The best place for laddoos and other famous sweet delicacies is 'Madhur Jalpan', a shop that has been frequented by more than two prime ministers of India! Madhur Jalpan is on Baradev - next to the Kainiya Chitra Mandir. Again, on a small alleyway, but the sweets are to die for.
- Shiv Lassi Bhandar: (near the main gate of RamNagar Fort) Lassi with layers of Malai and Rabri. Superb Stuff.
- A C Shahi Restaurant & Kesari Restaurant near Dasashwmedh ghat in Godaulia and Shahi Restaurant near Rathyatra crossing serve very good vegetarian north / south Indian dishes.
- Cozy Corner Restaurant (CCR) Homely, healthy and hygienic is the motto of CCR. They specialize in Indian, South Indian and Chinese and serve fantastic dosas and chole bhature. It's a nice cozy place to hang out and the service is superb. Located just down the street from Assi Ghat. Turn left on Dumrao Bagh (first street when walking from the ghat) and walk about 50 m, just past Open Hand. Phone +91 9369305877.
- Diamond Hotel and Jaika Restaurant near Vijaya Talkies Crossing in Bhelupur serve very good north Indian dishes.
- Ganga Paying Guest House & Rooftop Restaurant, (near Assi Ghat on the bank of River Ganges) +91 9936491103. A very nice place to eat with an awesome view of River Ganges and all the ghats. The food is very nice but it takes a little time but with that beautiful view you would like to spend more time sitting there even without food.
- Ganga View, D 22/16 Chaustti Ghat (Sita Guest House rooftop). One of the myriad guest house rooftop restaurants in Varanasi and not a particularly memorable one at that. Serves Indian continental and western food (non-veg not available). Like most places in the area the rooftop is enclosed in a cage to keep the monkeys out (or is that humans in?) which detracts from the view.
- Karki's Restaurant If you're in Assi Ghat this place is a great oasis with a rooftop restaurant that serves cheap but great quality Nepalese & Italian food among others. Highly recommended are the Nepalese Thali and Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta (only Sat & Sun). It's on the main road down to Assi Ghat on the left, look for the green roof as it's upstairs and has a small entrance. Say hi to Karki and his gorgeous daughter who loves to poke faces at guests.
- Mona Lisa Cafe, (just south and opposite Shiva Cafe). Another good and popular cheapie, with a good range of things on offer, notably a thali for Rs 20, and some Japanese and Korean dishes thrown in for good measure.
- Nice cafe, Bengali Tola (near Mona Lisa, on turn off for Vishnu GH). 7AM - late. Great food cooked only by mum and family. Home kitchen. Clean. Friendly and helpful owner. Very reasonable prices, except on festival days when hot chocolate is poured over everyone for a fixed price of 1000 rupees per person. Check out the garlic / cheese nan and the pancakes! 25-55 for meal.
- 99 Not Out - Veg Cafe, 6 Kashiraj Apartment, Kamachha (Rly Stn - BHU main road near Rathyatra), ☎ . 12.00 Noon to 10:30PM. Extremely neat & clean place serving pure veg burgers, pizza, pasta, chowmein, hot dog etc. A wide range of thick shakes and exclusive cold drinks alongwith full range of Ice Creams.
- Samara Restaurant (Samara), B-38/1-S, Mahmoorganj (1 KM from Rathyatra to Akashwani), ☎ . 11AM to 11PM. Pure Vegetatian Indian, North Indian, Chinese, South Indian.
- Shiva Cafe and German Bakery, D 26/4 Narad Ghat, (near Himalaya Lodge). In the main little alleyway that runs parallel to the river between Dasaswamedh Ghat and Assi Ghat, this place is deservedly popular. The food takes time, but that's because it's prepared fresh, and you'll be happy you waited when the food arrives. Staffed by enterprising Nepalis this has authentic pastas, sandwiches etc. Healthy food. Favourite among long stay residents.
- Spicy Bites, D. 32/16A Bangali Tola (Located on Bangali Tola, an alleyway off Dashashwamegh Ghat (main Ghat)), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. One of a number of restaurants along Bangali Tola, this place is great for breakfast as they have a full on espresso machine and serve good food. Free WiFi. Under 150 Rs for a breakfast with espresso & drinks.
