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Varanasi

India

1/5 Evening on the ghats, Varanasi
Evening on the ghats, Varanasi
2/5 Taking a dip in the holy Ganges, Varanasi
Taking a dip in the holy Ganges, Varanasi
3/5 Early morning boat ride on the Ganges, Varanasi
Early morning boat ride on the Ganges, Varanasi
4/5 Holy cow, Varanasi
Holy cow, Varanasi
5/5 The burning ghats, Varanasi
The burning ghats, Varanasi

With its thousands of devotees, burning funeral pyres and ceremonial chanting, Varanasi on the holy river Ganges is India at its most spiritual, colourful and chaotic best

With its thousands of devotees, burning funeral pyres and ceremonial chanting, Varanasi on the holy river Ganges is India at its most spiritual, colourful and chaotic best.  It’s not for the faint-hearted but it is an utterly absorbing city to visit.

One of the oldest living cities in the world Varanasi’s prominence in Hindu mythology is virtually unrivalled. For the devout Hindu it is a special pilgrimage centre and it is considered especially auspicious to die here, ensuring an instant route to heaven. Life revolves around the Ganges. Before dawn pilgrims make their way barefott to the steps along the river bank, or ghats, to immerse themselves in the holy waters at sunrise to be cleansed of their sufferings and wash away their sins.

The ghats are lined by 18th and 19th century pavilions and palaces, temples and terraces where Brahmin priests offer puja, people practice meditation and yoga and bodies are burned on huge wooden funeral pyres. One of the best ways to appreciate the river’s spirituality is from a small boat, watching as the ghats come to life in early morning, and returning to them in the evening when the air is thick with the scent of incense and flaming lights dance on the water as devotees make offerings to the Ganga during the Aarti ceremony. 

If you're interested in more cultural immersion then you should head to Sarnath, about 13km north-east of Varanasi. Sarnath the the site of the deer park where Buddha gave his first teaching after gaining enlightenment and it is now a pilgrimage centre. Within the deer park complex is the large Dhamekha Stupa, constructed by Emperor Ashoka in 249 BCE, and several other later Buddhist structures.

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A few of our favourite places to stay:

Entrance lobby, Taj Gateway Ganges

Gateway Hotel Ganges

On first sight this modern multi-storey hotel doesn’t

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The central courtyard, Suryauday

Suryauday Haveli

Situated on Shvala Ghats you can’t get any closer to life

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Entrance hall, Taj Nadesar Palace

Nadesar Palace

Situated in beautiful gardens and mango orchards, Nadesar

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View other places to stay in Varanasi

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Who to talk to

Andrea Hulme

Andrea Hulme’s travel experiences could fill a small novel; from a bit-part in a Tamil movie, to leading expeditions in Kyrgyzstan and negotiating landslides along the Karakoram highway.

How we can help you

At Natural High, we've had long experience putting together trips in Africa that really work. Whether it's intimate bushcamps in out of the way places, or a private lodge in one of Africa's top-billing wildlife areas, light mobile camping or remote island escapes, we know there is a lot to choose from. We're absolutely confident that we can recommend the right places for you.

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