Varanasi can be overwhelming for the first time visitor. There are so many places to see in Varanasi and the city is always buzzing with activities. Whether it is one of the numerous festivals in Varanasi, the thousands of pilgrims or the daily morning and evening prayers.
A Varanasi walking tour can help to make sense out of Varanasi’s colourful chaos. Even though there are excellent Varanasi walking tours out there with professional guides, it is also very easy to follow this self-guided Varanasi walking tour along the best places to see in Varanasi.
Varanasi is India’s most sacred city, primarily because of its location on the holy Ganges, but also because of its long history as the centre of Hindu spirituality. It was already mentioned as the city of Lord Shiva in ancient Hindu books like the Vedas and the Mahabaratha and served as the capital of several Indian kingdoms.
Varanasi remains at the heart of Hindu culture and the best places to see Varanasi in action are its ghats. places where steps are leading to the holy river and that are used for praying and bathing. The Ganges in Varanasi has hundreds of them, each with their own functions and historical legends. A Varanasi walking tour along the ghats will be a highlight of your trip to India.
My Varanasi walking tour
I remember my own visits to Varanasi and how many times I got lost in the narrow streets of the city. Sometimes it was fun, because I found hidden temples and shrines or friendly shopkeepers that offered me tea. Sometimes it was less fun when I got stuck in a crowd of pilgrims on their way to the temple.
During my first visit it was Shravan Maah. The most holy month for Hindus in which they pray to Shiva. My second visit was during Saraswati Puja, another colourful festival to celebrate the goddess of knowledge, wisdom and education. Both times it was busy in Varanasi and I looked for ways to both enjoy the crowds and escape them when I had enough.
For days I wandered around and came up with my own Varanasi walking tour along the ghats. One that included the best places to see in Varanasi, but also some of the more quiet ghats and places that give insight into daily life in Varanasi
A self guided Varanasi walking tour
This post is about a self guided Varanasi walking tour along the ghats of Varanasi. With this tour, that can take between 4 to 6 hours you get to see the best places to see in Varanasi.
You can walk along the ghats for most of this Varanasi walking tour, although sometimes you have to get up and take the back alleys to reach the next ghat. The network of narrow streets behind the ghats will have it’s own charms.
Varanasi Walking tour part 1: Durga Kund to Assi ghat
This self-guided Varanasi walking tour runs along the ghats, but the first part is in the streets behind Assi ghat where you start the walking tour at the Durga Kund temple.
This red stone temple dedicated to the goddess Durga was built in the 18th century by a Bengali queen and has a nice pond. From, here it is a 15 minute walk through the backstreets to Assi Ghat.
Assi ghat is the most southern ghat with a nice community of long term resident travellers, students and researchers. Come here very early in the morning during sunrise to see the morning prayers ( morning aarthi )
Varanasi Walking tour part 2: Assi ghat to Pandey ghat
On this part of the Varanasi walking tour you will pass a relatively quiet and peaceful stretch of the ghats. The numerous ghats all have different stories to tell and this was one of my favourite parts of Varanasi.
Just North of Assi ghat you will find the Ganga Mahal ghat with the beautiful Narayan palace from 1830. Continue along the ghats to Jain ghat with its Jain temples. Stop here to visit one of them or to walk up the steps for a beautiful view on the river.
After Jain ghat is another nice ghat for a small break. The Chet Singh ghat with its reddish fort is where a battle took place between Chet Sing and the British in 1781. The fort is abandoned, but the architecture is still quite impressive.
Walk further and pass the colourful Kedar ghat. This ghat is very holy for South Indians and on top is the Kedareshwar temple and the Parvati Kund. A kund is a water pond and people believe that the water in the Parvati pool has healing powers. The views from the temple over the river are very beautiful.
After Kedar ghat comes Raja ghat with an ancient palace. Walk the last part towards Pandey ghat, also called dobhi ghat, to see the washermen in action. Even though Pandey ghat has no religious or historical significance it was one of my favourite ghats. Seeing the dhobi’s at work is impressive as they hit the dirt out of the clothes on stone slabs in the river. Equally beautiful are all the colourful clothes that are hanging to dry.
Varanasi Walking tour part 3: Pandey ghat to Dashashwamedh ghat
As you walk north from Pandey ghat you leave the quiet ghats behind you and it will get increasingly busy. It is a short walk to Darbhanga ghat with the beautiful Darbhangha palace. This is now the expensive Bijrama palace hotel. If you have the money it is the most beautiful place to sleep in Varanasi. However, even if you can not afford to stay here, it is still very much worth a visit to look at the palace’s impressive architecture from outside.
