Varanasi is the one of the oldest continuously lived in cities on Earth and rests on the western banks of the Ganges River. The city is something of a living labyrinth, made up winding alleys full of temples and visitors making a pilgrimage to one of India’s holy cities. It’s a beautiful and chaotic town that sees millions of visitors each year.
Begin your exploration with a quick meal at Kerala Café for its famous dosas, a thin, crepe-like bread that’s surprisingly filling. It’s also affordable, with a good breakfast costing less than $5.
Early mornings in Varanasi are a time of worship and you’ll find many locals and those completing their pilgrimages on the banks of the Ganges performing daily rituals. The openings where one can walk into the water are called ghats. The Prayag Ghat is the most popular and a must-visit for anyone interested in the religious history of the region. From there, you can easily book a boat ride for less than $5 that will take you down the river to enjoy scenic, panoramic views of the city. Be sure to ask for a stop at Kashi Vishwanath, the oldest temple in Varanasi.
When you’re ready for lunch, Niyati Café offers the best thalis in town for less than $5. Begin the afternoon with a tour of Ramnagar Fort, a sandstone fort dedicated to Ved Vyasa, who wrote the Indian epic Mahabharata. Inside lies a temple and museum that displays a royal collection of cars, swords, guns and more you can explore for an entrance fee of less than $1.
Though outside of the city limits, you’ll want to take a short 10-kilometer trip to Sarnath, home of the Buddhist pilgrimage. This location is where Gautama Buddha gave his first sermons on Dharma, and it contains numerous Buddhist temples, along with a few Korean and Japanese temples added in recent years. A ride to Sarnath will cost $5, while exploring is free unless you enter one of the museums.
If you’re hungry, Aum Café offers scrumptious pizzas and the best chocolate cake in Varanasi for only $5.
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