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HLester3 Apr 15th, 2007 03:53 PM

Why is Varanasi the highlight of the trip?
Hi. I have been reading all of the old posts of people asking which is better to go to, Jaipur or Varanasi. It seems an overwhelming number of people state hands down that Varanasi is the choice, and was the highlight of their trip. Could someone please explain why they feel that Varanasi was the highlight? Is the ceremonies, or just seeing the river? Is it more lively than Jaipur? We have a limited time, so we would only have 2 full days plus a additional day of travel. I would appreaciate any direction or hotel hotel recommendations
Thanks, Heather

shothyme77 Apr 15th, 2007 06:54 PM

well, personally we loved and hated varanasi. I am so so glad we went there though as it was true india. it was absolutely amazing and there is no place in the world like it. you see things in varanasi that you can't see anywhere else in the world. jaipur was all very touristy to me - I wish I would have skipped it. nothing really all that amazing - a nice fort, a nice elephant ride, but you are with lots and lots of other tourists. in varanasi we stayed at the taj hotel...the staff was amazing, the hotel was fair. food was ok...the restaurant manager is so so great - he even gave us a tour of the kitchen and taught us how to make naan. a highlight of the trip!

Cicerone Apr 15th, 2007 07:36 PM

Having been to both several times, I don’t think you could go “wrong’ with either, and some of the choice would have to do with where else you are going on this trip and how hard it would be to get to either Jaipur or Varanasi from where you will be. A very rough comparison might be the choice between going to the Vatican/Rome during Easter week and going to Florence. It is basically ALWAYS Easter Week in Varanasi; there are tens of thousands of pilgrims there all the time, some there for cremations, some there just to worship in the river. It’s virtually the most holy site in the world for Hindus, and because of that, I think a lot of visitors find it interesting and moving to observe the rituals both from a boat along the river and elsewhere. (The river itself is not physically prepossing, it is in fact quite barren of vegetation, and quite calm and flat.) It is also an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists, as the Buddha preached his first sermon at Sarnath a few miles from the river, so there is a lot of religious activity going on here, which is not the case in Jaipur. Jaipur is about historical sites and the beauty of the desert. Jaipur has some great buildings like the City Palace, the Palace of the Winds and the Amber Fort. It also has some very good hotels (which can’t be said really of Agra, see below).

If you are going to other Mughal towns in Rajasthan like Udaipur or Jodhpur or Jaislamer, then you could easily, IMO, skip Jaipur. Conversely, if getting to Varanasi is going to involve a long train journey or several flights (and in late Dec or Jan when fog is an issue), and you have a limited time, then perhaps this could be saved for another trip.

I agree that in Agra the Taj may be the best, I also think you may want to look at the Ganges View which I have not been to but which is reccod by the Sawday’s book which I always find has interesting hotels. Hotels in Varanasi are not really as good as elsewhere in India, even the Taj is pretty basic, IMO. For the Sawdays website go to, he also has a book Allistar Sawday's "Special Places to Stay India". The Radisson and the Palace on the Ganges are also supposed to be good.

HLester3 Apr 15th, 2007 08:22 PM

Thank you for both of your inputs. Basically our previous plan was Agra for the day, spending the night and then drive to Jaipur the morning. Then we were going to spend the rest of the day and the next day in Jaipur. The next day fly to Delhi. I started thinking that Varanasi after reading everyones posts and thougth taht since it is also only a 1 hour plane ride from Delhi, maybe we should go there instead. If we did that, then we would take the train back and forth from Delhi to Agra for the day, and then fly to Varanasi the next day.

I know that it is a very limited time to explore either of these desinations, but at this point it is this amount of time or nothing. My husband is really hot on the idea of a whole vacation in India, so I thought I am taking what I can get since it is only 4 hours away by plane from scheduled vacation. Right now I was planning on Jaiper, but really I am open to pretty much any place where there is an airport in Rajasthan or Varnassi. I was even thinking about Haridwar, but that hasn't gotten very good reveiws from previous posts.

Does everyone who goes to Varanasi do the boat trip down the river. I have read how polluted the river is. Do they have ceremonies every night? I know that I sound very naive, but even after reading guidebooks, I am unclear on this.
Thanks, Heather

agtoau Apr 15th, 2007 09:09 PM

Varanasi is a mixture of the beautiful, the sublime, the filthy, the ugly and the ridiculous. In that sense it is a microcosm of India. It is also a very old city. Culture and art has flourished there. Some of India's greatest musicians came from Varanasi, handwoven Banarasi silk sarees are world-class, Banarasi style of painting is unque and so on.