- Aum Cafe / Ayurvedic Cafe : near Assi Ghat, owned and run by Shivani Ayurvedic food/ Organic Teas and Coffees, Healthy Vegan/ Vegetarian friendly atmosphere with free Wi Fi. Hearty nutritious dishes. Some Indian and western choices. Located behind the temple on Assi Ghat.
- Bread of Life Bakery, Shivala Road, (a few hundred metres north of Assi Ghat), +91 542 227 5012. Good baked goods, but also a full restaurant with okay breakfasts including "American" pancakes and canned-OJ (freshly-squeezed no longer). Used to be very popular but the quality is now questionable. I would not recommend this at all. Set up by an American James Hetherington who claimed to be a businessman ; it was actually a front for his Christian missionary activities. He hails from Kansas, Missouri and Bread of Life Bakery originated there.
- Brown Bread Bakery, near Meer ghat, 09838888823. Is a good bakery run by a German baker in Varanasi, be wary of the Indian run bakery on the opposite side of the road who claims charity but is just fake. Breads and pastries made from organically grown ingredients. Also a nice range of cheeses. The restaurant has a large menu including Continental, Italian, German and Indian classics, has a great rooftop and offers a breakfast buffet from 7 to 12. Quality is pretty good and a part of the proceeds supports the Learn For Life society which operates a free school for disadvantaged children in Aurangabad, Varanasi.
- Filocafe' ( +91 9839066788), A space to study, read, network, converse, experiment, think… Filocafé provides a perfect haven for this and much more. Come here to showcase or appreciate up-and-coming talents – musical, intellectual, poetic, artistic – or use this free space for any other activity that relates to the city and its local culture or makes us grow as people. Equipped with free Wi-Fi and electric outlets available to all, Filocafé offers a variety of over 45 types of teas, Italian espresso coffee (yes, coming out from those Italian machines) and its creative varieties, fresh juices and a few munchies. Open from 2PM to 10PM.
- Flavours Cafe, Lanka, ('above axis bank). Great coffee and desserts. Strong filter coffee and lighly accented lattes with a quiet ambiance make for a needed break from the city. Free wireless is also a plus.
- Madhur Milan Cafe, Dashashwamedh Road, is a nice place for Indian snacks and meals at cheap prices. The price range for a persons full meal varies between Rs. 40 - 150. Cafe is primarily famous for its fried hot samosas, dosa and kachori sabji. Website : .
- Megu Cafe, Kalika Gali (near Meer Ghat), has excellent vegetarian Japanese food made by a Japanese woman who settled in Varanasi a number of years ago. All dishes are Rs. 85 or less. Closed on Sundays. [December 2011] Menu prices of all items have increased and expect to pay around Rs. 100-130 for a vegetarian and around Rs. 180-200 for non vegetarian main meal.
- Moti Mahal Delux restaurant - in Sigra, 3rd Floor, IP Mall, in the heart of the city. +91 542-2220555. One of the best Indian and mughlai restaurant in the city with a unique fine dining experience. Also provides free delivery of your meal at any location in the city. Also serves authentic Chinese and continental.
- Open Hand Shop & Cafe, Assi Ghat, (around the corner from Hotel Haifa), +91 542 2369 751. The bakery has daily fresh bread, cakes, pies & various pastries. The food selection includes set breakfast, salads, breadrolls and fruit salad. The espresso-based coffees and fresh fruit smoothies are the main attractions. The shop is selling fixed-price merchandise on fair-trade principles. Free Internet.
- Zaika restaurant - in Shivala, opposite Hotel Broadway. Good Indian / Chinese dishes; try the sweet-corn-pakoras.
Possibly due to a high influx of tourists from Israel, a number of Middle Eastern restaurants have opened in Varanasi, all of which serve very similar food, cater to a predominantly tourist clientèle, and charge a little over Rs 100 for a thali.
- Haifa Cafe: Assi Ghat, (in Hotel Haifa). Most popular for its Middle-Eastern cuisine such as the thali (delicious!), but has a wide range of Indian and continental dishes and is also popular at breakfast. The Jordanian brothers aren't here anymore. Its now just a regular hotel. The food is awful too with the Jordanians gone.
- Hayat mediterreian': near Assi (new location= behind dumraon bag colony park), managed by authentic middle-easterners (from Jordan). Try the labanha (dry yoghurt), or the baba ghanSoush (eggplant) with pita. The Nanas (mint-lemon drink) are the best in town. The feta is a tad high in salt, but at least they have it. The restaurant has a tent-like lounge atmosphere that gives it a cult presence. Ask for "hello to the queen" and see smiles. Very good quality, pleasant open air magnetosphere.
