Here’s our budget travel guide to one of the most visited places in India by tourists from abroad. A perfect place to experience spirituality from close Varanasi is also a food lover’s paradise.
Varanasi, also known as Benaras, Banaras or Kashi, a city on the bank of the holy river Ganges in the state of Uttar Pradesh is one of the oldest inhabited areas in the world and the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism. Very few cities are as colorful and soulful as this city.
Apart from being one of the holiest cities for Hindus, Banaras also plays an important role in the development of Buddhism and Jainism. It is believed that Gautam Buddha came to Sarnath (located 10kms north-east in Varanasi) to preach Buddhism. Thousands of pilgrims come to the city of Ghats every day to wash away sins in the sacred water of River Ganges or to cremate their loved ones. As per popular belief, dieing in this city is considered auspicious as it offers Moksha(free from the cycle of rebirth). An educational and musical centre, many eminent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians live or have lived in the city and it was the place where the famous Benaras Gharana form of Hindustani classical music was developed. One of Asia’s largest residential universities, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) is in Varanasi.
From the narrow lanes packed with quaint shops selling delicious street foods, the enchanting Ganga Aarati at Dashashwamedh Ghat or the famous Benarasi Paan and watching sunrise from a boat, this magical city has so much to offer to its visitors, that it will instantly become a favorite destination of all.
Here’s more info about Varanasi:
The best time to visit Varanasi is during the winter (October to February) when the temperature is pretty cold and one can roam around without getting tired. Summers (April to June) are very hot and dry and best to be avoided. February to early March is best time for photography when fog will not affect the visibility.
Varanasi has direct train connections from major cities in India. From New Delhi and Howrah (Kolkata), it takes 14 hours on an average while from Mumbai and Chennai the route is around 28 hours and 40 hours respectively.
Varanasi is well connected by direct flights to the major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Jaipur. Foreign tourists can take a connecting flight from one of these cities. The airport also serves direct connecting flights from popular tourist destinations Agra and Khajuraho.
Varanasi is connected with National Highway 19 (NH 19), earlier NH 2 (Delhi-Kolkata Road) and NH 44 that connects Kanyakumari and Varanasi and is the longest road in India.
Tourist Visa on Arrival (T-VoA) enabled with Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) is available to Foreign Tourists coming to Varanasi. You can apply for a visa online and get the ‘Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA)’. The following are the criterion for eligibility to avail this facility.
More info here https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.htm
Being one of the most visited cities by tourists from abroad, Varanasi has host of luxury as well as budget accommodation options to choose from. While most of the things to do here are within walking distance from Dasaswamedh Ghat or Assi Ghat, however, the hotels fare low on cleanliness. Locations like Bhelupur are quieter and have good restaurants and cafes nearby.
We’ve listed the best places to stay in Varanasi considering the location, budget and amenities, commuting from one of these places for sightseeing will save your time, energy and budget.
DAY 1 – Reach Varanasi and Watch Evening Aarati
11:00 am – Check-in at Zostel Varanasi or accommodation you’ve booked (Rs. 200/ $3 in auto/tuk-tuk or Ola Cabs)
– Refresh yourself and have lunch (from nearby food stalls or order online) – (Rs. 200/ $3)
4:00 pm – Walk towards Godowlia more or take a rickshaw (Rs. 10/ $ 0.15)
– Reach Dashaswamedh Ghat by 4:30 pm and accommodate yourself closer to the Aarati stage for the perfect photo shots.
Boatmen will approach you for seats on the boat, try avoiding them as you’ll have the front view but rather seated further.
8:00 pm – Reach Kashi Chat and try the various chat items. Read the Varanasi food guide for more details. (Rs. 260/ $4)
– Sign-off your day with a light dinner (Rs. 150/$2.5)
DAY 2 – Morning Boat Ride and Sightseeing
5:45 am – Walk to the nearest Ghat and hire a private boat (Rs. 400/$6.2 per person)
– Ride along the many ghats. A perfect time for photographers when the ghats are bustling with activites with the sunrise at the backdrop.
8:00 am – Try kachori, aloo sabzi and jalebi at a local food stall (Rs. 70/$1.2)
9:00 am – Head towards Sarnath by hiring an auto or booking an app Cab (recommended) (Rs. 200/$3)
1:00 pm – Lunch at Sarnath. You could try Vaishali Restaurant which is nearby. (Rs. 250/$3.8)
2:00 pm – Reach Ramnagar Fort by an auto or Ola Cab (recommended). This is on the other side of the river (Rs. 200/$3)
– The museum has quite a good collection of arms and artillery. Museum charges are Rs. 50/$0.80
You must try the rabri lassi outside the fort gate.
– Take a boat ride back to Dashaswamedh ghat or book an auto or app cab. (Rs. 400 or 160/ $6.2 or $2.5). Boat ride will provide you an amazing view of the fort during sunset.
8:30 pm – Visit Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Around this time, it will be less crowded. The temple closes by 11 pm.
10:00 pm – Dinner and back (Rs. 250/ $3.8)
DAY 3 – Food Walk
7:00 am – Kachori at The Ram Bhandar (Rs. 50/$0.8)
– Malai/milk nearby (Rs. 30/$0.5)
– Lassi at Blue Lassi Shop (average Rs. 90/$1.5 for one lassi)
– Lunch at Baati Chokha Restaurant (Rs. 300/$4.6)
– Paan at Keshav Tambul Bhandar (Rs. 50/$0.8)
5:00 pm – Check-out at hostel and Reach Varanasi Jn. Station (Rs. 200/ $3 in auto/tuk-tuk or Ola Cab)
Accomodation – Rs. 900/$16 (2 nights per bed)
Train return fare – Rs. 2200/$40 (approx. in 3AC)
Food and transfers – Rs. 2400/$40 (approx.)
Total – Rs. 5500/$85
1. Ask saadhus for their permission before clicking them.
2. Experiment with local street food but be careful where and what you choose to eat.
3. Make sure you don’t have an overdose of Bhang Lassi or Thandai.
3. You must take an early morning boat ride during sunrise.
4. Keep your valuables safe, especially in the crowd and near the railway stations.
5. Kashi Viswanath temple is not open to foreigners, make sure you check with the authorities once.