If you are on a spiritual quest, you should certainly consider visiting Varanasi, one of the holiest cities in Hinduism, located in the central part of the Ganges valley in North India. Apart from the spiritual experience, Varanes – or Benares, as traditionally known in India, can offer you plenty quintessential tourist activities such as Sunrise boat tour, walking along the “ghats” (steps leading down to the river), visiting flower market, shopping at Godaulia Road, going on a rickshaw tour through the busy narrow streets, tasting authentic Indian food and visiting Benares Hindu university and campus.
Possibly the world’s oldest inhabited city, Varanasi is known as the city of Lord Shiva, the god of creation and destruction. People come here to cleanse away their sins, cremate their loved ones and even die here with hopes of liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. The Ganges river is believed to be holy and people come to Varanasi to swim, pray, perform religious rituals.
How Does Varanasi Look at Night?
Even though the city looks hectic and overwhelming during the day time, it seems that the magic begins when the sun goes down. In the evening, mystical rituals take place along the many riverside ghats and attract not only Hindu pilgrims but tourists as well.
If you are up for more spectacular events, every year in November, there is the Dev Deepavali festival that falls on the full moon of the Hindu month of Kartika. It is believed that the gods come to earth to bathe in the Ganges River on this day, and the ghats are decorated with rows of flowers and rows lamps.
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If viewed from the boat, the lamp glow creates an unforgettable display accompanied by live classical music and traditional dance. If you want to experience Varanasi on a whole different level, the best time to take this boat tour is at dusk when the sun casts a heavenly glow all over the city.
Dusk is also a perfect time to experience the Evening Aarti Ceremony. This ceremony offers visitors a chance to admire the holy rituals performed by Hindu priests in the honor of Mother Ganga. In perfect accord, they chant in the dazzling light of brass lamps, surrounded with fragrant aromas from incense sticks. You can’t really experience Varanasi without witnessing this magnificent ceremony.
Another night time experience is certainly exploring the famous temples such as Kashi Vishwanath Temple, also known as the Golden Temple, Durga Temple and Bharat Mata Temple. On the other hand, Tulsi Manas Mandir Temple should be visited during the day time since its walls are covered with scripture and verses of Ram Charitra Manas. There is also a room that displays scenes from the Ramayana which is a must-see once you visit this magnificent temple.
The best thing about Varanasi at night is that you can always embark on a solo exploration tour and end up on a rooftop overlooking this magnificent city after the rush subsides. In case you decide to get a taste of Varanasi in this way, make sure you stay away from some potentially less tourist-friendly areas, and these primarily involve Banaras ki Galiyan (Gali), Ghat us Paar, and Manikarnika Ghat.
Generally speaking, Varanasi is a safe place to be but nighttime calls for some extra precaution no matter where you are. As long as you use common sense, the chances are you will experience an unforgettable adventure.
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Nightlife in Varanasi
When it comes to nightlife, there is no such thing as nightclub culture here as Varanasi is primarily a holy city. You should also be aware that alcohol is not permitted around the ghats and temples, however, you can find some rooftop restaurants that discreetly serve beer to foreign travelers. Bars are available only in luxury hotels, far from the ghats although you can find some of them around the city if you ask around and chat with the locals. The bars that work usually close around 11 pm so you can’t expect to hang around until early morning hours.
Once you are done exploring the temples, ghats and shopping in the streets of Varanasi, our recommendation is to take a break and visit Assi Ghat where you can relax and enjoy dining in the authentic Indian restaurants that serve quality ethically-made products. There you can try traditional fruit-flavored lassi yogurt drinks and “paan”, as well as mithai and laddoos – traditional Indian desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Even though some would advise you to avoid trying it in Varanasi, street food is an essential part of Indian culture and cuisine. It is said that hot and crispy kachoris and samosas from Varanasi are some of the best in the whole country. Choora Matar, Dahi Chutney Gol Gappe, and Baati Chokha will treat your palates with the perfect mixture of sweet, sour and spicy flavors. The dishes are mainly plant and spices-based, including lentils, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and seeds.
If you are fortunate enough to visit Varanasi and immerse yourself in its culture and spirituality, you will appreciate the experience that this mystical 3000-year old city has to offer for a lifetime. Although you won’t often find in the most popular Indian itineraries, you can rest assured that the feeling this city instills is rarely found elsewhere. Due to its sanctity and cultural importance, you won’t find many wild-partying locations around the city but the special atmosphere surely makes up for that.