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Varanasi Travel Guide

Getting Oriented

Varanasi is on the west bank of the Ganges, which is intersected by two smaller rivers: the Varana, to the north, which winds by the Cantonment area (often abbreviated as Cantt) and joins the Ganges near Raj Ghat, and the Asi, a small stream in the south. The ghats stretch along the river from Raj Ghat in the north to Assi Ghat in the south; beyond Asi is the university, across the river from Ramnagar Fort and Palace. The city itself spreads out behind the ghats, where there are smaller hotels and restaurants; the larger chain hotels are in the Cantonment area, about 20 minutes from the river by auto-rickshaw.

Traditionally, Varanasi is divided into three sections named after important temples to Shiva. Omkareshvara is the namesake temple in the northern section, which is probably the oldest area but is now impoverished and seldom visited by pilgrims. The central section is named after Kashi Vishvanath, the famous "Golden Temple." Vishvanath itself means "Lord of the Universe," one of Shiva's names, and there are many Vishvanath temples. The southern area, the Kedar Khand, is named for Kedareshvara, a temple easily spotted from the river thanks to the vertical red and white stripes painted on its walls, a custom of the South Indian worshippers who are among the temple's devotees.

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