- Phulwari / Sami Cafe: near the Vishwanath Temple crossing, you sit beside a religiously near-defunct but architecturally gorgeous Mahadev temple, and sip on iced teas and nanas. Some locals still consider this a holy site and aren't too happy about the cafe being so close. This temple has been usurped by thugs who sponsor this restaurant. Avoid on ethical grounds. No other heritage Indian temple has a restaurant in its courtyard!
- Hotel Clarks, The Mall, Varanasi 221002.
- Radisson Hotel, The Mall Cantonment, Varanasi 221002.
- Varuna, ☎ . And Chowk, Taj Ganges Hotel, Nadesar Palace Grounds. - Two restaurants respectively offering Indian and Western cuisine. The Taj is excellent as usual.
- Alcohol is available at a few restaurants and hotels, such as the Radisson and Taj. There are several wine shops in the old city but they don't offer any sitting arrangement. You can buy whatever you want and bring it to your hotel room.
- Bhang is a potent, powdered form of marijuana often mixed into "special" lassis, simply called bhang lassi. The drink is especially popular on holidays as Varanasi is a major center of Shiva worship as it is offered to the lord in form of Prashad. It can be quite intoxicating.
- Thandai is cool milk based drink made with pistachios, almonds and kesar and topped off with a large dollop of malai (cream). Bhang is often added to thicken the concoction, though it can be made without. Many Tandai stores are located near the main Godowlia, and most also serve lassi.
The most interesting area to stay is around the ghats, which are the main attractions for foreigners and are close to the religious attractions. However, this area is extremely noisy and many accommodation choices here are subpar, so do some research before you book. An alternative to staying in Varanasi is to stay near the main train station (Varanasi Junction). This area has some very nice new places popping-up in the recent years and is only about 10 minutes on a tuk-tuk. Another alternative is the much quieter Sarnath, 10+ km from Varanasi, but it takes 75+ minutes each way to reach Varanasi by tuk-tuk (₹200).
Some budget accommodations advertise free morning and evening boat rides along the river. However, the boat will take you up the river and then let the passengers know that for the return trip, there is a fee of ₹60 per person. Those who do not want to pay can get out of the boat and walk back.
Beware that Varanasi, particularly during summer, is prone to many hours of power outages a day. It is best to double check that your fan or A/C is run from a backup generator, or you may not have it for much of the day.
- International Travellers' Hostel & Bistro, C-32/4, Vidyapeeth Road (5 min walk from Varanasi Junction station, opposite Gate #2 of Vidyapeeth University), ☎ . Check-in: 12:00 am, check-out: 11:00 am. A hostel run out of an ancestral family house. The owner lives in Germany, but his staff, Dada and Manash, manage the hostel. There are mixed and female dormitories available with 4-5 beds each. There is a cottage-style luxury room with en-suite bathroom for the ones with a slightly higher budget, and a tent for the ones on extremely tight budget. Breakfast is included in nightly prices. The rooms are cozy and silent with comfortable beds. AC dorms have single beds and are very spacious. The hostel also features a bistro that serves delicious vegetarian and vegan meals. Their menu also includes – rare to find in India – authentic Italian coffee. There are several pleasant common areas – including a garden and a huge rooftop. It's a great place to be away from the chaos of Varanasi. Very good to socialize with other travellers, and for celebrating Indian festivals, especially Holi. Includes Wi-Fi, TV, iPod dock, DVDs, books, card & board games, PC, lockers, washing machine, communal kitchen and purified drinking water. They also offer power generator back-up, which can be very helpful during scorching Indian summers, so that your room AC functions even through the long power outages that are very common in India. All-in-all a unique hostel. Highly recommended. Tent: ₹490; Dorm beds: ₹440 / ₹590; Luxury room: ₹2,990.
- Ram Bhawan / Kautilya Society Residence (कौटिल्य संघ), D-20/21 Munshi Ghat (on the banks of the River Ganga), ☎ , e-mail: , email@example.com. This is the study center of an NGO that supports responsible development through dialogue that also offers rooms for students and scholars. The residence is similar to an Indian home with simple comforts and colonial teak furniture. In accordance with Indian law, all guests must become members of the Society and pay membership dues of ₹300. These donations cover half board (₹200 per day for additional guests sharing the same room). In low season rates are approximately 20% lower. Long term guests can enjoy special discounts. Dorm bed: ₹400; Single: ₹1,000; Double: ₹1,700.
