An ultimate pilgrimage spot of Hindus for ages, Varanasi is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest in India. Often referred to as Banaras, Kashi or Varanasi, Mark Twain sums it up as, “Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” The name Varanasi has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi, for the old city lies in the north shores of the Ganges bounded by its two tributaries, Varuna and Assi, with the Ganges being to its south. It is also said that the city acquires its name from River Varuna, which was once called Varanasi in olden times. Abode of God Shiva and Goddess Parvati, the origins of Varanasi are yet unknown. Hindus believe that one who is graced to die on the land of Varanasi would attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth. River Ganges in Varanasi is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals.
The city of Varanasi is located in the middle Ganges valley of North India, in the Eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh. The city covers an area of 112.26 sq km. Being located in the Indo-Gangetic plains of North India, the land here is very fertile because low level floods in the Ganges continually replenish the soil. Varanasi is often said to be located between two confluences, one of the Ganges and Varuna and other of the Ganges and Assi. Varanasi experiences a humid subtropical climate with large variations between summer and winter temperatures. Summers are long and extremely hot, from early April to October, with intervening monsoon seasons. During this time, the temperature ranges between
32°C-46 °C. Winters in Varanasi see very large diurnal variations, with warm days and downright cold nights. Cold waves from the Himalayan region cause temperatures to dip across the city in the winter from December to February and temperatures below 5 °C are not uncommon. The average annual rainfall is 1,110mm. Fog is common in the winters, while hot dry winds, called loo, blow in the summers. Through a combination of water pollution, new construction of upstream dams and increase in the local temperature, the water level of the Ganges has recently gone down significantly and small islands have become visible in the middle of the river. If you are travelling to Varanasi in summer, light cottons are sufficient. In winter, light woolens are required. Keep a torch handy since power cuts are common.
The city is a centre of learning and civilization for over 3000 years. With Sarnath being just 10 km away, Varanasi has been a symbol of Hindu renaissance. Knowledge, philosophy, culture, devotion to Gods, Indian arts and crafts all have flourished here for centuries. Also, a pilgrimage place for Jains, Varanasi is believed to be the birthplace of Parsvanath, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Varanasi is the home for Theosophical Society and Hindu University, the biggest university in Asia. Ayurveda is also said to be originated at Varanasi. The holy city is also famous for its trade and commerce, especially for the finest silks and gold and silver brocades, since the early days.
Varanasi has also been a great centre of learning for ages. Aptly called as the cultural capital of India, Varanasi has provided the right platform for all cultural activities to flourish. Many exponents of dance and music have come from Varanasi. Ravi Shankar, the internationally renowned Sitar maestro and Late Ustad Bismillah Khan, (the famous Shehnai player) are all sons of the blessed city or have lived here for major part of their lives.
Varanasi Airport also known as Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport is a public airport located at Babatpur 18 km (11 mi) northwest of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Varanasi Airport was ofﬁcially renamed as Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport in October 2005.
Being located in the heartland of the North Indian plains. The Kashi Junctions and Varanasi Junction (also known as Varanasi Cantonment) railway stations in Varanasi ﬂaunt excellent rail connectivity. Reaching Varanasi by rail can be a lot easier if you board the Rajdhani Express from Delhi or from Kolkata that passes through Varanasi. Regular trains are also available from Mughalsarai, just 10 km south of Varanasi.
Positioned on the ﬂat Gangetic plains, Varanasi is very well connected by a network of roads and road transport to all the major towns of Uttar Pradesh and surrounding areas. Regular public and private buses ply in the city.
Getting around Varanasi by car can be a real treat if you have some extra time as it has some of the best roads in India. Auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are the most widely available public transport within old city. In outer regions of the city, city-buses are common. Taxi is also available. Prepaid auto cum Taxi Booth is there at cantt. Railway station and Babatpur Airport. Small boats and small steamers are available for tourists to the Ganges. Recently, low ﬂoor city buses are introduced in the city under JNNURM scheme.