This is the unofficial yet lionized home of long-term backpackers, researchers and students who have chosen to stay on for extended periods of time in Varanasi. The southernmost ghat on the long stretch of ghats, life at Assi is as indulgent as the water buffaloes who wallow around for hours on end in the Ganges. Despite its distance from the main burning ghats, travelers head here for a break from the intrusive touts, guides, fake holy men, beggars, boat men, masseurs and even children who participate with great fervor in the contrived chaos. Assi has a large Jewish community and this is reflected through the hotels and cafes with names such as Haifa and Yafah which serve up typically Middle Eastern dishes like hummus, falafel, baba ghanoush and kawwah (Arabic Coffee). Assi Ghat has been mentioned in the ancient Indian Vedic texts and commands the respect of Indian pilgrims too who arrive here in boats or on foot for a holy dip.
If there was ever a word to describe the concept and layout of Bharat Mata Mandir, it is INIMITABLE. This one isn't an ode to the legacies of Laxmi, Shiva, Ganesha, Hanuman or Ram; it is the ultimate tribute to Mother India (Bharat Mata). Upon entering, one is stunned into silence with the sunken-level three-dimensional relief map of undivided India, carved from marble and with every proportion in place. The range of Himalayas protruding upwards particularly catches the eye, so do the smaller mountain ranges and oceans along the west coast. Brainchild of the artistic duo of Babu Shiv Prashad Gupta and Shri Durga Prashad Khatri, this matchless work of art was built in 1936 and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi.
Perched on the terrace of the magnificent Man Mahal Palace, Jantar Mantar is Varanasi's prime observatory, designed to the likes of the ones found in New Delhi and Jaipur. Constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh in they year 1737, the science museum showcases various milestones of India achieved in the field of astrology and science. Apart from serving its main purpose of helping determine stars and planet positions, it also helps to measure altitude, local standard time and the sun position.
Previously known as Lolark Ghat, Tulsi Ghat is one of the prominent ones which enjoys its association with ancient India's most revered saint and poet - Tulsidas who composed the Ramcharitramanas right here. In fact, the little house where he lived has still been preserved with a few personal belongings as well as a piece of wood from the boat used to cross the river. This ghat comes alive in October and November which are both auspicious months in the Hindu calendar. Spiritual discourses, Indian classical concerts, dance recitals and even wrestling matches bring together foreigners and locals who participate rapturously in the riverfront festivities.
The Deer Park in Sarnath was where Lord Buddha gave his first discourse while sitting amongst the Brahmins of Kapilavastu. Not much seems to have changed even now in these tranquil confines where one can spot the occasional deer frolicking in the foliage, blissfully unaware of the world outside. Reminiscent of the days gone by, one is almost taken back to the history class text book chapter, 'Sermon in the Deer Park'. The word Sarnath actually comes from Saranganath which means 'Lord of the Deer', a nickname given to Buddha.
Part of the Man Mahal Palace which was built by the legendary Raja Man Singh, the Man Mandir Observatory was added in the 1730's by the equally gallant Sawai Jai Singh II. Till date, the ancient astronomical instruments have been well-preserved and provide an astonishing insight into how much our forefathers knew even centuries ago. Exquisite painted ceilings and palatial windows which double up as balconies are a big draw with visitors who are thrilled by the expansive views of the entire western and eastern banks of the Ganges that can be seen from the spacious terrace.
A living monument of India's rich spiritual tradition, Satuwa Baba Ashram, the residence of Satuwa Baba Maharaji, is located at the Manikarnika Ghat along the shores of holy river Ganges. With a backing of over 400 years of history, this place is visited by people from all over the world. The place has shrines of Krishna and Radha, and Lord Shiva. There are facilities inside the ashram for training young minds with a Vedic (Hindu Scriptures) inclination. The beautiful garden and the serene setting here is contrasting to the general loud nature of the city. Do visit and take a little from the unending pool of spiritual wisdom.
Ghats are a series of steps that lie along the banks of a river. In the city of Varanasi, life revolves around these sacred steps because here is where pilgrims take a dip in the River Ganges to wash away a lifetime of sins. While some ghats are more subdued than the others which are colorful, prominent and backed by magnificent sandstone buildings, all of them have an equally intriguing story to tell. Tourists mostly tend to traverse between Panchganga Ghat in the north and Assi Ghat in the south, however there are many beyond these. A fascinating kaleidoscope of human activity awaits you here - women washing clothes, pilgrims taking a dip, cattle cooling off, dogs scouring the area for food, young boys playing cricket or diving into the river, funeral pyre flames rising into the skies ceaselessly, dread-locked sadhus meditating, boatmen soliciting customers, vendors selling flowers and Western tourists filming this Carnival of Life that plays out day-after day in this City of Shiva.