- Stops Art Hostel, B 20/47, A-2, Vijayanagaram Colony, Bhelupur (1.1km east of Hanuman Ghat, near the water tower. In an alleyway behind the Dolphin Hotel), ☎ . Check-in: 12PM, check-out: 11AM. Bright, airy, super modern hostel. Location in an alleyway makes it quieter. In a large 3 floor house. Affordable organized activities all day including walking tours (₹100+transport), boat trips, cooking classes (₹200), yoga/mediation classes, movie nights, etc...The hostel is run by a very professional young Indian couple with superb English and a very keen understanding of what a hostel should be with full recommendations for eating, drinking, tourism etc. It has A/C, 24 hour security and a very happy relaxed vibe, especially out on the shaded balconies on the upper floor, complete with benches and sofas, great for meeting other travellers. Highly recommended. Tent on roof: ₹350; Dorm bed: ₹450-650; Double: ₹1900.
- Zostel Varanasi, D-54/16-D, Jaddumandi, Aurangabad Luxa Road (near Mritunjai Mahadev Temple), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: 10AM. A friendly hostel located 20 minutes walk to the main ghat. Very noisy location, but a great place to meet people. Dorm bed: ₹390; Double: ₹990.
- Bhadrakali Guest House, Along the river, just off the main ghat (Just off the main ghat), ☎ , e-mail: Bhadrakaliassociation@gmail.com. The guesthouse is a colourful, family-owned, music-oriented house with panoramic views of the city and of the River Ganga. A couple of the rooms in this cozy 7 room Guesthouse also have balconies and river views. Highly recommended.
- Ganga Fuji Home (between Man Mandeer Ghat and Dasaswamedh Ghat). Some rooms have shared bathroom; more expensive rooms have A/C and TV. All rooms are clean, with clean sheets and towel. The rooftop restaurant offers evening concerts every night. Double: ₹840 (non AC), ₹1,300 (w/AC).
- Golden Lodge, D. 8/35, Kalika Gali (Near Manikarnika Ghat), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-out: noon. Tucked away in the alleyways, friendly staff. Restaurant on site. Single w/shared bath: ₹350; Double w/shared bath: ₹400; Add 100% for AC, add ₹150 for attached bath. 20% discount in low season..
- Groovy Ganges Guesthouse (ग्रूवी गंगा गेस्ट हाउस), B2/225, B-6-A, Bhadaini (in Bhadaini neighborhood, near Assi Ghat), ☎ , fax: (001)206-984-1165, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: whenever, check-out: no hurry. Live in an Indian home with an Indian family. Popular with long-term students, researchers, and activists wanting to integrate into local culture. Boiled water is used for all cooking. Book well in advance since many clients are long term. Rs 3000/week.
- Hotel River View, K-20/133,134 Rajmandir Brahma Ghat (Walk north from Dasaswamedh Ghat for about 15 minutes, and follow the numerous blue and white painted signs). US$10-25.
- Kedar Guest House, B-1/148-A-2-KH, Lodging Street, Dumraon Colony (Just west of Ravidas Ghat, along the Assi River), ☎ . Highly recommended. Amazing views. The owner is very knowledgeable and will give you maps and explain Varanasi. Single: ₹250 in low season, ₹350 in high season; Double: ₹400-1,550 in low season, ₹600-1,850 in high season. Breakfast included.
- Maa Vaishno Guest House (माँ वैशो गेस्ट हाउस), B5/188 Shivala Ghat (Shivala Ghat, just off Hanuman Ghat), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 24hr, check-out: 12-noon. One of the cheapest decent guesthouses in the area. Family run guesthouse. 10 clean rooms, all with attached bathroom with running hot and cold shower and view of the Ganga. Roof top restaurant, sunrise & sun set from roof & room, Free Wi-Fi, laundry service. ₹200-250.
- Marigold P. Guest House, D20/10-D Munshi Ghat, Dashashwmedh Ghat (off the main ghat), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 1PM, check-out: 12PM. Rooftop view of the Ganges. Highly recommended. From ₹700.
