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Varanasi
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The Ghats : The Ghats at Varanasi are plenty and constitute the most important feature of this holy city. There are almost 100 ghats in Varanasi and all of them are forever busy with pilgrims taking a dip, meditating or simply soaking in the splendid views. Among the most important ghat is Dasaswamedh Ghat, which derives its name from the legend that ten horses were sacrificed here by Brahma. It is one of the oldest ghats and the best to catch splendid views of the flowing river and sadhus meditating on its banks. Especially interesting is the evening aarti, when thousands of diyas (lighted lamps) are set afloat on the river from this ghat. Manikarnika Ghat is the main cremation ground of the city, hence one of the most sacred. It is believed that a cremation here grants an entry to heaven and frees one of the cycles of life and death. This ghat has a sacred well called Manikarnik Kund, which is believed to have been created by Vishnu during the creation of earth. There is also a shrine dedicated to Vishnu and a Tarakeshvara lingam, making it one of the busiest ghats. Remember that photography is strictly prohibited here and you must maintain absolute silence. The Tulsi Ghat is considered important for the fact that the great Hindu poet Tulsidas spent his last days here. His house, samadhi, pillow and the idol of Hanuman he worshipped have been preserved here. This ghat is also believed to be the site of the first Ramlila, hence a temple dedicated to Lord Rama has been erected here. The waters flowing through this ghat are supposed to have curative powers from diseases including leprosy. The Assi Ghat is located at the confluence of the Ganges and Assi River and is known for the shivalingam it houses under a peepal tree. Another important lingam is the Asisangameshwar Lingam sited in a small marble temple near the ghat. Pilgrims are required to take a bath at this ghat before proceeding to pray here. The Kedar Ghat is one of the brightly painted ghats known as the site for devotees taking a dip early morning. It is also home to a Shiva temple and a Parvati Kund whose waters have healing powers. Extremely popular with Jains is the Bachraj Ghat, which houses three Jain temples near the river bank. The Rana Ghat has several cafés and is an important centre for yoga. Similar to the Manikarnika Ghat, Harishchandra Ghat is also a cremation ghat, owing its origin to King Harish Chandra, who once worked here to epitomize truth and charity. Similar to its predecessor, a cremation here is also said to grant salvation. The Hanuman Ghat is famous for the Hanuman Temple believed to have been established here by Sage Tulsidas. Shivala Ghat is known as one of the important bathing points. It is home to a 19th century mansion, a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and the spiritual centre Brahmendra Math. Birthplace of Agni, the Scindia Ghat is known for its almost submerged Shiva Temple and the several important temples located above it and the Bhonsale Ghat has red sandstone houses and terraced hostels. Built by the king of Jaipur, the Man Mandir Ghat is home to an 18th century ornate observatory, a stone balcony and the lingam of Someshwar (Moon God). The Lalita Ghat is home to the wooden Ganga Keshava Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It also houses an image of Pasupateshwar, a manifestation of Lord Shiva. The Mansarovar Ghat, deriving its name from Lake Mansarovar at the foot of Kailash Mountains, was another construction by the King of Jaipur and houses a stone balcony and a small observatory. Panchganga Ghat is one of the most sacred ghats and bathing points and is the site of the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Kirana and Dhupapa. Kashi Vishwanath Temple: Located on the Western Bank of Ganges, this is one of the most famous temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, worshipped as Vishwanatha. Its 15.5 mt high gold-plated vimana has earned it the name Golden Temple. The temple complex is made of several smaller shrines that line the Vishwanatha Gali. The main linga is black in colour and housed within a smaller shrine in a silver square. Smaller shrines dedicated to Mahakala, Dhandapani, Avimukteshwara, Vishnu, Vinayaka, Sanishwara, Virupaksha and Virupaksh Gauri are also present within the complex. You’d also find a Nandi Bull facing what was once the original shrine. Enter the temple well in time to view the offerings of milk, Ganga water, lotus flowers and garlands made by devotees. Open from: 5.30 am-12.00 noon; 4.00 pm-8.00 pm Note – Cellphones, handbags and camera are strictly prohibited within the temple complex Bharat Mata Temple : This is the only temple dedicated to Mother India