What Varanasi needs is an infusion of Swiss spirituality (i.e. a thorough clean-up) both for the river and the ghats. There is no enforcement of rules and regulations in India, as a result anyone can do whatever it is that you want and get away with it.

As a visitor, it is hard to not be untouched by Varanasi.

waynehazle Apr 15th, 2007 11:40 PM

<i><font color="GREEN"> Varanasi is a mixture of the beautiful, the sublime, the filthy, the ugly and the ridiculous.</font></i>

Wow, now there is an amazing quote! But I can't deny it.

To see my day on the Ganges in Varanasi:

and part 2

And as it was already well said, as the most Holy Hindu city on earth, it captures a flavor like no other city. It is easy to pick Varanasi over Jaipur. Yet as also said, you can't go &quot;wrong&quot; going to Jaipur. Plenty of amazing things to see.

Cicerone Apr 16th, 2007 01:05 AM

Boat trips on the Ganges are at SUNRISE, not at night. Worshippers bathe in the river at sunrise as part of the religious ritual. Cremations take place on about a 24-hour basis. While you can see the bathers and the cremations from the shoreline, the best place to really get the best views is from a boat. It would kind of be a waste, IMO, to go to Varanasi and not go out on a boat at sunrise to observe the bathers.

If I understand your post correctly, you are thinking of doing 4 days in India as an “add on” from a vacation someplace else (Thailand?). I cannot stress enough what a bad idea I think this is, and how little enjoyment I think you will get out of such a rushed trip. Even assuming everything goes well and you make it to all 4 destinations (a bit if with possible train, flight or traffic delays in India; it ain’t Europe and it is not even Thailand), IMO, you cannot even begin to do justice to any of those places in such a short time. Delhi cannot be seen or appreciated in 1 day. You don’t seem to have thought about stopping at Fatephur Sikri between Agra and Jaipur, which is one of the most interesting places in Rajasthan, IMO. To do a day trip to Agra by train is a complete waste of time, IMO, you will miss sunrise and sunset, both magical times; and all you will see of Agra is the 100 yards around the Taj full of touts trying to sell you things and you will hate Agra, a city with a lot to offer IMO. You aren’t allowing any time to see the lovely desert around Jaipur, nor any of the wildlife or bird parks like Ranthambore where you could possibly see tiger and could definitely see lots of wildlife. India is a huge country with so much to offer, and it deserves time to be seen properly. If your husband does not want to go, then make your own trip with a group of like-mined people. I once ran into a group of 6 women traveling together whose husbands did not want to make the trip, and believe me, they were having the absolute time of their lives....

One more thing, if your trip is in September, as your other posts seem to indicate, temperatures them will be in the 90s F most days and as it is the end month of the monsoon, you are going to have some rain as well AND it will be quite humid in places like Delhi. If you are going to have your children with you (as I believe is the case from other posts), then they and you will need malaria precautions, plus updates for things like polio (a growing problem in Mumbai), dpt, etc. I would not subject young kids to such a whirlwind trip, let alone adults.

agtoau Apr 16th, 2007 02:40 AM

Cicerone, yes, the main boat rides at Varanasi must be experienced at sunrise. However, the late evening boat rides gives one a ringside view of the Ganga aarti ceremony that starts everyday at 7:00 pm on the Dasashwamedh ghat. I will soon have pictures available.

Cicerone Apr 16th, 2007 03:12 AM

Can you really see it well from the water? I have only been on shore at the ghat itself, I did not think you could really see much from the water, good to know that this is possible.

agtoau Apr 16th, 2007 05:12 AM

They dock it very close to the ghats, so yes, it can be seen very well from there. They advantage is that you can see it this way for 20 mins, then move to the ghats and watch it from other angles.

waynehazle Apr 16th, 2007 09:32 AM

The night time ceremony is amazing and I think is best to experience on land not on the boat.

Lyndie Apr 16th, 2007 11:56 PM

If you want a more peaceful alternative to Varanasi try Rishikesh. It's far cleaner, not as busy and the evening aarti &amp; singing is glorious. No cremations but the Mother Ganges is clean &amp; the cows are very well behaved there. Some great places to stay too!

chimani Apr 17th, 2007 06:39 AM

This is a no-brainer. Varanasi is, as someone else said, like nowhere else on the planet, especially if you have the bottle to go out and wander.

It isn't easy - trip on the river worthwhile, but more important just walk.

Having said that, it wasn't the highlight of my trip (and I have been there twice). And just in case you are curious, my highlight wasn't in Rajasthan either.


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