- Maruti Guest House (मारुती गेस्ट हाउस), Sahodarbir (near Assi Ghat), ☎ . Friendly family run guest house with clean well lit rooms. There is a roof top garden and restaurant where fresh home made food is served. Power backup for the rooms and hot showers are available as well as broadband Internet access. The owner of the guest house, Dr. V.N. Tripathi, gives Yoga and meditation lessons upon request. ₹500-700.
- Mishra Guest House, Ck 8/178 Garwasi tolla Gaumath (Near Manikarnika Ghat), ☎ . The rooftop restaurant offers free evening concerts every night. Single: ₹200; Double (non-AC): ₹300-400; Double (w?AC): 600-950.
- Monu Family Paying Guest House, D8/4 Kalika Gali (Near Golden Temple), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 13:00, check-out: 11:00. Music, cookery and language courses are available. Single: ₹500; Double: ₹900 (plus ₹500 for AC).
- Radiant YMCA Tourist Hostel (वायएमसीए हॉस्टल), Mahmoorganj Road, Sampoornanand Nagar Colony (3km east of the main ghat), ☎ . , 2223831Opened in 1998. Restaurant with large menu. Does not have dormitories, despite being called a hostel. From ₹765.
- Sahi Riverview Guest House, B1/158 A2, Assi Ghat (on Assi Ghat, next to Harmony Book Shop). Very clean and quiet. Great river views! Recommended. From ₹500.
- Shiva Kashi Guest House, D22/4 Chausatti Ghat (At Raja Ghat), ☎ . Check-out: 12.00 noon. Very clean, well-decorated, quiet guest house. Pleasant and helpful staff. Rooms have windows, are light and airy. Some have balconies. Highly recommended. ₹500-2,000.
- Sita Guest House, Chausatti Ghat (On the banks of the Ganges, next to the main ghat), ☎ +91 542 2450061 or 3251088, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rooms are reasonably clean, somewhat small and most have a view over the river. Supposedly hot water in every room, the hotel also has a generator for the many power cuts in Varanasi but this often doesn't cover the A/C. Rooftop restaurant. Double (w/AC): ₹1,500-3,000.
- Tiwari Guest Lodge, B-1/243-A, Assi Ghat (Assi Crossing, across the street from Hotel Haifa), ☎ . Check-out: negotiable. Run by a Brahmin and has a small temple on the site. Very relaxed and well maintained by local standards but do not expect staff to be present all the time. For check-in, the owner can usually be found sitting in the aryuvedic massage cubicle late afternoons. Bring your sheets and towel. Door is locked from midnight to 6AM. Double: ₹500.
- Vishnu Rest House, Pandey Ghat, ☎ . A hotel spanned over 200 year old Vishnu temple. A very clean and friendly guest house over looking the river, some rooms with views. You will often find classical music programs and puja held during morning and evening time. The rooms are with power backup and hot water.
- Diamond Hotel, Durgakund Road, Bhelupur (Near IP Vijaya Mall, less than 1km from the ghats), ☎ , fax: +91 0542 2276703, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-out: 12 noon. Single: ₹2,500-3,750; Double: ₹3,000-5,500.
- Gautam Hotel, C-26/35D, Lahurabir, Ramkatora Crossing, ☎ . Check-in: 12PM, check-out: 12PM. A budget 3-star hotel. Not walkable to the ghats. US$16-25.
- Hotel New Temple's Town, 53, Patel Nagar, Cantonment (Just north of Varanasi Junction Railway Station), ☎ , e-mail: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. US$43.
- The Gateway, Nadesar Palace Grounds, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A five-star hotel owned by the Taj Group. 130 rooms set on 40 acres of gardens. The building is in the shape of a Swastik. From ₹5,000 in the low season, ₹6,500 in the high season.
- Nadesar Palace, The Taj Hotels, Nadesar Palace, ☎ . A five-star hotel owned by the Taj Group. The building of the hotel used to be the residence of Mr. Davis, the Magistrate of Benares, in January of 1799. The same palace was later occupied by Maharaja Prabhu Narain Singh during his rule between 1889-1931. From ₹20,000 in the low season, ₹29,000 in the high season.
- A Palace on the River, Rashmi Guest House, D, 16/28-A (On Dasaswamedh Ghat), ☎ . Great views and location. From ₹7,000.
- Radisson, The Mall, Cantonment, ☎ . From ₹3,200 in the low season, ₹5,500 in the high season.
