Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India and one of the oldest cities in the world. I first got to know about this fascinating city in my history school books and ever since, I dreamed about seeing the sunset in Varanasi. It looked like something different, out of this world… 15 years later, I got the chance to experience this personally and the impression didn’t fall short of the expectations. Watching the sun go down while sitting next to the Ganges River at one of the many ghats in Varanasi, is something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
In case you’re not familiar with the term, ghats in Varanasi are series of steps that lead to a wharf that’s either a cremation or bathing spot located along the banks of a river. In other words, this is where Hindus cremate the deceased. Interestingly, a lot of people from around India actually come to Varanasi to die. For Hindus, Varanasi is the holiest city. According to the epic Mahabharata, the five Pandava princes came to Benaras (Varanasi) to pursue moksha (liberation from their sins) after they were victorious in the succession battle against their cousins. This is perhaps the main reason why a lot of holy Hindu scripts state that dying in Varanasi and being cremated on one of the ghats in Varanasi allows one to break the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation and eternal peace.
Ghats in Varanasi
Whether the above-mentioned claim is true or not, the ghats in Varanasi attract thousands of spiritual travelers every year not only from around India but from different corners of the world as well. Varanasi is home to a whopping 84 ghats. Most of them are sites for performing different kinds of rituals but there are also a few that pilgrims use solely for cremations. In this article, we’ll introduce you to some of the most important ghats in Varanasi and what makes them special. But before that, let’s cover some basics like…
Getting to Varanasi
Varanasi is located in the east of India’s biggest state, Uttar Pradesh. It’s 300 kilometers away from the state’s capital, Lucknow, 820 kilometers away from Delhi, 1500 kilometers away from Mumbai, and 700 kilometers away from Kolkata. Daily, there are six flights from Mumbai to Varanasi, 11 from Delhi, and 4 from Bangalore and Hyderabad. Additionally, you can get at least one flight per day from Kolkata, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Patna, Gaya, Tirupati, Chennai, and Khajuraho. Alternatively, Last time I visited, I reached Varanasi from Delhi by bus and the journey took 14 hours. I came back to Delhi by train and the journey took around 15 hours.
With that being said, let’s see which are some of the most fascinating ghats in Varanasi.
Assi Ghat- the most famous one
Assi Ghat is where the Ganges meets the Assi River. You’ll find this ghat in the southernmost part of Varanasi. This is where pilgrims bathe before worshiping Lord Shiva. The area is also famous for being the place where most foreign students and researches in Varanasi live. However, its somewhat remote location doesn’t stop visitors from flocking in every day. On average, 300 people visit the Assi Ghat every hour. When there are religious festivals, that number goes as high as 2,500!
Chet Singh Ghat- the fortified one
The Chet Singh Ghat is a fortified ghat with big historical importance. This ghat witnessed a huge battle between the ruler of Varanasi, Maharaja Chet Singh and the British invaders. Today, the fort looks better than ever and Chet Singh is one of the cleanest ghats in Varanasi. The ghat is also home to three lord Shiva temples that date back to the 18th century.
Dashashwamedh Ghat- the main one
Photo by Kasyap CC by SA 4.0
Located next to a busy market, Dashashwamedh is one of the holiest, oldest, and most frequented places in Varanasi. This is probably the main ghat in Varanasi on the Ganges River. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Brahma created this ghat to welcome Lord Shiva by performing a sacred sacrifice ritual. Today, locals have an entire carnival dedicated to this event and pilgrims from around the country come to attend.
Darbhanga Ghat- the most photogenic one
If Varanasi had a competition of the most photogenic ghat in town, Darbhanga would certainly be one of the frontrunners. The ghat was built in the early 1900s by the royal family of Bihar and saw a lot of changes throughout the years. Today, this ghat features a very beautiful Shiva temple, and an imposing palace with towering Greek pillars, and a hotel in which visitors can stay.
In the second decade of the 20th century, the site was bought by the Brahmin King Darbhanga who built a beautiful palace along the ghat, but in the 1990s, the ghat’s ownership changed hands again when Clarks Hotel bought the property with an intention to turn the site into a hotel. Fortunately, they gave up on the idea because of strong social pressure and protests. Today, the ghat isn’t living its best days; most of it lies in ruins but by visiting you can still get a glimpse of some better times.
