Varanasi (Hindi: वाराणसी), once known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a city at the banks of the Ganges river in northern India. Being the most sacred city in Hinduism and Jainism, and important in the history of Buddhism, Varanasi is India's most important pilgrimage destination.
Varanasi is 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 realise 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 instead, if possible, time your visit to between October and March, and bring something warm to wear for chilly days and nights.
In 2011, it was home to 1.2 million people.
Varanasi is well connected by plane, train, and bus.
- 1 Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport (VNS IATA Varanasi Airport) (in Babatpur 25 km 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, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Khajuraho and Visakhapatnam. There are flights to Sharjah on Air India Express, to Kathmandu on Buddha Air and to Bangkok on Thai Airways.
Varanasi is served by three major railway stations:
- 2 Varanasi Junction (IR station code : BSB). The trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹100 in an auto-rickshaw
- 3 Manduadih Railway Station. The trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹100 in an auto-rikshaw
- 4 Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction - formerly called Mugal Sarai Junction (IR station code : DDU) (Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction). Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction is about 20 km east of the city. The trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹500 in a taxi, ₹250-300 in an auto.
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) to the border crossing, get your passport stamped on the Nepali side then walk through the border. After 100 m 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 300 m 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, at least 8-hour journey, ₹130 cost). Budhha Air has also some packages for devotees visiting Varanasi.
The cheapest option is perhaps to take the bus in Kathmandu from the monkey temple to Birganj/Raxaul for about ₹700, and take a train from Raxaul to Varanasi- but you risk not making the border by 10PM because of breakdowns and the Raxaul-Varanasi train doesn't run often.
Arriving from other cities in India
There are buses run by state government from Lucknow (8 hours, ₹160), Gorakhpur (8 hours or more, ₹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).
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.
Walking 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 and description of all the ghats. The main problem with walking in Varanasi is that like most Indian towns (Shimla, Gangtok and a few other places being notable exceptions), the authorities refuse to ban vehicles in areas used by pedestrians - no matter how narrow the streets. In this respect, a relaxing walk is disturbed by the constant need to step aside in order to avoid being hit by a motorbike.
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 (10 km), cost ₹500 there and back (with a one- to two-hour waiting period) or ₹300 one 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 the most sacred river in the world for 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 300-m-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 6.8 km. 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:
- 1 Panchganga Ghat. the meeting of the five rivers.
- 2 Manikarnika Ghat. The main cremation ghat; a must-see, but remain quiet and never take photographs (scams are plentiful here; see the "Stay Safe" section).
- 3 Dasaswamedh Ghat. Known as the 'main' ghat, this is the site of the large evening aarti ceremony. The ceremony starts right after the sunset and lasts for around 45 minutes.
- 4 Rana Ghat. The ghat is on the banks of Ganga which helps people to do religious ceremony without any difficulty.
- 5 Kedar Ghat. Brightly painted in stripes and busy with bathers, very photogenic.
- 6 Narad Ghat. The ghat on which bathing with spouse is not advised because the myth of contention.
- 7 Harishchandra Ghat. The cremation place where Raja Harishchandra did the last rituals of his son.
- Hanuman Ghat. It used to be 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 favourite 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.
- 8 Tulsi Ghat. Site of the large water purification plant.
- 9 Assi Ghat. A popular place for tourists, long-term students and researchers to stay, with many hotels, restaurants, and internet cafes nearby.
- 10 Alamagir Mosque. Overlooking Panchganga Ghat, it's a great place for a bird's eye view of the area.
- 11 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.
- 12 Durga Temple. Built in 18th century, Durga temple is made as a tribute to Goddess Durga. It is also one of the well known temples in Varanasi.
- 13 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.
- 14 Kaal Bhairav Temple. It is the temple for Kaal Bhairav - a dreadful form of Lord Shiva symbolising death. Its a tradition to buy black threads (costs about ₹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.
