Varanasi

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Varanasi Travel Guide

Tonsured heads, chillum-smoking sadhus, the chanting of mantras and cremation grounds where the fire never dies down. This is Varanasi - the holiest of Indian cities and one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in the country. Also known as Kashi or the city of light, the abode of Lord Shiva where, according to Hindu religious legends, the first rays of light fell after creation. It is here, in Varanasi, that the Hindu world converges to partake in an endless cycle of birth and death, life and salvation. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Varanasi is paralleled only by Damascus in terms of antiquity.

Many people refer to Varanasi as Benares, an anglicized corruption of its ancient name. Attracting over a million pilgrims every year, the city lives and breathes traditional Hindu religion and culture. Yet it has evolved through the amalgamation of the sacred and profane, the spiritual and the commercial. This is a city that buzzes with activity; a city that is not just a dead mound of history.

What Varanasi offers is life itself, in myriad hues like the changing face of its ghats (river landings) with shifting rays of light. The numerous ghats along the Ganga, the narrow alleys and streets with a mixture of rickshaws, cycles, auto rickshaws, pedestrians and even cattle and the religious shrines all form a bizarre circus. The devout come to die here, but it is also an amazingly lively place. Famed for its religious fervour as much as its thugs (tricksters), Varanasi is also the place that has evoked some of the most creative processes in philosophy, religion, the arts and craftsmanship.

Beware of pick pockets and touts posing as sadhus (priest) offering to perform a simple ceremony for you and then demanding lots of money in exchange.


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