Scindia Ghat- the one with a temple lying on the river
According to Hindu mythology, Scindia is the birthplace of Agni, the Hindu god of fire. The ghat is located right next to the Manikarnika Ghat where cremations are performed. It was built in the 1830s’ by the Scindias, a Hindu Marathi dynasty after which the ghat was named. At Scindia Ghat, you’ll also find a tilted Shiva temple lying on the river.
Man Mandir Ghat- the one with Rajput architecture
This is one of the rare ghats in Varanasi with a mesmerizing, characteristic Rajput architecture. Man Mandir was built in the 1600s by Rajput Maharajah, Man Singh, who chose this ghat as a location for his summer palace. One of his descendants, Sawai Jai Singh II also built an observatory in the 1700s and the astronomical instruments inside are still in a good condition and open for visitors.
Mansarovar Ghat- the one with the holy water
Photo by 25 Cents FC CC by SA 3.0
Similarly like the Man Mandir, Mansarovar was built by Rajput Maharajah, Man Singh but 15 years earlier. This ghat also has a pool that locals believe has water as holy as the one in the holy Lake Mansarovar in Tibet. This is where this ghat got its name from. Today, the pool is significantly smaller due to the development in the area and looks more like a well than a pool but it still didn’t lose its significance among pilgrims from around the country who visit the ghat every day.
Bhonsale Ghat- the one that women can’t visit
Built by King Bhonsale of Nagpur in the 1780s, this ghat is notable for its beautiful artistic windows and three heritage temples. This ghat dates back to the days of the Marathi Empire and is home to two holy shrines; Yameshwara Temple, dedicated to the Lord of Death and Yamaditya Temple dedicated to the Lord of Life. Bhonsale is also one of only a few ghats in Varanasi that women can’t visit. Recently, it was popular due to the controversy surrounding a fraud that relates to the sale of the ghat in 2013 when a member of the royal family was trying to sell the property to two different entities at the same time.
Manikarnika Ghat- the one that performs cremations
Manikarnika is probably the most popular ghat in Varanasi. This is the place where most of the cremations in Varanasi take place. Be careful, though, this isn’t an experience that anyone can handle. If you’re prone to culture shock or just can’t stand the sight of seeing burning dead bodies in front of you, I suggest you stay away from this ghat. And if you’re sure you want to see a live ceremony, you can. You need to pay a fee for this but don’t agree with the initial price that will be asked from you; unless you want to get ripped off.
Ahilyabai Ghat- the one with a grandiose Hanuman Temple
Previously known as Kevalagiri Ghat, this ghat was completely rebuilt in the 18th century and renamed after the queen Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Madhya Pradesh. Here, you’ll also find a palace and an impressive Hanuman temple whose interior is decorated with some fascinating, old images. This is also one of the most popular sites in Varanasi for bathing rituals.
Digpatia Ghat- the one sacred to Bengalis
Built in the 1830s’, Digpatia Ghat is a prime example of Bengali architecture and art. The ghat also has a beautiful Bengali palace in which you can find a few extremely rare old images of goddess Kali, Shiva, and Ganesha and an ancient Yogini temple where pilgrims take ritual baths. Digpatia Ghat is also home to Kashi Ashram, one of the most beautiful old buildings in this part of Varanasi.
Ganga Mahal Ghat- the one next to the famous one
Photo by AKS.9955 CC by SA 4.0
Originally designed as an extension to Assi Ghat, Ganga Mahal is home to one of Varanasi’s most beautiful palaces. The palace was home to the Narayan dynasty’s summer residence in the 19th century and is divided by the famous Assi Ghat with a set of stone steps.
Harishchandra Ghat- the other one that performs cremations
Harishchandra is certainly one of the oldest ghats in Varanasi. No one knows exactly how old this ghat is but according to Indian mythology, this ghat was a gift to King Harish Chandra from the Gods as a reward for his generosity and truthfulness. Harishchandra is one of the two ghats in Varanasi where cremations take place. People believe that if one is cremated at this ghat, that person will achieve moksha (salvation).
