Varanasi, India

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Varanasi, once known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a historical city in northern India. The city is sacred to Hindus and Jains and also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with settlements dating back to the 11th century BC. Many Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi brings salvation/nirvana and so they make the trip to the city when they realize that they are close to death. For some, the culture shock of the burning corpses in plain view can be a bit overwhelming. However, the scene of pilgrims doing their devotions in the River Ganga at sunrise set against the backdrop of the centuries old temples is probably one of the most impressive sights in the world.

The city can be scorchingly hot in the summer months so, if possible, time your visit to fall between October and March, and bring something warm to wear for chilly days and nights.

Get in

Varanasi is well connected by plane, train, and bus. The trains and buses are dirty and overcrowded.

By plane

Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport (IATA: VNS) is located 25km northwest of the city center. A taxi to/from the airport takes an hour and costs ₹750, while a tuk-tuk/auto-rickshaw can take twice as long and costs ₹500. Allow extra time due to traffic. Air India, JetKonnect, SpiceJet, and IndiGo all operate regular flights to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Khajuraho, and Visakhapatnam. There are flights to Colombo on Mihin Lanka Airlines, and flights to Bangkok on Thai Airways.

Its easy to get a state-run bus to city center (opposite Varanasi Junction/Cantt station), which costs less than half a dollar. Bus stand is 10 minutes walking distance from airport. If taking state run (or private operator) bus from Varanasi to airport, take bus going to Jaunpur and get down at Babatpur airport stop. After walking 10 min, you can easily get to airport.

By train

There are multiple daily services to cities including Delhi (13 hours), Agra (13 hours), Lucknow (7 hours), Mumbai, and Kolkata.

Varanasi is served by three major railway stations:

  • Varanasi Junction (IR station code : BSB) – the trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹100 in a tuk-tuk.
  • Manduadih Railway Station – the trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹100 in a tuk-tuk.
  • Mughal Sarai Junction (IR station code : MGS), about 20km east of the city – the trip between the train station and the Ganges-area costs ₹500 in a taxi.

Here is a list of useful trains to reach Varanasi:

Train Number Train Name You may board at You may alight at
12424 Rajdhani Express New Delhi Mughal Sarai Junction
12436 Rajdhani Express New Delhi, Lucknow Varanasi Junction
12560 Shivganga Express New Delhi Manduadih Varanasi
12165 Lokmanya Tilak (T) – Varanasi Express Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Mumbai) Varanasi Junction
12336 Lokmanya Tilak (T) – Bhagalpur Express Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Mumbai) Mughal Sarai Junction
12333 Vibhuti Express Howrah (Kolkata) Mughal Sarai Junction, Varanasi Junction
12307 Howrah-Jodhpur Express Howrah (Kolkata) Mughal Sarai Junction
12669 Ganga Kaveri Express Chennai Central Varanasi Junction
12295 Sangamitra Express Bangalore City, Chennai Central Mughal Sarai Junction
17091 Secunderabad-Patna Express Secunderabad (Hyderabad) Mughal Sarai Junction, Varanasi Junction
14854 Marudhar Express Jaipur, Agra Fort Varanasi Junction
14864 Marudhar Express Jaipur, Agra Fort Varanasi Junction

Also see Rail travel in India

By bus

The bus station in Varanasi is located just east of the Varanasi Junction train station. A tuk-tuk from the bus station to the Ganges area costs ₹100.

Arriving from Nepal

Buses are available from major cities in Nepal to the border city of Sunauli. From the Sunauli bus station, take a rickshaw (200 NPR) to the border crossing, get your passport stamped on the Nepali side then walk through the border. After 100m of walking through no-man’s land, you will find the Indian immigration office hidden away on the left hand side of the road. After going through Indian immigration, walk 300m and find the bus stop on the right hand side. From there, take the government bus to Gorakhpur, not the private lines which are far less comfortable and stop everywhere. The bus trip between the border and Gorakhpur takes 4 hours and costs ₹60. To reach Varanasi from Gorakhpur, you can either take a train from the Gorakhpur Junction train station (5-7 trains per day, 5.5-7 hour journey, ₹200-800 cost) or a bus (hourly, 8+ hour journey, ₹130 cost).

Alternatively, there is a single bus that can be taken from Kathmandu through to Varanasi. As of Dec 2016 the bus costs 2100 NPR although if you reserve a ticket through a travel agency in Thamel it may be slightly more. The bus leaves from the Swayambhu bus park at 7pm every two days, a schedule should be available on the UPSRTC website. There is an office at the Swayambhu bus park where you may be able to directly reserve your tickets ahead of time. The bus is reasonably comfortable although it has no toilet and stops every few hours or so. The trip itself can take anywhere from 15 to 23 hours.

Arriving from other cities in India

There are buses run by state government from Lucknow (8 hours, ₹160), Gorakhpur (8+ hours, ₹130), Khajuraho (12 hours, ₹250), Kanpur (9 hours – ₹195), Faizabad (7 hours, ₹105), Bodhgaya (7 hours, ₹250) and Allahabad (3 hours – ₹107 for AC, ₹60 w/o AC).

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