River Cruise

Every morning, the ghats at Varanasi are full of pilgrims who flock to the sacred river to take a dip in its holy water, a practice that is believed to absolve one from all sins. One of the most unforgettable experiences for any visitor to the holy city of Varanasi is rowing down the River Ganga during sunrise in one of the many skiffs that line the banks. Bucolic conch sounds pierce the first rays of the sun and welcome the visitor to the new day, presenting a panoramic view of the innumerable temples, old buildings, ashrams and palaces and the ghats along the river side. A similar experience can be enjoyed at dusk, when the evening aarti of River Ganga takes place. It’s mesmerizing to watch the grand ritual from the river, floating on a boat. While most of these boat rides last for about an hour, one can also book for longer durations.

Subah-e-Banaras

A unique way to experience Varanasi is by wandering around the city during the morning hours. Also called Subah-e-Banaras, which translates to the morning of Benaras, it is an experience that is not to be missed. The city’s old quarters wake up at pre-dawn, as temples are cleaned and priests start preparing for the morning rituals. The scene of the city transforms as the sun rises in a crimson-hued sky and devotees take dips in the holy waters of the Ganga river. The ringing of bells and the chanting of mantras echo through the city as the streets wake up to a new day. After the customary bath in the Ganges, the devotees flock to the wooden umbrellas of pandas to buy roli, chandan and rakshasutra, which are constituents of the ritual of prayers. With not too many vehicles on the roads or people, it’s an ideal to experience the aura and mysticism of the old world with the grandeur and royalty of the new all in one place with no strings attached and no filters needed.

Ganga Mahotsav

Ganga Mahotsav is a popular five-day-long festival that is celebrated every year on the banks of Ganga in Varanasi. The festival is organised by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department. Held at Sant Ravidas Ghat, the festival showcases a wide variety of traditional Indian arts, crafts, cuisines and culture at one single place. The last day of the festival is the most mesmerising as the banks of Ganga are lit with thousands of earthen lamps or diyas. The chanting of Vedic mantras adds to the surreal surroundings. This occasion is believed to be a welcome to the gods who are supposed to come down on earth and bathe in the Ganges at this time. It is also famous for sports tournaments like boating, kite flying, Ganga marathon, and wrestling.

Music Walks

Varanasi is a world-renowned centre for the Hindustani classical music. Traditional India musical instruments like the sarangi, tabla, shehnai, tanpura, sitar, sarod, santoor, and flute are an inextricable part of Varanasi's cultural fabric. Many great masters of Hindustani classical music like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Gopal Mishra, Ustad Bismillah Khan, and Girija Devi have been residents of Varanasi. The guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition) still thrives in Varanasi. A five-day festival of dhrupad (classical Indian vocal style) in March attracts renowned artists from all over India to the city’s Tulsi Ghat along the river.

Maha Shivratri

Varanasi is considered the city of Lord Shiva, so Maha Shivaratri – the great night of Lord Shiva's wedding is a very important festival here. Maha Shivaratri falls on the 14th day of the dark fortnight of the Phalgun month, according to the Hindu calendar (February/March). It is an important religious festival widely observed by Hindus. All the Shiva temples of Varanasi are beautifully decorated for the occasion and a marriage procession of Lord Shiva is taken out starting from Mahamrityunjaya Temple in Daranagar to the Vishwanath temple. A big fair is held on the occasion. On this day, devotees visit Shiva temples to offer prayers and the worship can continue well into the night. People offer flowers, coconut, bhang, dhatura, fruits etc. to shivlings and idols. The origin of the festival also has an interesting history. Legend has it that both gods and demons were once churning the Ocean of Milk to get amrita (water of immortality). While doing so they came across a deadly poison which exploded into fumes that threatened to envelop the whole universe. The gods then went to Brahma and Vishnu for help who couldn't help them. At last, they went to Shiva to ask for help, who swallowed the poison in order to save the universe. This left a deep blue mark on his throat. A popular belief celebrates this incident on the festival.