Varanasi – A Spiritual Experience in The City of Light


A trip that almost never happened, the teary face of a disappointed seven-year-old boy, a magical motorcycle trip and the glowing face of a joyous seven-year-old boy, these were the images that flashed in my mind’s eye in quick succession, triggering an avalanche of memories that tumbled out of the inner recesses of my mind.
I still remember very vividly the incidents of that day, many years in the past. I was to leave on a school day trip and the arrangement was that I would be picked up by the school bus at 7 in the morning from the highway which ran very near to where we stayed.

But due to some misunderstanding even at 8, there was no sight of the bus and I followed my Mom back to the house, lugging my picnic bag, tears streaming down my face. My father who was getting ready to leave for work took one look at my miserable face and told my Mom, “I will take him there, on my motorcycle”!.

And without waiting for an answer, he brought his gleaming Motorcycle to the porch and I clambered on behind him, tightly hugging him with both hands. With waves to my Mom, we were off, in search of the School Bus that had ditched me. We drove and drove, but there was no sight of the bus! We covered more than 150 Kilometers in two hours and finally spotted the School Bus, parked in a motel.

My father parked the Motorcycle. As I ran to join my friends, he spoke to the teacher who was in charge of the trip and probably gave her a piece of his mind. He then waved cheerily to me and kick-started the motorcycle and zoomed away into the horizon.


That was, many, many years ago and now age had taken its toll on my father and he was a shadow of his former self, especially after the demise of my Mom. I was thinking of ways and means to cheer him up and get the sparkle back in his eyes, and this had led me on a path that opened up a window to the memories from the past.

But, I had my answer, one of my father’s unfulfilled dreams was to visit Varanasi, the spiritual Capital of India. He had travelled across India, but by some travesty of fate, he had never been able to go to his dream city.

I was sure he would love to go there and The City of Light would bring back the light to his eyes. I started making plans for the trip, the fact that I had been there helped me visualize the entire trip that I was planning for my father and I had everything planned to a t.

Why Varanasi?


Varanasi can be called the spiritual capital of India, it occupies a prime position in the list of the holiest of holy destinations for Hindus. Varanasi is also an important spiritual destination for Buddhists too as Buddha gave his first sermon and established Buddhism in the year 528 BC at a place called Sarnath, just outside Varanasi.

Based on archaeological evidence, it is estimated that the city of Varanasi was inhabited as early as the 20th century BC, making it one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities.

Today,  Varanasi is famous, the world over for its pulsating culture, the ghats along the banks of the holy river Ganga and its 23,000 odd temples which include the Kashi Vishwanath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva with whom the city is synonymous. Hindus believe that death in the holy city of Varanasi would lead to their salvation and this belief draws the devout like a magnet, to visit the city at least once in a lifetime.

My father with a deep-rooted interest and fascination for the spiritual and mythological intricacies of Hinduism was sure to love and treasure this visit to this ancient city, I thought as I gave the finishing touches to the itinerary.

How we would get there

Varanasi is accessible by road, rail and air by all the major cities of India, including Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. It has an international airport called Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport and all the major domestic airlines operate from here. I planned for us to fly into Varanasi from Delhi, a flight of approximately 90 minutes.

Where we would stay

We would be staying at the Radisson Hotel as I felt it would be quite comfortable for my father and also the hotel is centrally located with easy access to the Ghats on the River Ganga and just about 5.5 Kilometers from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The Hotel also provides a free Buffet Breakfast and has a nice swimming pool. I was sure my father would feel at home here.

What we will eat

I have also planned for some culinary adventures while in Varanasi.

  • We will feast on the famous Varanasi breakfast of Kachoris and Jalebis
  • We will drink huge glasses of Lassi
  • We will experience ecstasy, chewing on the famous Banarasi Pan

Jalebi, Varanasi  Kachori, Varanasi

What we would see and what we would do

Varanasi is a city which needs you to stay there for at least a week to really soak in the atmosphere and see all the sights. But I planned only for a couple of days as I did not want to tire out my father. I carefully selected the top things that we would see and do based on my father’s preferences.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple

This temple is considered to be one of the holiest as well as oldest of Hindu temples and is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. The temple’s sanctum sanctorum houses one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Shiva. Jyotirlingas are symbols of devotion and represent Lord Shiva and literally mean,

“Radiant sign of Lord Shiva”. This temple finds mention in ancient Hindu scriptures seems to have been existing from the beginning of time itself, however, the temple has been destroyed by marauding invaders and rebuilt again and again.

The last structure was destroyed by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and the temple which now stands was built in its place in the year 1780 by the Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore.


I felt a thrill go up my spine as I imagined my father bending reverently in front of the sacred Jyotirlinga and experiencing spiritual bliss.

