12 hours in Varanasi

Sunday, December 20, 2015 Unknown 0 Comments

If there’s one place that means the world to politicians, spiritual seekers, travellers and historians alike, it’s got to be the holy city of Varanasi. Dubbed the ‘spiritual capital of India’ for its prominence in the development of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, Varanasi is also one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. The lure of the city was impossible to resist and I found myself travelling on my own on yet another unplanned trip. I boarded the Shiv Ganga Express from Delhi on the night of Friday, October 16, spent a little more than twelve hours in Varanasi and was back in Delhi at noon on Sunday. You should find this post useful in case you’re looking to spend around 12 hours in Varanasi.

Here’s sharing my itinerary with you.

1. Arrival at Varanasi

Alley leading to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Clueless about where to begin, I arrived at the Manduadih railway station at 8 am and learnt that the Kashi Vishwanath temple was nearby. I also learnt that the more frequent alternative to the intra-city buses was the shared autos that plied between fixed points in the city. In less than half an hour, I was at the famed temple savouring the incredible feeling that I was visiting the holy site that most Hindus try to pray at at least once in their lives.

I then walked along the teeming streets outside the temple and got onto a tempo that took me to Sarnath.

2. Sarnath

Mulgandha Kuti Vihar at Sarnath
One of the four places of pilgrimage that devout Buddhists visit, Sarnath is situated at a distance of ten kilometres from Varanasi. You could stroll around the site, visiting the monuments and reading up on their history. However, nothing would quite beat the wonder that you will experience circling the Lion Capital, looking up at the imposing structure adopted as India’s national emblem.  You will almost feel waves of power and Dharma radiating from the pillar. Pity that no electronic devices were allowed near the monument for me to capture the moment. 

A Benaras Saree

3. The Ghats

It was by accident that the auto driver dropped me at Kashi railway station. I would advise you to stop by here as well since the double decker Malviya Bridge here is what marks the start of Varanasi’s celebrated Ghats. My leisurely two hour walk from the bridge to the Dashashwamedh Ghat was undoubtedly the most vivid memory of my trip to Varanasi.

Malviya bridge
Something that I found interesting was that different Ghats were earmarked for independent purposes such as bathing, washing or cremations. At one of the cremation Ghats, I had some difficulty eluding a zombie-like man who pursued me imploring for money that he needed for the ‘moksh’ of his deceased children! I’d also suggest that you visit the neighbourhoods beyond the Ghats and take in all the activity going on there.

The submerged Scindia Ghat

4. Ganga Aarti

Ensure that you arrive at the Dashashwamedh Ghat at least half an hour before the 18:00 Ganga Aarti to secure for yourself a good view of the ceremony. With people witnessing the chants and the lamps both from the Ghats and from the boats on the Ganga, you’re sure to take delight in the spectacle. I did, however, feel that the event was perhaps a bit commercialized. You wouldn’t miss much by leaving the premises say, an hour after the ritual begins.

5. Ramlila

Outside the Dashashwamedh Ghat 
There was still some time to go for my 22:30 train back to Delhi and I made up my mind to visit the UNESCO recommended Ramlila in Ramnagar. I was in no mood to miss my train and get stuck in this otherworldly city but the allure of the occasion was too much for me to ignore it.

The Ramlila was nothing like I had imagined it to be. There was a makeshift stage at the end of a large maidan where thousands (including the King on his elephant!) sat together watching the re-enactment intently. Although the dialect being spoken in was unintelligible to me, I did relish the atmosphere at the event.

Considering the countless instances I’ve had to rush to catch a train, I wasn’t unusually tense about this time. Nevertheless, I was relieved when I arrived at the platform less than a minute before the departure of the train. I was back in Delhi the next day at noon.


Visiting Varanasi feels like going back in time. You wouldn’t feel completely at ease owing to a variety of reasons but you would be enthralled seeing things that you had thought you’d only be able to imagine. The Kyoto Varanasi Partner City Agreement signed by Prime Ministers Modi and Abe is undoubtedly the best way forward for this city which is supposed to have remained inhabited for several millennia. I find it incredibly exciting to envisage Varanasi becoming a thriving modernized city while retaining all the elements that give it its enchanting mystical aura.