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Must Visit Attractions in Varanasi

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The word Sankat Mochan translates to freer of troubles - and that's the tag devotees have put on the deity of this temple, Lord Hanuman. A busy religious sight in the holy city of Varanasi, the temple was restructured in the early 20th Century by the founder of Banaras Hindu University, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. Inside the temple there are dual shrines of Hanuman and Shri Ram facing each other. The main offering here is the delicious Indian sweet Laddu. A must-visit location in Varanasi, Sankat Mochan temple is only minutes away from the popular Tulsi Manas Mandir and the stunning Durga Temple.

Carving one of the world's mostly populated river beds, River Ganges, believed to be arising directly from Lord Shiva's head, is the holy mother for North India. The ancient city of Varanasi is one of the most prolific gifts of this stunning river which ranks top among the world's big rivers in the amount of water discharge. The 7 kilometer (4.34 mile) stretch of the ghats along River Ganges is a major site of sacred rituals in Hindu tradition; Dasashwamedh Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat being the most popular. Originating from Himalayan glaciers, this river is considered as one of the largest in India and surely is a ravishing sight in spite of the devouring pollution.

Believed to be set upon the confluence of 5 sacred rivers namely Ganga, Saraswati, Yamuna, Kirana and Dhutapapa, the Panchganga Ghat is relatively quieter than its counterparts but this makes it no less special. One of India's most venerated poets Tulsidas put together his masterpiece Vinay-Patrikahere right here. Several thousand years later not much has changed and one often finds pilgrims taking a holy dip in the river during full moon nights - this makes for a unforgettable spectacle! Easily identified even from afar by the looming outline of the Alamgir Mosque, Panchganga serves as one of the main entrances to the aforesaid mosque, the Bindu Madhava Temple, Shri Matha and Shri Laxmi Narayan Temple.

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.

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.

One of the most prominent sites in Sarnath, where Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, the original structure of Dhamek Stupa was built in 249 BCE by emperor Asoka. This structure was later replaced in 500 CE. Still withstanding some parts of the original build, this is a stunning sight and visited by pilgrims and tourists from all parts of the world. Beautiful stone carvings are visible at the base of this massive 43.6 meter (143.044 feet) structure, which was much taller in its original form. Part of the complex of Ancient Remains, the adjacent compound has a Jain Temple. Archeological Museum, Deer Park and Modern Reception Center are also nearby.

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.

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.

Spread across two vast campuses, Banaras Hindu University is one of the largest residential universities in the world. The complex, founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya in 1916, is a world in itself with excellent facilities and the architecture creates the atmosphere of an old township. The University comprises of three institutes and four advanced centers of research and development. More than 20,000 students study here; that includes students from 34 nations. The main campus in Varanasi has around 60 hostels for students, a multi-specialty hospital, a central library, a museum, sports facilities, and a few entertainment venues. A spectacular sight inside is the New Vishwanath Temple, which is hugely popular for its architectural brilliance. Do visit this gigantic figure of higher education in India.

Located 13 kilometers (8 miles) away from the holy city of Varanasi, Sarnath is a major site of Buddhist pilgrimage. The deer park here is believed to be the location where Gautama Buddha gave his first lecture after attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya. Also known as Isipatana, the major sight here are the ruins of historic Buddhist establishments mostly destructed by Muslim invasion. Dhamek Stupa, is another conspicuous sight inside this stunning archeological complex. The Archeological Museum and the base of the famous Ashoka Pillar are also things not to miss in Sarnath.The location is bestowed with a lot of Tibetan, Burmese and Chinese monasteries which interests visitors with their distinctive architecture and layout. A small number of guesthouses and restaurants are also available in the area.

The exalted Kashi Vishwanath Temple finds itself mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures, and was actually built in 490 CE but fell prey to successive demolitions by the Mughal invaders all through the centuries. The present temple was built in 1790 by the warrior queen Ahilyabhai Holkar who was aggrieved by the wanton destruction of age-old sacred structures. Hindus believe that a dip in the river Ganges and a visit to this temple serves to break free from the cycle of rebirth. Also referred to as Golden Temple because of the spire which was made from pure gold donated by Maharaja Ranjith Singh, this temple is a must-visit. The main deity here is a black lingam upon which devotees pour blessed water. Foreigners have to register their passports to enter the premises as security has been beefed up in recent years due to the looming terrorist threat. Mobile phones, cameras and bags of all visitors have to be deposited at any of the shops that line the entrance, while police urge crowds to hurry and keep moving. The experience is most intense, intriguing and divine.

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.

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