Jain Ghat- the one with the swastika
If you don’t know a lot about Hindu symbology, the giant red swastika on the stairs leading to Jain Ghat will probably come as a surprise. Don’t worry, this isn’t a nazi symbol. In Hinduism, the swastika symbolizes sun, prosperity, and good luck. This swastika was the emblem of the seventh Jain Tirthankara- Suparshvanatha. This ghat was erected to honor his life and achievements.
Narad Ghat- the one where couples can’t go
Photo by Alexey Komarov CC by SA 4.0
Named after Narada Muni, the supreme Vishnu devotee, this ghat is one place couples don’t want to go to. According to legends, couples must not bathe in the waters of Narad Ghat because they will separate soon after doing so and most people still believe in this.
Pandey Ghat- the one where people wash their clothes
Pandey ghat has been named after Babua Pande, a renowned wrestler who built the first wrestling place in Varanasi. In a spiritual sense, this ghat has been kind of forgotten by the locals and barely any rituals are performed here. If you’re looking for a nice view, climb to the top of the palace to get a glimpse of the beautiful surrounding temples fading away in the Ganges. Also, you’ll inevitably see a lot of Dhobis (people washing clothes) at the shore throughout the day (a rather common jugaad for a washing machine) which is why a lot of people refer to this ghat as the Dhobi Ghat.
Raja Ghat- the one that fed Brahmins
This ghat is so big, it has two parts that are as big as a lot of other ghats in Varanasi. In the northern part, you’ll find the ghat palace, while in the southern part you’ll find the Annapurna Temple. Until the 1980s, Brahmins, ascetics, and Sanskrit students were fed in the temple in a rather fascinating ritual. However, this tradition stopped in the 1980s when Clark Hotels started to buy properties in the area.
Rajendraprasad Ghat- the one devoted to the president
Previously part of Dashashvamedha, this ghat is the only one in Varanasi to be named after a politician; Rajendra Prasad, the first president of India. The site is also home to three shrines; one is dedicated to Durga, other to Rama Pancayatana, and the third one to Lord Shiva.
Shivala Ghat- the largest one
Photo by Antoine Taveneaux CC by SA 3.0
In the past, Shivala was one of the largest ghats in Varanasi. Today, the historic portion of Shivala has been divided into five different ghats but the main ghat remains extremely important for South Indians. The site is also home to Brahmendra Math and temples dedicated to Svapaneshvari and Lord Hanuman.
Tripura Bhairavi Ghat- the most sacred one for South Indians
Tripura Bhairavi is probably the most sacred ghat for South Indian pilgrims, particularly the ones from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The ghat is devoted to Tripura Bhairavi; the fifth cosmic power of the Hindu Pantheon.
Vijayanagara Ghat- the one devoted to Andra Pradesh
Built by the Maharaja of Vijaynagaram and is the only ghat in Varanasi that represents the state of Andhra Pradesh. Along the ghat, you’ll find two temples, one dedicated to Lord Shiva and the other to Nishpapeshvara (another local deity).
Rewan Ghat- the one owned by the university
Rewan is the only ghat in Varanasi that was built by the Maharajah of Punjab (early 18th century). However, later on, it was bought by the King of Rewan and this is where the ghat got its name from. During the mid-20th century, the king donated the ghat to the Benares Hindu University that still owns the property today.
Nishad Ghat- the one inhabited by boatmen
Formerly part of the Prabhu Ghat, Nishad Ghat is famous for the many boatmen families that have been living on the ghat since the 20th century. You’ll inevitably notice some of the many boats in the area when passing by. Even though not as religiously important as some other ghats on this list, the Nishad Ghat has a nice symbolic. The ghat is dedicated to Nishadraj, the boatmen who helped Lord Rama cross the Ganges during his exile.