A boat tour of the Ghats of Varanasi


I have planned for a boat tour which would take us across the different ghats ( embankments with steps leading the river banks)  that dot the sacred river Ganga, each ghat is unique in its own right and has a glorious history attached to it. I can almost visualize my father waxing eloquent on the stories behind each of these ghats as the boat gently floated along the placid waters of the Ganga.

Though he has never been there, he is sure to know everything about the city and its history as he is a walking and talking encyclopedia. He has been my Google much before search engines were invented and even today, he may come up with an answer for something for which even Google does not have an answer!


There are about 87 ghats along the banks of the river Ganga in Varanasi, most of the ghats date back to 1700 AD and were built for purposes of bathing and ritualistic worship, while some are exclusively meant for cremation rites.

Some of the more famous Ghats include the Dashaswamedh Ghat which is very near to the Kashi Vishwanath temple and is the most spectacular of all the Ghats, the Manikarnika Ghat and the Harishchandra Ghat, both of which are ghats reserved for the cremation of the dead.

I am sure to hear my father philosophizing about the ephemeral nature of life when we glide past the burning funeral pyres at the Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats.

Watch this video full-screen HD to get a feel of the river Ganga.

Varanasi, the eternal city of India

Varanasi can be called as the spiritual capital of India, it occupies a prime position in the list of the holiest of holy destinations for Hindus.Today, Va…


Sarnath, Varanasi

I have planned for us to take a short half-day trip from Varanasi to Sarnath which is just about a half-hour drive away. Sarnath is the place where Buddha went from Bodh Gaya soon after his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and preached his first sermon to five disciples and laid the foundation stone for Buddhism.

We shall visit Deer Park and take a stroll in its spacious and calm environs and visit the lovely Buddha temple that stands here.

I am sure my father will revel in the positively charged atmosphere of this place where many, many years ago the air was rent by the voice of the Buddha as he delivered his first sermon. Even today as you walk in the deer park if you listen carefully, the sounds of “Buddham Sharanam Gacchami”, echoes in the air.

Sarnath, Varanasi   Sarnath, Varanasi

We shall then visit the Archaeological Museum which is home to the various findings from the Sarnath site. The Museum has a collection of more than 6,000 sculptures and various artefacts.

The most famous of these is the Lion Capital of Ashoka (sculpture of 4 Asiatic lions standing, back to back), sculpted in sandstone and originally erected in Sarnath in the year 250 BCE. An adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka has been adopted as the National Emblem of India. A Circular wheel at the base of the sculpture, known as Ashok Chakra, has found a place of pride in the National Flag of India.

Sarnath, Varanasi

And last but not the least, we shall stare in awe at the massive Dhamek Stupa, a solid structure with a height of 43.6 meters and a diameter of 28 meters. The Stupa is said to mark the spot where the Buddha gave his first sermon.

Sarnath, Varanasi

Ganga Aarti

The grand finale to our trip would be, witnessing the spectacular Ganga Aarti on Dashashwamedh Ghat sitting in a boat, moored near the ghats.


It will be such a blissful experience, I thought as remembered the last time I had witnessed this glittering ceremony.

As the sun sets on the horizon and twilight casts its mystical glow, the river Ganga assumes a golden sheen and its gentle waves shimmer and caress the sides of the boat, the wooden boat now appearing gilded gently come to a stop in front of the Dashaswamedh Ghat. There is a flurry of activity on the ghat as preparations are being made for the evening Aarti.

Aarti is a very important component of Hindu ritualistic worship, it is the act of waving lamps in a circular motion accompanied by the chanting of Vedic mantras or hymns, facing the object of worship or veneration. The Aarti is performed in temples and houses on a daily basis or during specific festivals.

In this case, the worship is of the River Ganga, whom the Hindus worship as a personification of the Divine Mother, a mother who has nurtured and sustained civilization along her banks from time immemorial.


Suddenly a hush falls upon the crowd as twilight slowly gives way to darkness, the ghat explodes into a brilliance of light as priests light their brass lamps and the aarti begins, the priests wave the lamps in a rhythmical and circular motion in time with the mellifluous song in praise of the River Ganga that pervades the air.



This ceremony lasts for 45 minutes and waves of devotion and spirituality submerge the people gathered to watch this event. The mind experiences a strange sense of calm as if the River Ganga has cleansed your very being and set at rest all the troubles and doubts that plague your mind.


It is such an uplifting experience, but for me, I am sure that this time around when I witness the Ganga Aarti with my father, the magnificence of the spectacle and the spiritually charged atmosphere will pale in comparison to the smile that I will see on his face, the sparkle that will kindle his eyes again and the touch of his hand as he gently squeezes mine.

