Everyone holds certain qualities that they are not proud of. They are the kind of character traits that you make a conscious effort to conceal or subdue. They are the kind that are inherent in your inner-most nature and no matter how hard you try to overcome them, you can’t.
To me, Varanasi is a place that proudly acknowledges and displays these qualities. It is, in my interpretation, the pure and unfiltered heart of Indian society and culture; unapologetic-ally displaying itself to the world.
This is why Varanasi is one of my favorite cities. Saying this, I found that most travelers, particularly those who had just arrived in India don’t like Varanasi. That being said, Varanasi is not a destination for the faint hearted. I recommend it as one of your final destinations in India and especially not one of your first.
Get Lost Wandering its Alleyways: This was my favorite pass time in Varanasi. Wander the alley’s and try and soak up everything that there is to see. You will surprise yourself with how much you will learn.
People Watching on the Ghats: It gets super hot during the day. Try and find some shade with a cool breeze and sit back and take it all in.
Shopping: Whilst I personally refrained from shopping in Varanasi, the shopping looked amazing. The prices were reasonable as well in comparison to other cities.
Sunrise/sunset on the Ghats: You can take cheap boat rides on the ghats at sunrise or sunset. We paid 200 rupees each for ours through our hostel. However, this is not necessary. You can just walk down to the ghats and agree on a price with any guide who surrounds you. I recommend sunrise over sunset.
Sunset Ceremony: At sunset a ceremony is held at the main ghat. I recommend sitting down the front just in front of all the boats that pull up. You can’t get a better spot.
Where to Stay:
Varanasi is split into two main areas that I would recommend for accommodation. You have the main Ghats, which serves as the central tourist hub and then the Assi Ghat towards the South. The Assi Ghat is much quieter, relaxed and less intense. It depends what kind of vibes you are after.
Zostel: Its hard to go wrong with Zostel, a chain of backpacker hostels located all around India. Staying at a Zostel guarantee’s you clean, affordable and social accommodation. The only downside is that it was a little too far out of town and away from the Ghats for my liking.
Stops Hostel: Aside from offering free breakfast, it is a social hostel that is reasonably priced and reportedly clean. It has a great location and an even better rooftop. They offer tours around the city at an affordable price as well.
Ram Bhawan Residency: Right on the Ghats it has the perfect location. Even better, they reportedly include breakfast AND lunch. It has a homely vibe and the staff are apparently super friendly.
Bona Café & Guesthouse: Amongst the winding alleyways behind the Ghats, you will find Bona Café & Guesthouse. It is a super cute café that offers a recluse from Varanasi, whilst serving amazing Korean food. The vegan and veg options here are amazing.
Brown Bread Bakery: The famous German bakery with food to die for. They have a great roof top that you can sit and soak up the views of Varanasi. Fabulous vegan and vegetarian options.
Baba Lassi: I personally didn’t go here but it has an amazing reputation, purely for lassi’s.
Everest Café Momo Corner: Probably the best place to sit and watch everything around you with a chai in hand.
What I Liked:
The Alleyways: I loved getting lost in the alleyways. There is so much to learn if only you keep your eyes out.
The Food: I loved the food in Varanasi. Going to a café and soaking up my surroundings was one of my favourite things to do.
The Intensity: I loved what most people hate about Varanasi: The Intensity. Whether you try to avoid it or surrender yourself to it, Varanasi will get all up in your face and your comfort zone. I loved it.
What I Didn’t Like:
The Amount of Stray Dogs: There were so many stray dogs, everywhere and they held an usual vibe. This was unsettling, because it’s a clear indication that they are poorly treated and this breaks my heart.
Getting In and Out
Varanasi is well connected by both train, bus and air.
Fly: Local airlines offer reasonable prices to and from Varanasi. The airport is about 45 minutes away from central Varanasi and a airport taxi should cost around 800 rupees.
Bus: You can catch an overnight bus from most major cities in India at a very cheap cost. The buses are both semi-sleeper/sleeper with AC or NO/AC, you can decide. They are comfortable, a bit bumpy and super cheap. You can book through your hostel, but make sure you double check the price on Redbus first, as they don’t accept international cards.
Train: Varanasi is very well connected by train. Trains can be booked on the IRCTC website if you have registered with an account (super easy and fast). The trains are comfortable, smooth, more expensive than a bus and I personally feel they lack privacy. So if that’s not an issue – book it.
Minimum Length of Stay: 2 nights
Safety Rating for Women: 5/10 – I felt safe in Varanasi, but can understand why most women don’t.
Did I leave any questions unanswered? Please let me know 🙂