- 15 Nepali Hindu Temple (Kathwala Temple) (near Lalita Ghat). This small, golden temple was built by the 19th century exiled king of Nepal, Rana Bahadur Shah. It is shaped in the typical Nepali pagoda architectural style.
- 16 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.
- 17 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.
- 18 Tulsi Manas Temple. Located near very popular Durga temple, this marvellous temple is dedicated to lord Rama. Tulsi Manas temple was established during 1964 in the form of white marble structure.
- 19 Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple (Sankatmochan Mandir), 27, Durgakund Rd, Jawahar Nagar Colony, Bhelupur, ☏ . Sankat Mochan Temple is dedicated to the Lord Hanuman. This temple is also called as the Monkey temple because of the presence of lot of monkeys inside the premises. It is one of the holy temples of the Lord Hanuman and the main location for Hindus for their many religious as well as cultural festivals. It is located in the southern part of the Varanasi, on the way to the Durga Mandir and New Vishwanath temple BHU, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. The meaning of the Sankat Mochan is relief from all the problems (Sankat means problem and Mochan means relief giver). Sankat Mochan Temple was constructed by the educationist and freedom fighter Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya (the founder of the BHU) in the early 1900s. The Hanuman Jayanti (birthday of the Lord Hanuman) is celebrated every year by organising a special Shobha Yatra (a parade) from Durga temple (Durga Kund) to the Sankat Mochan Temple.
- 20 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.
- 21 Chunar Fort (15 km southwest of Varanasi). A more than 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.
- 22 Man Mandir Observatory. This observatory has instruments such as sun dial to measure the eclipse, time and other similar kind of elements.
- 23 Ramnagar Fort (on the eastern bank of the river, opposite Tulsi Ghat). The fort of the King of Kashi. Built in 1750 in the Mughal style.
- 24 Sarnath Museum, Saranth Station Rd, Sarnath, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Sa-Th 9AM-5PM. The oldest site museum of India, housing excavations from the archeological site of Sarnath, where Buddha delivered his first sermon. Entry fee of ₹5 for everyone.
- 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 100 ml, compared to a desirable fecal coliform MPN of 500 per 100 ml.
- Walking tours are operated by many companies, walking tours are a great way to see some of the harder-to-find sights such as the Flower Market and Ayurvedic Herb Market
- 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 (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 (water) to the setting and rising sun.
- Deepavali, or Diwali (October–November) - The five day festival of lights. The special decorations, ceremonies at the temples, and aarti ceremony at the ghats are spectacular. After Diwali there is a day known as Dev Deepavali. On this day all the ghats have oil lamps lit on the ghat steps which is a very pleasant sight to watch. Use the boat ride if you are not with any local. Avoid walking through the ghat on that day.
- 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.
Yoga classes are very popular among visitors to Varanasi.
- Siddharth Yoga Centre, Mansarowar Ghat (below Lotus Lounge Restaurant), ☏ , , email@example.com. Small-group yoga classes with a view of the Ganges. Taught by Siddharth.
- Yoga Training Centre, D.5/15, Shakarkand Lane (near Meer Ghat), ☏ . Run by Sunil Jhingan Kumar. Highly recommended.
Ayurveda treatment classes
Ayurveda treatment is common in Varanasi and you can take classes to learn the techniques:
- , Raman Nivas Campus, Mahmoorganj (in front of Radio Station), ☏ (ask for Dr.Pramod Kumar), firstname.lastname@example.org. Classes and treatments in Ayurvedic food habits, daily routine, massage, Shirodhara, steam bath, leech therapy, and Panchkarma.
- Hindi Language Center, B1\150 L-10 Assi (near Banaras Hindu University), ☏ , email@example.com. Classes in Hindi.
- Pragati Hindi (on the north side of Kedar ghat, follow the signs that say 'pragati hindi'), firstname.lastname@example.org. Fun Hindi language lessons. Raju's teaching style makes Hindi very simple to understand. ₹500/hour.
- 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!
- 1 Gowdalia Chowk, Gowdalia. One of the most busy shopping areas in Varanasi. Products that are available here include silk and zari sarees, salwar suits, garments, bags and handicrafts.
