For thousands of years, people have worshipped on the shores of the River Ganges at Varanasi. The ancient city is of great spiritual importance to Hindus because, according to legend, Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati stood here at the beginning of time. It is an exciting place of temples, shrines and rituals on the western banks of the river.
A good way to understand the importance of the river to Hindus is to take a boat ride along the waterfront to see the ghats. These are the long stone steps that lead from the city's alleys down to the river. At any time you may see people praying, bathing and washing their clothes. Weddings, funerals and cremations are also conducted on the banks of the river.
In the evening, go to Dasaswamedh Ghat to see the nightly ritual where thousands of lamps float across the water. The ghat is close to the 18th-century Kasha Vishwanath Temple and to the Jantar Mantar Observatory. Tour the 18th-century science base and see instruments that once recorded the motion of stars. The observatory is on the roof of the palace of Man Mahal.
Varanasi has temples at just about every turn. As a general rule, non-Hindus are not permitted inside Hindu temples, but do visit some of the sanctuaries to appreciate their architecture. The white marble Tulsi Manas Temple is open to everyone. Step inside to see walls decorated with images from Hindu legends.
While Hinduism is the main religion in India, Varanasi is also sacred to Buddhists. Visit the small village of Sarnath, just outside the city, where Buddha first preached his message of peace. See ancient holy structures, such as the Dhamekh Stupa, which dates back to the 5th century.
Being a place of religious significance to many Indians, Varanasi is well connected to many parts of the country by road, rail and air. Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport is the nearest international airport, just 11 miles (18 kilometers) away.
When you see the temples and rituals along the waterfront, you'll understand why Varanasi is so special to many Indians.