in Varanasi and was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi. The main idol is built in marble and depicts an undivided India, complete with mountains, plains and oceans. The highlight of this temple is the absence of the usual gods and goddesses and instead housing a map of India in marble. Durga Temple : Peculiarly known as the Monkey Temple, this 18th century temple is red in colour and sports a multi-layered spire. The idol within is believed to have appeared on its own, hence held in great reverence. The profusion of monkeys in the temple precincts grants it the name Monkey Temple. This temple is the site of great activity during Navratri. Non-Hindus can enter the courtyard but not the inner sanctum. Tulsi Manas Temple : Dedicated to Lord Rama, the Tulsi Manas Temple is located close to the Durga Temple. This white marble construction is believed to be the spot where Tulsidas wrote the epic Ramcharitamanas. In fact the walls of the temple are inscribed with verses and scenes from this epic. Open from: 6.30 am-11.00 am; 3.00 pm-9.00 pm Sankat Mochan Temple : Located near the Benaras Hindu University, this temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman as the reliever of all sufferings. This temple is especially busy on Tuesdays when thousands of devotees line up to offer prayers to the lord. Pilgrims smear their foreheads with vermilions and offer the lord his favourite food of laddoos. Bharat Kala Bhavan : Located inside the BHU campus, this museum is a treasure house of paintings dating to the Mughals, varieties of textiles and Hindu and Buddhist figurines. A particularly popular sculpture is of Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan Mountain – depicted by a man standing on one leg and listinf a mass of stone above with one hand. The museum is divided into several sections, including Mahamana Malaviya Gallery, Nicholas Roerich Gallery, Chhavi Gallery, Sculpture Gallery, Nidhi Gallery and Decorative Art Gallery. Open from : 11.00 am-4.30 pm Jantar Mantar : Another creation of Maharaja Jaisingh of Jaipur, this observatory is similar to the ones in Delhi and Jaipur. The Jantar Mantar at Varanasi has several instruments made of stone, which were used to record the motion, speed and behaviour of stars and planets and to study such accurate astronomy that can still be used today. Benaras Hindu University : One of the oldest educational centers in India, the Benaras Hindu University was built in 1917, as a centre for the study of humanities, social sciences, science, technology, medicine, fine arts and performing arts. Spread over a vast expanse of landscaped gardens, it houses a temple, an airstrip and beautifully designed buildings. Popular centres include a medical college, an engineering institute, a hospital and a sports complex. The highlight of this university is the fact that not only Indians, but a large number of foreign students who attend the university. Ramnagar Fort : Built in the 18th century, this was once the ancestral home of the former Maharaja of Varanasi. Located south of the city, the fort is built in typical red sandstone and houses within a temple dedicated to Ved Vyasa and a museum within the grounds. An interesting array of ornate palanquins, gold-plated howdahs, vintage cars, ivory artifacts, antique clocks and weapons are some of the artifacts on display in the museum. Also present inside is a Durga Temple and a Hanuman Temple. Check out the huge clock within the fort – it displays year, month, week, day and astronomical calculations about the sun, moon and the stars! Yoga : Varanasi has always been a great centre of ayurveda and yoga and several such centres imparting education on these have been established here. Among the better known centres are BHU, Man Mandir Ghat, Kashi Yoga Sangh at Sankat Mochal Temple and International Yoga & meditation Centre at Nagawa. Sarnath : This is one of the closest excursions from Varanasi, known as the place where Buddha delivered his first sermon. Sarnath is one of the most revered Buddhist centres and the presence of several Buddhist monuments establishes the fact. The Sarnath Museum houses an interesting collection of Buddhist artifacts, including a statue of Buddha seated with his eyes cloed in meditation and a halo around his head. Another important structure is the Ashokan Pillar with its four lions, an inverted lotus and 24 spoked Dharma Wheels with four animals. The Mulagandhakuti Vihar is the main temple in Sarnath, said to be the place where Buddha used to stay during his visits. Fine paintings done by a Japanese artist adorn this temple’s walls. The Dhamekh Stupa is the most important structure here, deriving siginifance from the fact that Buddha delivered his first sermon here. Other significant stupas are Dharmrajika Stupa and Chaukhandi Stupa.