I look forward to this trip and hope things go well as planned and I get to see my Dad smile. 🙂

This article has also been published in Huffington Post. Please check here.

What special something have you planned for your Father, do let us know through our comments section.

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112 thoughts on “Varanasi – A Spiritual Experience in The City of Light”

  1. Thanks for sharing. I grew up visiting Varanasi many times and must have seen all those ghats and markets. Your pictures have captured everything beautifully, the uniqueness of Varanasi.

  2. Few cities match Varanasi for history and mystique. It’s a great place to say for a few days and your photos bring back fond memories of travel there.

  3. Wow! This sounds like a very special trip. Everything mentioned sounds so exciting. I love the photo of the market and would love to go on the boat tour that takes you across the different ghats.

  4. I loved every bit of Varanasi and I would definitely return there. It is such a vibrant city and truly spiritual. You can feel the spirituality literally floating in the air. Thank you for taking me back on memory lane 🙂

  5. What a lovely thing to do, to plan a special trip for your father like this and help him fulfill a dream. I wish I had had the chance to travel properly with my own father before he passed away.

    1. Oh, I am so sorry. I feel the same for my Mom. I now feel that I could do so many things along with her but cannot do. But I feel blessed that I atleast can share some happy moments with my Dad.

  6. I`m happy you are at peace and had fulfilled your father`s dream!
    Varanasi looks a lot like Meereen at the first glance or so it does to me.
    India is one of my dream destinations that I heard many stories about, but I`ve never been sure which city to visit. I`ll definitely put Varanasi on the list.

  7. Thanks for this beautiful glimpse of Varanasi. I’ve been there twice before, but you really brought out new aspects I’d not yet discovered. I’d love to know more about the food you mentioned. Can you tell me which of those items are vegan (containing no animal products, including dairy)?

    1. Wow, that is nice to know you visited Varanasi twice. We are vegetarians but not vegan. You can try out the kachoris without curd. They taste yum! The banarasi paan is actually something which people eat in India after a meal. It basically is eaten to digest the food. It is made of betel leaves, arecanut and some plums etc.

  8. My girlfriend thought it was wonderful, however I’m still yet to get there…

    That photo of the Jalebi reminded me that we’d found an almost identical Persian sweet when we were in Iran!

  9. I have been to Varanasi last year and I was so impressed by it. I have done all the things you have planned for your father and also visited the University of Varanasi, as an extra. I was deeply touched by the culture and the traditions I have witness there.

  10. Rashmi&Chalukya

    Visiting Varanasi and witnessing the Ganga Aarti is our dream. The pictures itself emanates so much spirituality that cant wait to visit and experience and we would definitely not miss the banarasi pan. Bookmarked your post.

  11. This will be one of those trips that will stay with you for a lifetime. It will be the little moments and special bonding times that you will remember the most. I love when people can open up and share really personal sides to them. It is not always just about the destination but the feelings too.

    1. You are absolutely right Sheri. This is going to be special and would love to bring that personal touch to the articles and share with you all. 🙂

  12. Varanasi has been on my bucket list for so very long. Thank you for reminding me of how special of a place it is and that I can’t lose sight of experience it.

  13. Reading about Varanasi gives me such wanderlust butterflies. India is on top of our travel list! Such a unique place! Must be such an amazing experience watching the Ganga Aarti.

  14. What a special trip that goes much deeper than most trips taken – I’m sure your father will love it. I recently went on a trip with my dad along the coast of Oregon and Washington in the USA. The long times spent in the car meant we could catch up on everything that’s been happening over the past few years. Can’t wait to hear about your experience on this trip the second time around.

  15. You are such a sweetheart for giving your Dad one of his dream to visit Varanasi. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this place reminds me of a scene from Game of Thrones featuring Aria.. Indeed, this place is very spiritual, and very mysterious.

  16. First off, I have to say that your photos are really great. I love how you captures the architecture (I am a sucker for architecture!) and I have to say this is one of the most special post I have read in a long time. I hope you have a great trip.

  17. That’s great you took your father there! Recently I took my father (from Canada) to a fireworks festival (in Taiwan) where the crowd gets shot with fireworks. He loves fireworks and said it was the best time of his life!
    I have been to Varanasi twice and I think everybody in the world should go there in their lifetime!
    But I can’t imagine eating jalebis for breakfast. So sweet!!! What is the food pictured beside the jalebis?

    1. Oh wow! that is awesome. The smile on your Dad’s face must have given you so much happiness! Have you witnessed fireworks during Diwali in India (around Oct.-Nov. months)? The image next to jalebis is that of Kachoris.