- Ramada Plaza JHV, The Mall Cantonment, ☎ .
- Surya, The Mall Cantonment, ☎ .
Violent crime is rare, but still do be careful in the lanes after dark.
Carry a light or phone; power outages are extremely common, and the alleys are hard enough to navigate in daylight, let alone in pitch dark, because of their broken paving stones and cows common.
Groping of women
It is common to have the odd local young man try to quickly grope foreign women and run away. Respond aggressively and loudly to try to discourage this behavior as much as possible. Try to dress similar to locals (i.e. no short shorts) as not to attract attention.
Rickshaw / taxi scams
Rickshaw / taxi scams are common in Varanasi, and the driver will inevitably tell you that the hotel that you wish to go to has burned down, is flooded, or closed. Don't believe him. Drivers receive commission from hotels for bringing in new guests, and this is one way to trick newcomers to going to these places. Don't get annoyed, but see the exchange as playful banter and part of the Varanasi experience. However, if the driver continuously refuses to follow your instructions, threaten to get out of the rickshaw. If after all this you still end up to a different place, just refuse to pay until you arrive at your hotel. The same procedure will need to be followed when sight seeing, as drivers will inevitably try to take you to handicraft stores, from which they receive commission. If calling for a pickup from a more resepctable hostel, be wary that other taxi drivers may listen in to your phone conversation then tell another taxi driver who will pick you up pretending to be your hostel, then take you to a commision charging hostel.
Cremation ghat scams
As you approach Manikarnika Ghat, you will be approached by touts posing as cremators or volunteers in a local hospice. These people will explain the cremation process and even lead you to a good viewpoint. They will then take advantage of your emotions by asking you to pay for some wood to burn the body of someone who can't afford it. They will usually insist on receiving ₹500 - if you offer less, it will be initially be declined. This is a complete scam. Either tell him you have no money or that you don't feel comfortable donating.
There is, rather understandably, some resentment at tourists tresspasing up to the cremation ghats for raucous sightseeing at the funeral ceremonies of loved ones. Behave respectfully and do not take photographs of cremations, even from the river. You can take photographs if it is from a distance; most do not mind. There are touts who for a fee will "stop minding". Note that if it is the family that objects then you have to respect it but not if local touts object in the interest of extracting money. Offer the money and if they seem ready to accept, withdraw it and photograph! Call the police if necessary.
Since this city is full of temples you will have to take off your shoes/sandals at every point, so wear a flip flop which is easy to take off.
BSNL, Reliance,Idea, and Airtel are the most popular cell phone services in the region. If you bring your GSM cellphone from home, you can buy a SIM card and call within India and abroad. You will need your passport and a passport photo to buy a SIM card.
Wi-Fi is available at just about every hotel or restaurant that caters to foreign tourists. Internet Cafes are common, especially in the lanes between Dasaswamedh Ghat and Assi Ghat. Usually, the shopkeepers will record your passport information before giving you access to the Wi-Fi.
Calling abroad is cheap from Iway branches.
- Agra - the next point on the tourist "Golden Triangle". Buses and trains, including overnight trains, leave several times a day.
- Allahabad - Another spiritual city along the Ganges, Allahabad can be reached via a 3-hour bus ride.
- Delhi - The capital city of India can be reached via a 13-hour train ride.
- Gaya - One of the most sacred places to do Pind Dan (funeral offerings for the benefit of the soul of the deceased). A 4+ hour drive from Varanasi.
- Jaunpur - The district just northwest of Varanasi, it is primarily a rural area.
- Khajuraho - South of Varanasi, it is a bit out of the way, but is famous for its many 1,000+ year-old Hindu and Jain temples.
- Lucknow - known for its good food, it is a good place to stop for a day on the way to Delhi.
- Nepal - buses travel to the Nepali border where you can transfer to Kathmandu and Chitwan buses. Most buses go via Gorakhpur and can take 8-12 hours, or there are daily flights. There are a number of travel agents in Varanasi which will sell you tourist/AC buses to Kathmandu or Pokhara. Avoid these services (especially the operator Paul Travels) because they are not actually tourist buses. Instead, they are actually the local, public buses and once you get across the Nepal border, they will try to get more money from you.
- Sarnath - One of the most sacred places for Buddhists, known as the place where Buddha gave his first speech after his enlightenment. 10+ km from Varanasi, 1 hour+ by tuk-tuk (₹200 each way)