- Harmony Books, Assi Ghat B 1/158 (a two-minute walk from the river front), ☏ , email@example.com. A bookshop with a real bookshop feel. Owner very knowledgeable of his stock.
- Kashi Annapoorna Book House, B 1/185 Main Assi Ghat (above the river front), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. A small bookshop with books on subjects related to India, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Clothes and handicrafts
- 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 traveller'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), ☏ , 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), ☏ . noon 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.
- The Bed Silk and Pasmina, Nagwa Road, Assi Ghat (on the left corner of main street, two minutes from the ghat), ☏ . 9AM - 8PM. A small shop with a good selection of hand and machine woven silk items and pasmina shawls
- 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 flavours. Many dishes here are flavoured 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. Paan is an assortment of flavours wrapped in a betel leaf. There are two versions: One that includes tobacco, and one that includes only sweet flavours. 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!
Lassi from Pahalwan Lassi at Ravidas Gate in Lanka. Age old shop for delicacies like Lassi, Malaiyyo and Rabri.
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 and south Indian dishes.
- Cozy Corner Restaurant (CCR) Homely, healthy and hygienic is the motto of CCR. They specialise 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.
- Dosa Cafe, (in the main alley behind the ghats, north of the main ghat) serves delicious South Indian dishes for a good price.
- 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 Saturday & Sunday). 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 ₹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 per person. Check out the garlic / cheese nan and the pancakes! ₹25-55 for meal.
- 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 (on Bangali Tola, an alleyway off Dashashwamegh Ghat (main Ghat)), ☏ , 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 for a breakfast with espresso & drinks.
- Suryoday, (in the alley behind the ghats, a few minutes walk South of Kedar ghat) small but delicious menu in a clean little spot by Kedar Ghat.
- Aum Cafe / Ayurvedic Cafe (Located behind the temple on Assi Ghat). Owned and run by Shivani Ayurvedic food. Organic teas and coffees, healthy vegan/ vegetarian friendly atmosphere with free WiFi. Hearty nutritious dishes. Some Indian and Western choices.
- Brown Bread Bakery, near Meer Ghat, ☏ . 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 to be charitable 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 7AM to noon. 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.
- Dolphin Restaurant (about a two minute walk north of Dashashwamedh Ghat). The food and service are good, not great, but the real reason to come here is for the rooftop overlooking the Ghats and the river. Also has free and fast WiFi. Prices for a full meal: ₹200 - 600.
- Filocafe, ☏ . 2-10PM. A space to study, read, network, converse, experiment, think. 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.
- Flavours Cafe, Lanka, (above axis bank). Great coffee and desserts. Strong filter coffee and lightly 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. A nice place for Indian snacks and meals at cheap prices. Cafe is primarily famous for its fried hot samosas, dosa and kachori sabji.
- 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 ₹85 or less. Closed on Sundays. [December 2011] Menu prices of all items have increased and expect to pay around ₹100-130 for a vegetarian and around ₹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), ☏ . The bakery has daily fresh bread, cakes, pies and 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 ₹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. Now it is 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 middle-easterners from Jordan. Try the labanha (dry yoghurt), or the baba ghanSoush (aubergine / eggplant) with pita. The feta is a tad high in salt. 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. Perhaps 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.
Coffee is not as common in Varanasi as it is in the bigger and more cosmopolitan cities, and is often just available as the instant variety, served black or white. Places that serve the real stuff:
- Dirty Chai Cafe, Dashaswmedh Road (the narrow alley that leads from Dashaswmedh Ghat). 11AM-9PM. Cool and modern decor, contemporary laid-back music, free Wi-Fi, tasty food, okay coffee (from beans but an old automatic coffee machine), but extremely slow and inept service.