  18. What an amazing place to visit with your father. I have always wanted to go to Varanasi. I didn’t realize there was so much to do outside of experiencing the river itself. I will keep all the food places in mind as well that you mentioned. You really did think of everything when planning your trip.

  19. I love reading your narratives!!! In our family, I’m the only who got infected by the travel bug, and since I’m still in the country although living independently, I see to it to go back to my hometown and visit my parents and siblings and cooking dinner for everyone. Most of the time, I make new recipes I have encountered from my trips. 😀

  20. I’ve read wonderful things about Varanasi, and this is another lovely account of what looks like a beautiful place- great photos! Another to visit and appreciate.

  21. Beautiful pictures and that sun set looks amazing. I’ve always wanted to go to India but a bit apprehensive about travelling solo I might get there one day

  22. I loved Varanasi when I visited, although I don’t think I could ever have the special connection your father has since I am not Hindu. Amazing magical place though. I hope to go back someday.

  23. First of all, you have a really great sense of story-telling to your writing; and I love it!
    Second, what an amazing thing to do for your Father, I hope that I am able to treat my parents in a similar way at some point.
    Third (and lastly), Varanasi looks like a beautiful city to visit. I remember reading about the amount of people who make a trip there simply to die, because of how holy it is. An incredible place to visit – I’m jealous!

    1. Thank you Danielle. Glad you like the articles. It is always nice to make our parents happy. Varanasi is definitely a beautiful place to visit.

  24. Your dad is awesome! Spending two hours making sure his little boy gets the experience he wanted. There are so many home videos and pictures I look back at that remind me how thankful I am for my family and how much they have aged.

    The more I travel, the more I want to take them to the places they always wants to see. It may sound a little bad but the truth is, they will not have the energy or abilities they have now to travel and explore.

    Make sure you share the trip and your dad’s reaction with us!

  25. Great writing style – beautiful photography
    And a nice place . But I was disappointed with the general mess and lack of cleanliness. Sarnath and BHU were such a relief !

  26. I’ve never been to Varanasi but I keep hearing the same stories from my dad all the time about this place. It somehow connects with you even if you try to resist it. Thats what he said to me. I guess it is true.

  27. Vyjay, you are a very good son! I am sure your father will enjoy this trip.
    I visited India 6 times but I was never brave enough to visit Varanasi. I think I should grow spiritually to be able to understand this city. What is a ghat?
    Congratulations on your publication to the Huffington Post!

  28. What a special surprise for your father! When do you go? I don’t have any close family to travel with but I would love to see Varanasi anyway. I didn’t realize it was a special place for Buddhists as well!

  29. This would be such a wonderful trip for your father. I am thinking of getting there too, once I get to India. I love the detailed informations you have pointed out here.

  30. If it’s an important place for spiritual believers, then Varanasi is a great place to discover. In that way, you could easily get the vibe of the tradition in the area. It looks magical and fascinating. Really a good place for surprises. 🙂

  31. Varanasi in one of the places in India and the world I hope to visit some day. Your itinerary and description encompass exactly why I’d love to visit, it really sounds like a dream experience

  32. JKV Raghu Setty

    This is a nice info about Varanasi/Kashi. It could be direct info without story like with ur dad.

  33. Have you guys considered writing a book? Seriously, the way you wrote about this place was so full of emotion and narrates it with passion. Varanasi, on its own looks stunning as an ancient city, however the way you connected the dots to your childhood made this post even more special. Thanks for sharing!

  34. It’s a very good story and I don’t know why this post made me think of my father as well and where he would have wanted to go. It’s so sweet of your to take him to this trip and just let him enjoy all the moments. Life will never be the same without the woman you spent your life with but I hope he enjoys this trip very much that it will cheer him up!

  35. I am sure your father is excited for this trip, there’s nothing like being able to go to your dream destination with your child. It’s really nice of you to do this for him. I loved reading about the place, it sounds amazing and there’s no doubt that you’ll have a lot of fun together. Go on and bring that sparkle in his eyes back!

  36. What a lovely post. I haven’t been to India. Definitely want to go. My dad was there for a long time, in his youth. Hi pictures from the trip are amazing. What a culture! But he lost a lot of weight due to Dehli Belly and that’s exactly what my boyfriend is worried about. I need to find a way to convince him. And I will make him read this post.

  37. What a lovely story. Hope you had a wonderful time. Varanasi is one place I definitely want to visit in my lifetime. Although I am wary of the Pandits and the unnecessary rituals, but I do want to experience it all once. Plus sitting on that ghat of must mean something that so many seek for it..

  38. Varanasi is actually the holiest places in all of Hinduism. Ganges river is an important part of Varanasi. I am reading your blog and really you share the guideline of Varanasi is helpful. Thanks for sharing.

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