Tulsi Ghat- the mythical one
Photo by Nandanupadhyay CC by SA 3.0
According to Hindu legends, the Tulsi Ghat was the stage of the first-ever Ramleela; a very unique Indian ritual devoted to the life of Lord Rama, the main character of the epic Ramayana. The story behind the name of the ghat is also quite interesting. According to the legend, when the famous poet Tulsidas composed the legendary Ramcharitmanas, his script accidentally fell in the Ganges but instead of sinking, it kept floating.
Niranjani Ghat- the one devoted to a Naga saint
Niranjani is one of two ghats in Varanasi that are devoted to a Naga saint. In the northern part of the ghat, you can see a few akharas, where Naga pilgrims perform their rituals. This ghat also hosts four temples that were donated by the King of Nepal and the footprints of Niranjani Maharaj (the Naga saint after which the ghat is named).
Mahanirvani Ghat- the one Buddha visited
Mahanirvani is the second ghat in Varanasi that’s devoted to and named after a Naga saint. According to written sources, Kapila, the founder of the Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy lived along this ghat and according to legends, once upon a time, Buddha visited the ghat and took a bath in the river. The Maharajah of Nepal constructed four temples devoted to Lord Shiva on the site and the Mahanirvani Ghat is also a place where you can see the only Karttikeya temple in Varanasi.
Dandi Ghat- the one ascetics hang around at
Dandi is a sacred spot for Dandi ascetics from around India. You can’t possibly miss it while walking around Varanasi because you’ll see hundreds of contemplative yogis sitting on the ghat. This is also one of the cleanest ghats in Varanasi and it’s even safe to dip in the river without worrying about hygiene, which is not the case with most surrounding ghats.
Kedar Ghat- the one with the prettiest palace
Kedar Ghat is very famous among South Indians and Bengali pilgrims for the Parvati Kund; a pond that supposedly has healing properties. The ghat is also home to one of the most beautiful ancient-style temples in Varanasi dedicated to Lord Shiva, the guardian of the city.
Lalita Ghat- the one with many temples
Entirely covered in red sandstone, Lalita Ghat is devoted to the local Goddess Lalita; one of the many incarnations of Goddess Durga. Lalita is home to numerous important temples including shrines of Lalita Devi, Gangatiya, Bhagirath Tirtha, and a fascinating Nepali-style wooden temple. Lalita is one of the seven most important ghats in Varanasi, according to the Varanasi Tourism Department. In recent years, more tourists visit because fascinating and interesting rituals can be seen all the time in at least one of the many temples along the ghat.
Sankhata Ghat- the local’s favorite
Sankata is one of the most frequented ghats in Varanasi mainly because of the many religious activities and rituals that take place here. The ghat wears the name of Sankhata Devi, the goddess of remedy. Along the ghat, there’s also a temple devoted to Sankhata Devi that holds a remarkable reverence among the people of Varanasi who visit the temple every day seeking blessings from the goddess and help with their present life challenges.
Adi Keshav Ghat- the oldest one
Also known as the Vedeshwara Ghat or the Raj Ghat, this is arguably the oldest ghat in Varanasi and the most authentic site of Lord Vishnu. The ghat is located at the junction of Ganges and Varuna and attracts thousands of visitors that want to pay their respect to Adi Keshav; a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. Interestingly, the ghat is also home to the only temple in India that holds a Shiva Lingam despite being dedicated to Lord Vishny.
Useful resources for visiting Varanasi
If you’re looking for a cheap flight to Varanasi, check out Air France’s Oh-la-la deals. I’ve been using them to book my flights for years and it saved me a lot of $ throughout the years.
Are you looking for an amazing cultural tour in India? I suggest you check out Trafalgar’s Colorful India tour.
Want to save on accommodation in Varanasi? This special Booking.com offer helps you save up to 15% on all properties in the city. And if you want to stay in one of the best hotels in town, use this special offer to get you 10% off on your stay at the local Radisson.
Last but not least, don’t forget about travel insurance. For the best deals on the market, go to World Nomads. If something unfortunate happens during your trip, you can make a claim online and get paid ASAP.
Did you manage to learn some new things about the ghats in Varanasi? Which one was your favorite? Which one would you visit the first if you were to go to Varanasi? Is Varanasi on your travel bucket list? Let us know in the comments.
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