From here it is a short walk to Dashashwamedh ghat. One of the holiest, oldest and busiest ghats in Varanasi. This is a good place to take a break and watch the rituals that are going on here.
From the Dashashwamedh ghat you can also take a detour to the Sri Kashi Vishwanath temple. One of the holiest Shiva temples in India. It is a 5 minute walk through the backstreets from the ghats. 100 meters further is the Annapoorna Devi temple where people come to pray to the goddess of food for a well nourished life.
Varanasi Walking tour part 4: Dashashwamedh ghat to Manikarna ghat
After Dashashwamedh ghat continue along the busiest sections of the ghats towards the Man Mandir ghat. It was built in 1600 by Raja Man Singh and is most famous for its observatory. The Jantar Mantar is now a museum worth a visit.
After Man Mandir ghat continue your journey towards Nepali ghat and Lalitha ghat. This ghat was built in the early 19th century by the king of Nepal. Take a detour here towards the Nepali temple that is a replica of the famous Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu.
After Lalitha ghat you reach the area of Manikarna ghat or the cremation ghats. Hindus believe that if you are cremated at Manikarna ghat you will receive moksha and you will be freed from the cycle of life and death.
It is a confronting and interesting area to visit. Behind the ghats you will find a network of alleyways with elderly homes, wood sellers, shrines and temples.
Varanasi Walking tour part 5: Manikarna ghat to Panchganga ghat
Right behind Manikarna ghat you will find Scindia ghat with the submerged Shiva temple. After Scindia ghat you will leave the crowds behind you again and this part of the Varanasi walking tour has some off the beaten path places.
Behind Scindia ghat you will find the alleys of the neighbourhood Siddha Kshetra. This translates as the Field of Fulfilment, because of the high number of holy Hindu shrines. It’s a nice neighbourhood to take a small detour through the colourful and narrow streets where few tourists come.
After exploring Siddha Kshetra head to the second Ganga Mahal ghat where you will find another beautiful ancient palace. Then you come accross the controversial Bhonsale ghat that was built by the Nagpur royal family in 1780. It has a beautiful palace and 3 heritage temples. It became famous in 2013 when a member of the Nagpur royal family tried to sell the ghat on frauduleus terms.
After Bhonsale ghat walk along the quiet and peaceful ghats, including Ram ghat built by the Maharaja of Jaipur, untill you reach Panchganga ghat. This is the place where five holy rivers come together. The Ganges, Yamuna, Saraswati, Kirana and Dhupapana.
Above Panchganga ghat you will see the beautiful Alamgir Mosque built by Aurangzeb in the 17th century. So far, this Varanasi Walking tour has all been about Hindu temples, but for Muslims Varanasi is just as holy, but their history receives much less attention. To read more about their complicated position in Varanasi I can recommend these articles from The Guardian and the Washington Post.
Professional Varanasi walking tours
If you like to have more background information about the places to see in Varanasi, you can also take a professional Varanasi Walking tour.
There are a lot of wanna be guides in Varanasi that either ask exorbitant prices or give mediocre services. To prevent dissapointment I can recommend to go with a profesional guide from an agency with good reviews.
Heritage Walk Varanasi
Heritage walk Varanasi offers a range of tours including an excellent 3 hour walk with a focus on the manikarna ghat and the cremations.
Varanasi Walks has some interesting walks focused on temples, bazaars and hidden alleys. Perfect to explore Varanasi off the beaten path.
Free Varanasi Walking Tours
Yo tours offers free Varanasi walking tours that are tip based along with a number of interesting paid Varanasi walking tours.
The best places to stay in Varanasi
Mother Hostel feels more like a homestay than a hostel. It is close to Ganga ghat and the family that runs the place is very friendlly and helpful.
Moustache Varanasi has a range of clean dormitories. It is a good and proffesional hostel located near Assi ghat.
When to visit Varanasi
The best time to visit is in winter when most festivals in Varanasi take place. Winter runs from October till March and is a popular season to visit Varanasi, because of its pleasant temperatures and good weather.
Summer runs from April till June. This time it can get very hot in Varanasi and temperatures can reach above 40 degrees Celsius. If you plan to visit Varanasi in summer make sure you are prepared to deal with the heat.
The monsoon is from July till September and will bring a drop in temperatures again, but also a lot of rain and humidity. If you plan to visit Varanasi during the monsoon make sure you bring a rain coat and plastic bags to protect your electronics against the humidity.
How to travel to Varanasi
Varanasi lies in Uttar Pradesh in northern India. The best way to get to Varanasi is by train. There are frequent train connections with major cities in India like Delhi (13 hours) & Kolkata (14 hours).
There is also an airport in Varanasi with daily flights to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata & Kathmandu.
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