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Things to Do in Varanasi

Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and one of India’s holiest pilgrimage sites, sits on the banks of the Ganges River in the state of Utter Pradesh 474 miles (765 kilometers) from New Delhi. Believed to be the abode of the god Shiva, Hindu pilgrims from all corners of India come here to find purification in the waters of the holy river and to cremate their dead in hopes of releasing them from the cycle of reincarnation. 

The lifeblood of Varanasi is the Ganges, lined by busy ghats where mundane tasks, like washing laundry and bathing, take place alongside sacred ceremonies. Colorful temples and shrines, flower markets and holy men selling their services along the river lend Varanasi an almost mystical feeling -- it’s the exotic India many travelers imagine before ever stepping foot in the country.

To get a sense of the place, take a boat ride down the Ganges River at dawn or sunset, where you’ll pass ancient temples sinking into the water, priests performing fire rituals and Hindu pilgrims setting candles afloat on the water’s surface as an offering to the gods.
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Dashashwamedh Ghat
110 Tours and Activities

Dasaswamedh Ghat is one of the busiest, oldest, and most important ghats in Varanasi. It's the site of a number of Hindu temples and shrines and a place where pilgrims come from all over the world to perform religious ceremonies and rituals. Many devotees visit the ghat at sunrise to pay homage to Lord Shiva and bath in the holy waters of the Ganges, while evening aarti, which see thousands of floating lamps immersed in the river, attracts huge crowds from far and wide.

Literally translated, Dasaswamedh means ‘the ghat of 10 sacrificed horses.’ According to Hindu mythology, ten horses were sacrificed by Lord Brahma to allow Shiva to return from a period of banishment. Despite its age, Dasaswamedh Ghat is attractive, colorful, and relatively clean, and even non-devotees are attracted by its atmosphere, daily rituals, and beautiful riverfront views.

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Varanasi Ghats (Banaras Ghats)
53 Tours and Activities

Varanasi’s ghats (Banaras Ghats) descend from the city down the banks and into the waters of the holy River Ganges. There are almost 100 individual ghats lining the river’s edge in this region, their steep steps making access to the river possible during both the wet and dry seasons. The oldest and most famous ghats in the area are Dashashwamedh, Manikarnika, and Harishchandra. Others include Assi Ghat, Scindia Ghat, Lalita Ghat, and Kedar Ghat.

As the religious capital of India among Hindus, Varanasi sees pilgrims and other visitors drawn to the Banaras Ghats in their droves. Visitors can absorb the atmosphere by taking a sunrise boat-ride along the river, while marveling at the colorful temples and religious activities lining the water’s edge.

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Dhamek Stupa
21 Tours and Activities

The Dhammek Stupa is a giant cylindrical Buddhist stupa situated in Sarnath, near Varanasi. This huge structure was built on the site where the Buddha was said to have given his first sermon to his disciples after attaining enlightenment. As such, it is one of the most important and revered sites for Buddhist pilgrims within India. The Dhamek Stupa was constructed in 500 CE to replace an earlier structure, and has been enlarged on several occasions over the years. It has been constructed from a mixture of stone and brick, and measures 28 meters in diameter at its base and almost 44 meters in height. The stupa sits within beautifully manicured gardens, providing the ideal place for pilgrims and visitors to enjoy their surroundings and reflect on the life of the Buddha. The Dhamek Stupa’s immediate vicinity also features a number of half-ruined monasteries and the remains of much smaller stupas.

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Chaukhandi Stupa
13 Tours and Activities

The Chaukhandi Stupa is an important Buddhist stupa originally built as a terraced temple to mark the place where the Buddha and his first disciples met when traveling from Bodhgaya to Sarnath. Built during the Gupta period (4th-6th centuries), the stupa’s octagonal top tower was said to be added much later by Govardhan, the son of Raja Todarmal, in 1588 during the Mughal era. He built the additional tower to commemorate the visit of Humayun, the great Mughal ruler. The stupa stands amid beautifully maintained gardens and serves as the gateway to the Buddhist city of Sarnath. It is just a short walk from the structure to the Sarnath Museum nearby, and also close to the other sites and attractions of Sarnath.

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