- Open Hand Shop & Cafe, Assi Ghat (around the corner from Hotel Haifa), ☏ . Has a good selection of roasted coffee as well as smoothies and fresh juices. The food selection includes set breakfast, salads, bread rolls, fruit salad, and delicious cakes and pasties. The cafe also sells fixed-price merchandise on fair-trade principles. Free Internet.
- Mona Lisa Cafe (just south and opposite Shiva Cafe in Munshi Ghat). One of the few places in Varanasi to use real beans, but the selection of coffees available is limited. Food is cheap and tasty, but the cafe lacks charm and so don't plan to spend your day there.
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 centre of Shiva worship as it is offered to the lord in form of Prashad. Caution should be taken as it can be quite intoxicating and the effects last hours; tourists have been known to be robbed after consuming bhang.
Thandai is a cool, milk-based drink made with pistachios, almonds and saffron, topped off with a large dollop of malai (cream). Bhang is often added to thicken the concoction, though it can be made without it. Many Thandai 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 places and is about 10 minutes away on a tuk-tuk. Another alternative is the much quieter Sarnath, 10 km from Varanasi, but it takes more than 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.
Varanasi, particularly during summer, is prone to many hours of power outages a day. It is best to double check that your fan or air-con is run from a backup generator, or you may not have it for much of the day.
Cheaper hotels and hostels can be found around the "Assi ghat" and train station areas, check hot water and wifi for yourself.
- 1 Ganges Nirvana Free Hostel (Ganges Nirvana Community & Homestay), Shashwat Shandilya House, Plot no. 175, Lane no.2, Shree Ram Nagar Colony (Near Manduadih Railway Station), ☏ , , . The Ganges Nirvana Free Hostel a small hostel. It is very simple and work is underway to make it more homely. For example by painting the walls with graffiti. If you want to help out with any small thing, you are welcome to stay for free. You will stay with people from couchsurfing, workaway and other places, and the owner often arranges small free trips (just share the expenses for petrol) around and outside of the city. Great rooftop terrace in a noise-free area of Varanasi. Rooms range from free to ₹500 (double room) per day.
- International Travellers' Hostel (ITH Varanasi), C-32/4, Vidyapeeth Road (5-min walk from Varanasi Junction station, opposite Gate #2 of Vidyapeeth University), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: noon, check-out: 11:00. A hostel run out of an ancestral family house. The owner lives in Germany and his staff manage the hostel. There are mixed and female dormitories available with 4-5 beds each. There is a cottage-style superior room with en-suite bathroom for the ones with a slightly higher budget, and a tent for the ones on extremely tight budget. Breakfast inclusive prices can be booked online. The rooms are cosy and silent with comfortable beds. The hostel also features a bistro that serves delicious vegetarian and vegan meals. Their menu also includes authentic Italian coffee. There are several pleasant common areas, including a garden and a first-floor terrace. It's a great place to be away from the chaos of Varanasi. Very good to socialise, and for celebrating Indian festivals, especially Holi. Amenities include fast Wi-Fi, TV, Bluetooth speakers, DVDs, books, card & board games, PC, lockers, washing machine, hair dryers, communal kitchen and purified drinking water. Free vegan toiletries' kit is provided with private rooms and vegan soap bar with other rooms. They also have dual power back-up (battery inverter and power generator), which can be very helpful during power outages in the scorching summers. Dorm beds: ₹499 / ₹599; Tent: ₹999; Private rooms: ₹1,599 / ₹2,249 / ₹2,599.
- Ram Bhawan / Kautilya Society Residence (कौटिल्य संघ), D-20/21 Munshi Ghat (on the banks of the River Ganga), ☏ , , firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the study centre 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 get 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: noon, check-out: 11AM. Bright, airy, super modern hostel. Location in an alleyway makes it quieter. In a large, 3-floor house. Affordable organised 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 air-con, 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 others. 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), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-out: 10AM. A friendly hostel 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), ☏ , 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, D7/21, Sakarkand Gali (between Man Mandeer Ghat and Dasaswamedh Ghat), ☏ . Some rooms have shared bathroom; more expensive rooms have air-con and TV. All rooms are clean, with clean sheets and towel. The rooftop restaurant offers evening concerts every night. Double: ₹840 (without air-con), ₹1,300 (with air-con).
