Varanasi / Kashi / Benares
Varanasi is situated on the banks of the Ganges, 320 kilometres southeast of Lucknow. It is regarded as a holy city by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains as it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India. The Kashi Naresh is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi while the culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river's religious importance.
Ghats * Hindu Temples (Kashi Viswanath / Durga / Monkey)* Sarnath (Buddhist)
The city's life revolves around its seven km long sweep of about 100 bathing ghats that skirt the west bank of the Ganges. Most of them are used for bathing. Some are used for cremating bodies. It is believed that cremation at Manikarnika Ghat ensures a safe place in Heaven, as the cremators of this ghat are believed to have the patronage of Shiva. The furthermost upstream ghat is Assi Ghat , which marks the confluence of the Ganges and the Assi rivers. It is said that after striking down demon Shumbha and nishumbha, Durga's sword fell and created a curved ditch, which later became the Assi Channel. Nearby is the Tulsi Ghat, where Goswami Tulsidas lived till his death.Hanuman Ghat, Dashashvamedh Ghat, Varanasi's liveliest bathing place was constructed by Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao.Kedar Ghat is shrine popular with Bengalis and South Indians.
The history of Vishwanath Temple that is also called Golden Temple at times is full of ups and downs. The temple and city has always been on the receiving end of the invaders be it Afghans, Turks, Rohila or Marathas. The temple has been built and razed to the ground several times in the history. It was first destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji in the 13th century and was later rebuild. Emperor Akbar donated several acres of villages to the trust that was later cut down substantially by Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb was a fundamentalist who hated every possible religion and sects in India including Sufi and Shiite order among the Muslims. Rani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore built the present temple that stands in Varanasi, in the year 1776. Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore donated the 800-kilogram Gold-plating of the towers that gives the temple its colloquial name.