India—the crown jewel of the Eastern world. Home to the majestic Taj Mahal Palace and the buzzing hub of New Delhi, it’s no wonder this land of vast plains, tropical jungles, pristine beaches, and urban cities is a popular destination for many travellers. But for a truly authentic and unforgettable experience, Varanasi is one of the best destinations. As one of the holy cities in India located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, this place is overflowing with spirituality, history, beauty, and culture.
Varanasi is the spiritual capital of Hinduism, which is simultaneously a religion and an everyday way of life for the locals of this holy city. The significance comes from the river Ganges, which Hindus believe is a rare ‘tirtha’ where the spiritual and physical realms meet. Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called the Ganges “the river of India…beloved of her people…a symbol of India’s age-long culture and civilization.” Witnessing the rituals of the river is a powerful, fantastically overwhelming experience.
Varanasi is perhaps the greatest location of the Hindu faith. Every devout Hindu hopes to visit the river at least once in their life. The journey and process is an intense one. Many Hindu women from all over Southern India will donate their entire head of hair as an offering to the gods. They will bathe in the five great ghats (embankment steps) along the river. They start at Assi, then Dashashwamedh, Adi Keshav (Varuna-sangam), Panchganga and, finally, Manikarnika ghat. This last one is a burning ghat where Hindus are cremated after death. The entire lives of millions of people are centered around this river.
At the river, there are always thousands of pilgrims from the city spanning all walks of life. Mothers and scampering children, holy men and businesspeople, Brahmin grandees, regular folks, and wide-eyed visitors from all over India and the world. Visitors who travel with Micato can experience this river at sunrise from a custom boat decorated in Indian flowers and with a local flutist providing classical background music during the ride. Once on the river, they light diya lamps made of leaves with flowers and float them on the river from the boats.
There are many marvelous festivals associated with the Hindu faith and other Indian cultures, but no one celebrates like the people of Varanasi. The Dev Deepavali (“the Diwali of the Gods” or “Festival of Lights of the Gods”) is the festival of Kartik Poornima celebrated every year in the sacred city of Varanasi. This holiday celebrates the night when Lord Shiva returned after defeating three demons. All the other gods welcomed him by lighting lamps on the banks of the Ganges. Hindus believe all the Gods descend to Varanasi to bathe in the Ganges River during the festival.
On this auspicious day, thousands of devotees come together to take a dip in the holy Ganges. Locals and guests alike love to offer their prayers in the form of lighting diyas and passing on flowers to the Ganges in memory of the loved ones they lost. Micato guests can join them in this act of offering lit-up lamps called the Ganga Aarti ceremony. As the sun goes down, every single step of the ghats glitters with thousands of diyas. It’s like the stars themselves have come down from the heavens to light up the celestial city.
Archeologists and historians alike agree that Varanasi is the most continuously inhabited city on earth. Mark Twain called it “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend.” It was the capital of a Kashi kingdom that existed over 2,500 years ago.
Not only is this city a historic wonder, but a national symbol of independence. In 1781, the forces of Raja Chait Singh of Banaras defeated the oppressive forces of British Governor General Warren Hastings at the Chait Singh Ghat in an act of rebellion. The city is also the birthplace of Rani Lakshmibai, one of the leaders of the First War of Indian Independence.
Sarnath is an extremely significant place for Buddhists. It is here that Buddah revealed to the world in the fifth century BCE that he had finally achieved what he had set out for: enlightenment. Visitors can chat with Buddhist monks from all over East Asia and hear how they saved money for years to make this spiritual journey. With Micato, you’ll get a deeper, spiritual experience of Sarnath than any touristic stop could give you.
If guests are interested, Micato can facilitate an introduction to a Nepalese Buddhist painter who paints Thangka paintings in a small nondescript corner of the site. Watching him work out his faith in art is a powerful thing to witness.
Varanasi is truly the heart of India, especially in its cultural diversity. It is an amalgamation of archaeology, traditions, natural features, religious places, various religions, sculptures, and history. Varanasi has long been home to master craftsmen famous for creating unique brocade and silk cloths thanks to a small Muslim community nestled in the predominantly Hindu city. The weavers of this old town come from generations of craftsmen, trained to make the best hand-made textiles in the world.
Varanasi has an old culture of fine art and literature. Great Indian writers, such as Kabir Das, have lived in this city. Art lovers and historians such as Rai Krishnadasa, musician Gopal Mishra, and numerous others have kept this city alive with their dedication to the spiritual aspects of fine arts. Varanasi also has great museums like the archaeological museum, the Bharat Kala Bhavan, and the Ramnagar Fort, preserving the legacy of the city’s people and customs for all to explore.
And, of course, one can’t overlook the mouth-watering street food of Varanasi. For festivals, locals prepare special dishes, including papad, dahi bade, gujiya, pani puri, and other dishes. Even though the trip includes many delightful dinners, if you see something you want to try, your Micato Travel Director will happily cover the cost. You can spontaneously try dani-jalebi for breakfast, eat samosa with green chatani, taste kachori and a variety of delicious sweets, or feast on a full plate of tasty chaat. In the summer season, sip on a cool glass of lassi.
Ready to take a slow, misty morning boat ride along the Ganges ghats? You can visit the Holy City on Micato Safaris’ Soul of India Trip and see everything for yourself. You can learn more about this journey to India by requesting a brochure from us or exploring our other luxury India tours.
Micato’s Travel Directors are Indian locals and amazing, respected individuals who know this country better than most. They personally know the people behind the scenes, they know what the chef is preparing at that great place on the corner each night, and have a sixth sense for anticipating guest needs. They have personal connections to the places we visit. All of these factors make traveling through India with Micato like traveling with an old friend. Journey with us to see India in its most sparkling and enchanting light.