Varanasi is one of the oldest and consistently inhabited cities in the world, as well as the holiest of the seven sacred cities in both Hinduism and Jainism. Needless to say Varanasi is of paramount importance to most of India’s population and is a particularly auspicious place to die, attracting millions each year. Perched on the banks of the sacred river Ganges, Varanasi takes no prisoners and when you arrive you are instantly bombarded by one of India’s most colourful, chaotic and indiscreet cities. We rarely recommended that you start your trip in Varanasi, but once you have acclimatised, this could be one of the highlights of your trip.
The ghats are generally where the most spectacular and interesting rituals occur. These are embankments made of steps of stone slabs that trace along the river’s banks; it’s here where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions (ceremonial act of washing parts of the body). We think the best way to appreciate and enjoy the spectacles that unfold daily is by boat, in the morning or evening. Evening boat rides offer the opportunity to experience the most personal and intimate rituals of life and death, with cremations taking place in certain locations. If you are feeling brave, an independent morning walk along the ghats is also recommended. Varanasi is less than a two-hour flight from Delhi, and a short flight from Khajuraho, which means it easily combines with many destinations in northern India.