Talking about holy places in Varanasi – there are more than 30 places which are recognized. However, there are fewer which are attended to by locals.
1. Benaras Hindu University or BHU
The first and foremost is Banaras Hindu University. Banaras Hindu University which was established in 1916 by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya – a great national leader; today presents entire city of Benaras itself! Standing just after the Golden Temple, it represents city as it a hub of hindu culture, ideology, thoughts thus representing India as a whole. Thriving over a sprawling area of 1300 acres in all, today it has 14 faculties with 124 departments, 4 inter- disciplinary centers along with 3 constitutional schools. Besides teaching Hindu scriptures Vedas; other subjects which have been included along with the changing times include humanities, technology, medicine, performing arts, fine arts and social science.
Facilities include flying club, printing press, fruit preservation centre, publication cell, big playgrounds, huge libraries for various subjects and many other. With more than 20,000 students, a significant number of its students come from foreign land including Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa and U.S.A.
This place has historical importance too as it has produced a significant number of freedom fighters too who fought for the independence of India. Today, it emphasizes on promoting leadership ideas and thinking process, spirit of integration of the world and cultivation of intellect.
A number of tourists apart from students come here to see the huge campus of Benaras hindu university and some even stay here to become a part of this place. This place has been visited like the former President of India – Dr. Abdul Kalam.
It’s open for tourists from Monday – Friday 10:00 a.m. – 05:00 p.m.
When in Varanasi, its not un-common to see people going to Sarnath on a half day tour. Sarnath is basically one of the sacred destinations of INDIA which is visited by thousands of tourists every day. Located just 13 kilometers from the main city, it’s the site where Lord Buddha gave his first sermons after attaining enlightenment. It is also one of the four main sites sanctioned by Buddha himself for pilgrimage.
Earlier it was called “Mrigadava” or Deer Park and Isiptana meaning a place where holy men fell from heaven to earth. The story goes like this that when Lord Buddha was born Gods came from heaven to announce his birth at this place to 500 people. All those people after hearing this achieved renunciation and disappeared into sky. Years after Buddha himself came here and preached his best 5 friends about Buddhism and delivered his first discourse called Dhammacakkhapavathana Sutta. His basic teachings here included Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold path.
In the later year Sarnath flourished as Buddhist teaching place as it got support from local Kings and merchants. However, in 13th century it was taken over by Turkish Muslims. Today it has been restored to a certain degree and one can see:
- Dhamekh Stupa which is 128 ft high and 93 in diameter
- Mulagandhuakuti Viharika which is 200 ft high with 100 niches containing Buddha carving all along.
- Wall Paintings in the Deer Park
- Ashokan Pillar
- Sarnath Archeological Museum with more than 300 images
- Bodhi Tree planted by Anagarika Dharmapala grown from a cutting Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya
Six national temples including Tibetan Temple and a Sri Lankan Temple. Inside there are fine paintings on the walls by Japanese artist Kosetsu Nosu which are worth time as well as watch.
This place being a little far away from the main city consumes half of your day. The route to this place is bit deserted so it’s a good idea to start early in the morning and be back by 05: 00 p.m. The place itself closes by 04:00 p.m.
3. Ramnagar Fort
Interestingly, very less people speak about Ramnagar Fort – except the very old people or who are well read. However, it is one of the most interesting place of Benaras. It has a good collection of vintage cars, royal chariots or palkis, armoury including ages old swords, ivory guns, books, jewel encrusted chairs and clocks. It also includes the Durga Maa temple and Chinnamastika temple which are a must visit if you are in the fort. Anyways it’s the best place to the sunset in entire city of Varanasi.
To reach the fort one has to take the shuttle service of boats which keep on floating from 08:00 a.m. – 05:00 p.m.. There is also a bridge which one can walk on to reach the fort, but boat ride is distinctive and worth a ride. Every year the present Maharajah of Benaras attends the month – long Ramlila Drama festival held in September – October as royal tradition.
4. River Excursions
River rides are inevitable and not – to be missed things of the city. It’s a quintessential experience which must not be left out. The early morning rides from 05:00 a.m. till 07:00 are the best. It’s a good idea to an hour long trip from south Dashashwamedh ghat to Harishchandr ghat – to n fro. While on a boat, light a lotus flower candle and see it floating majestically on the water of Ganges.
Hundreds of falcons pass by and some even dare to sit on your boat as you take the ride. It’s a defining moment which ought to be captured in lenses! The rides can be a bit pricey especially early in the morning and during evening Ganga aarti – but if you are coming here once in lifetime – its worth paying.
5. Chandraprabha Wildlife Sanctuary
It’s a good place to spend a day in, especially in Indian winters. It’s one place near Benaras filled with beautiful waterfalls and fauna attracting a number of tourists every year. Established in 1957, its main attraction is Asiatic lion, blackbucks, Indian gazelle, cheetal and nilgai. It takes about two hours to reach the sanctuary. Take a private cab to reach the place as its around 55 kms from the main city.
Almost everyone knows and talks Kaushambhi – the great centre for Buddhist ideology and heritage. Earlier it was known by the name Kosam. Today, in ruins it is a centre of attraction for its two pillars built by Mayura Emperor Ashoka. One can take 2 days tour to this place on their own interest. From a distance this place looks like Harrappan and Mohanjodro civilization sites. It takes around 11 hours to reach Kaushambi from main city of Benaras.