Varanasi is the epitome of India. It’s beautiful, chaotic, intense, magical, disgusting, dirty, and special. Varanasi is the manifestation of the yin and the yang if it were a place on this earth. There’s good and evil, love and hate, and life and death in this city that runs on its own terms, with its own rules. It’s the beating heart of this majestic country, and the symbol for spirituality. There’s no other place in this country, in the world, like it. It’s a place you have to be mentally prepared for; there are shocking, disgusting, unbelievable, and beautiful things that live and take place here. This is the Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Varanasi, India.
This heavy spiritual energy courses through the alleyways of Varanasi like a network of veins, crisscrossing and web-like as the River Ganges pumps her power to the souls of her people.
This is the heart of India after all, you can feel it and smell it and taste it walking through the streets, looking at the animals roam around freely, and watching the rituals along the Ghats.
The intensity of Varanasi gives it its own living persona. Once you step foot inside of the city, you know you’ve reached the place that gives India its life and fire, its zest and spirit, its beauty and its charm that make it unlike any other place in the world.
The power and beauty of the Ghats surprised me every time. There’s so many different things taking place along the River Ganges, that every time I walk along it, I learn and see something new. It’s almost too much to comprehend, so the best thing to do is just observe, listen, and absorb.
From visiting one of the Buddhist pilgrimage sites to eating to your heart’s content, Varanasi will keep you busy for days on end.
Read More: Check out my Ultimate Guides to India
The Ultimate Guide to Traveling India
The Ultimate Guide to Kerala, Karnataka, & Goa
The Ultimate Guide to Rajasthan, India
The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Tamil Nadu
The Ultimate Guide to Jammu & Kashmir
A Guide to Solo Female Travel in India
How to get to Varanasi
You can fly to Varanasi on a direct flight from Delhi or Mumbai. The train from Delhi to Varanasi is around 14 hours and runs frequently. You can also arrive via train from Rishikesh or Khajaurhao. Buses run frequently from Varanasi to other parts of Uttar Pradesh.
What to See
Sarnath is where Buddah preached his first Buddhism discourse that set in motion the “Wheel of Dharma.” The Dhamekha Stupa is the place where Buddha delivered his first sermon. It’s set amongst green fields dotted with sunflowers, and is a magnificent structure that towers over the other ruins. Entrance is 200 rps for foreigners.
How to get there: Take a rickshaw from Varanasi (500 rps roundtrip), it takes about 40 minutes depending on traffic.
- Manikarnika Ghat
- This is one of the holiest places in Varanasi itself. It’s the final resting place to salvation, where bodies are dipped into the holy river and then cremated. It’s a very intense experience, but highly recommended to have a full experience of Varanasi. No photos allowed.
- Assi Ghat
- Assi Ghat is one of the burning Ghats in Varanasi. It’s smaller than Manikarnika Ghat, making it a more intimate experience without the crowds. No photos allowed.
This is one of the most beautiful Ghat’s along the Ganga. A spectacular nightly celebration giving thanks to the elements of nature to the Ganga happens at this Ghat. Arrive around 6:30 PM for the celebration.
Take a Sunrise & Sunset Boat Tour
A trip to Varanasi isn’t complete without taking a boat ride on the Ganga. You can take a sunrise and sunset boat tour, which costs around 200-300 rps. It’s quite beautiful floating along the Ganga as the sun rises, and at sunset you’ll get a magnificent view of the celebration at Dashashwamedh Ghat.
Tiwari International Silk Factory
This is a great place to gain some insight into the ancient silk production system. You can purchase some silk souvenirs here as well, like scarves or blankets.
Where to Eat
Brown Bread Bakery: To enjoy a plate of fresh bread and cheese on the rooftop with a spectacular view of the Ganges, then pop on over to Brown Bread Bakery. Their menu is large and you’ll find a ton of western dishes that you may have been craving, as well as Indian dishes.
Vegan & Raw: The sister restaurant of Brown Bread Bakery, this vegan restaurant offers an extensive menu with delicious, fresh, & healthy homemade vegan options.
Niyati Cafe: The owner of this restaurant puts love into his food. The Indian dishes are cheap and mouthwatering. Every dish is massive and home made, and some of the best I’ve had in India. Definitely try the Khadai Paneer, Special Thali, and garlic/butter/cheese Naan.
Where to Stay
goStops Varanasi: This hostel offers comfortable beds and tons of comfortable couches and bean bags to hang out on. They offer a delicious buffet breakfast with fruits, eggs, cereal, coffee, tea, and toast. You can take tours around the city through the hostel. It’s located in a quiet alcove just off of the bustling city streets. Click here to make a booking.
HosteLaVie- Varanasi: This hostel has a nice backpacker vibe with cool decorations. It’s in a nice and quiet place in Varanasi with free laundry service, a rooftop hangout spot, and a garden. Click here to check prices.
Radisson Hotel Varanasi: Offering a nice courtyard, ambiance, and location, this hotel is a great choice if you’re on a budget but still crave a little bit of luxury. They serve a great breakfast and the staff is known for being really friendly and positive. Click here to make a booking.
Hotel Sri Omkar Palace: This hotel is in proximity to the Ghats and offers a homey ambiance and clean and spacious rooms. Some of the rooms even have gorgeous views of the Ganga river. Click here for bookings.
BrijRama Palace- A Heritage Hotel: This hotel was built in the 18th century and is considered to be one of the oldest structures in Varanasi. It’s located in proximity to Dasashwamedh Ghat, and offers rooms with air conditioning, toiletries, and a flat screen TV. There’s a gorgeous rooftop terrace and yoga classes. Click here to make a booking.
Backpacking India? Check out my Guide to Rajasthan and my Guide to Kerala, Karnataka, and Goa.