- Golden Lodge, D. 8/35, Kalika Gali, Godowlia (Near Manikarnika Ghat), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: noon. Tucked away in the alleyways, friendly staff. Restaurant on site. Single w/shared bath: ₹350; Double w/shared bath: ₹400; double that for air-con, 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 neighbourhood, near Assi Ghat), ☏ , email@example.com. 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 guests are long term. ₹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: ₹350 (shared bathroom outside), ₹850 (bathroom attached); double: ₹1250. Breakfast included..
- Maa Vaishno Guest House (माँ वैशो गेस्ट हाउस), B5/188 Shivala Ghat (Shivala Ghat, just off Hanuman Ghat), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 24 hr, check-out: 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), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 13:00, check-out: noon. Rooftop view of the Ganges. Highly recommended. From ₹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 (with air-con): 600-950.
- Monu Family Paying Guest House, D8/4 Kalika Gali (Near Golden Temple), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 13:00, check-out: 11:00. Music, cookery and language courses are available. Single: ₹500; Double: ₹900 (plus ₹500 for air-con).
- Radiant YMCA Tourist Hostel (वायएमसीए हॉस्टल), Mahmoorganj Road, Sampoornanand Nagar Colony (3 km east of the main ghat), ☏ , . Opened in 1998. Restaurant with large menu. No 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). Check-out: 11:00. Very clean and quiet. Great river views. Free wifi. Recommended. ₹900 (off season), ₹1,300 (in season).
- Shiva Kashi Guest House, D22/4 Chausatti Ghat (at Raja Ghat), ☏ . Check-out: 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), ☏ , , email@example.com. 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 air-con. Rooftop restaurant. Double (with air-con): ₹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 06:00. Double: ₹500.
- Vishnu Rest House, Pandey Ghat, ☏ . A hotel spanned over a 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: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: noon. Single: ₹2,500-3,750; Double: ₹3,000-5,500.
- Gautam Hotel, C-26/35D, Lahurabir, Ramkatora Crossing, ☏ . Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. 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), ☏ , , email@example.com. Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. US$43.
- 2 Taj Ganges, Nadesar Palace Grounds, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. 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. Pets are not allowed. From ₹5,000 in the low season, ₹6,500 in the high season.
- 3 Taj Nadesar Palace, Nadesar Palace Grounds, ☏ . 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.
- 4 A Palace on the River, Rashmi Guest House, D, 16/28-A (on Dasaswamedh Ghat), ☏ . Great views and location. From ₹7,000.
- 5 Radisson Hotel Varanasi, The Mall, Cantonment, ☏ . From ₹3,200 in the low season, ₹5,500 in the high season.
- 6 Ramada Plaza JHV, The Mall Cantonment, ☏ .
- 7 Hotel Surya, S. 20/51 A-5 The Mall Road Nepali Kothi, ☏ .
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.
Though generally well behaved, packs of stray dogs can become aggressive at night
Rickshaw and taxi scams
Rickshaw and 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 respectable 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 commission 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 scam. Either tell him you have no money or that you don't feel comfortable donating.
Varanasi is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Many websites show air quality readings taken in the early morning, when pollution is at its lowest. Hourly air quality data is available here . Keep an eye on air quality data and consider wearing a (certified) mask, especially if you are spending an extended period of time in the city.
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 or sandals at every point, so wear flip-flops which are 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 journey.
- Delhi - The capital can be reached via a 13-hour train journey.
- 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 more that 1,000-year-old Hindu and Jain temples.
- Lucknow - known for its good food, a good place to stop for a day on the way to Delhi.
- Nepal - buses 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/air-con buses to Kathmandu or Pokhara. Avoid these services (especially the operator Paul Travels) because they are not tourist buses rather are 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 (ghat area), over 1 hour by tuk-tuk (₹300 one way - ₹500 return, including waiting time)