Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and one of India’s holiest pilgrimage sites, sits on the banks of the Ganges River in the state of Utter Pradesh 474 miles (765 kilometers) from New Delhi. Believed to be the abode of the god Shiva, Hindu pilgrims from all corners of India come here to find purification in the waters of the holy river and to cremate their dead in hopes of releasing them from the cycle of reincarnation.
The lifeblood of Varanasi is the Ganges, lined by busy ghats where mundane tasks, like washing laundry and bathing, take place alongside sacred ceremonies. Colorful temples and shrines, flower markets and holy men selling their services along the river lend Varanasi an almost mystical feeling -- it’s the exotic India many travelers imagine before ever stepping foot in the country.
To get a sense of the place, take a boat ride down the Ganges River at dawn or sunset, where you’ll pass ancient temples sinking into the water, priests performing fire rituals and Hindu pilgrims setting candles afloat on the water’s surface as an offering to the gods.