Photos of Varanasi – The ghats, temples and beyond

photos of varanasi, woman looking at ganges, view of ganges, sitting on ghats

Get lost in our photos of Varanasi

Visiting this city is a photographers dream!  The city is also known as Kashi, Banaras or Benares (Old name of Varanasi) If you spend some time looking at our photos of Varanasi you realise just what a fascinating city it is. There is more to the city than the ghat, Babnaras temples and busy city buzz. This was my second visit to the holy city, read more about my first visit where I met an astrologer in Varanasi.

The narrow alleys are colourful and rich with a spiritual essence. The Ghats carry aromas of different incense and the evening skies glow with a tranquil ambience. There is something different to discover around every corner.

banaras city images, man with goat in varanasi, streets of varanasi

Walking down the streets of Banaras

We missed our train to Varanasi and had 3 flights cancelled after being caught in the Kerala floods. We had no choice but to fly from TRV airport in Kerala, directly to Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport in Varanasi. After being stranded in Kerala, we missed our 2 days exploring Delhi but in a way it was a small blessing as we were dreading our 18 hour train ride to Varanasi.

Photographers, poets, writers, artist, pilgrims and spiritual seekers from all over the world flock to this city for inspiration and liberation. For four days we aimlessly wandered through the narrow lanes, busy streets and famous India Ghats capturing incredible pictures of Varanasi. This Varanasi photos gallery can only be an appetiser as to just how wonderful and far out the ancient holy city really is. All photos were captured using a GoPro Hero 6 and a Cannon EOS 1200D 


About Varanasi 

According to city legend, Varanasi was founded by the Lord Shiva after he married Goddess Parvati and left his abode in the Himalayas.

Chet Singh Ghat, pictures of varansi, ruins in varanasi

A Broken down palace on Chet Singh Ghat


History of Varanasi

We found so much history of Varanasi while exploring the streets of the holy city, however no one knows for certain just how old the city really is.

The earliest archaeological evidence suggests that the settlement in Varanasi, along the Ganga valley started in the the 11th or 12th century BC. Can you imagine if the city walls could talk? Oh, the stories they could tell.

Varanasi ranks among the world oldest continually inhabited cities. There has been excavations in Ramnagar and Akatha, which is located around Varanasi. The remains suggest that the city settlements go back to 1800 BC.

“Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together” – Mark Twain

Some of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world include: 

  • Damascus in Syria (9000BC)
  • Jericho in Israel (6800BC)
  • Alleppo in Syria (6000BC)
  • Athens and Agros in Greece (5000BC)
  • Rayy in Iran (approx 4000BC)
  • Lupyang in China (2000BC)
monkey in varanasi, animals in streets, photo essay
Monkey business between the narrow alleys

Facts about river Ganges

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Afternoon swim in the Ganges

If you search Google, you will find thousands of facts about the river Ganges. Here are a few that stuck out for us from the rest:

  • The Ganges is believed to be approx 80,000 years old.
  • The river is said to be the fifth most polluted river in the world.
  • In 1896, Ernest Hanbury Hankin published a journal after testing the Ganages water. His finding claimed that when he put  a sample of Bacteria Vibrio Cholerae (which causes deadly cholera) into the waters of Ganges it died within three hours. When he put the same bacteria into distilled water it was still present after 48 hours.
  • The water does not host mosquito breeding and its water also prevents mosquito’s breeding in any water it is added to.
  • In India, there is a common saying “If the Ganges thrives, India thrives and if the Ganges dies, India dies.”
  • The average depth of the river is 16 meters and the maximum depth, 30 meters.
  • Varanasi Ganges are visited by millions of people from every corner of the world to quench their thirst for knowledge and liberation.

photos of varanasi, man bathing in ganges, ganges photography

Bathing in the Ganges in Varanasi

ganges boat cruise, sunset boat ride varanasi

Sunset Varanasi ghats photo


The Ghats at Varanasi

facts about river ganges, boats along the ghats

What are Ghats? A flight of steps leading down to the banks of the river Ganges. There are approx 88 Ghats in Varanasi. Here are just a few ghats you may want to check out or avoid if you a bit sensitive.

  • Assi Ghat – According to legends, goddess Durga threw her sword down this ghat after killing demon Shumbha- Nishumbha.
  • Dasaswamedh Ghat – The  famous Ganga Aarti ceremony takes place here every evening.
  • Manikarnika Ghat – Bigger, more popular cremation ghat.
  • Harishchandra ghat – Another cremation Ghat, sometimes referred as Adi Manikarnika, which means the original creation ground.
  • Bhonsale Ghat – Stone building with small artistic windows at the top, and three heritage temples — Lakshminarayan Temple, Yameshwar Temple and Yamaditya Temple.

Alternatively, check out this list of all the different Ghats at Varanasi


The people of Varanasi

Varanasi (Kashi) is known as the religious capital of Hinduism. Both Hindus and non-Hindus from around the world visit Varanasi for different reasons.

Varanasi is visited for it’s traditions, spirituality, architecture, history and others travel to the city in search of the meaning of life. Some woman give birth to children on the ghats, people marry on the ghats and people come to die on the ghats.

One of the hotel managers told us that there is a very special power that surrounds the city. He has had people visit the city to find their soul mates believing those who live in the city may carry a spiritual charm while couples even visit the city to conceive believing the child will be blessed with powers.

It is clear that Varanasi is not just an ordinary city.

varanasi streets, exploring holy city

A holy man on the street corner


Varanasi Pilgrimage

Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person’s soul from the cycle of its transmigration (reincarnation).

Many Hindus come to the city to die, others save throughout their lives to ensure they can come to Varanasi and be cremated in the Ganges.

pilgrims in varanasi, busy streets

2 Generations of pilgrims walking through the busy steets of Banaras.

A large number of pilgrims visit the holy city from all parts of India and from all corners of the world. It is believed that the sacred river will cleanse them of their sufferings and wash their sins away. There are daily ceremonies and rituals performed on the banks of the Ganga and thousands of pilgrims come to the river for the “holy dip”.

Varanasi is mentioned in many Holy Scriptures like Puranas, Buddhist texts and in the Mahabharata. The most fascinating part of the holy city of Varanasi is that almost all the activities seem to revolve around river Ganges and it’s Ghats.

pilgrim walking in street varansi, varanasi pictures

Walking down the alleys after collecting holy water from the Ganges


What is a Sadhu?

sadhu photography, sadhu in varanasi

Sadhu in Varanasi

A sadhu is a religious ascetic, mendicant (monk) or any holy person in Hinduism and Jainism who has renounced the worldly life. It’s not just men who give up their lives, many woman do too but they are referred to as Sadhvi.

Sadhu’s may also be referred to as Saddu, Jogi, Sannyasi or Vairagi. They solely dedicate their lives to achieving liberation. This is known as the fourth and final stage of life. Liberation is reached through meditation and contemplation of Brahman. There are 4 to 5 million sadhus in India today.

Sadhu’s often wear simple clothing, such saffron coloured clothing in Hinduism, white or nothing in Jainism. This symbolises renunciation of worldly possessions.

people and cows in india, varanasi

There are many kinds of different Sadhu’s including Naga, Bandu, Yogi, Siwadas, Bakti and more. They are all trying to achieve religious illumination and liberation from the cycle of reincarnation.

One of the most interesting (and scary) sadhu’s we saw in Varanasi were Aghori’s. We recommend watching this short Aghori documentary from CNN which will explain more about their bizarre lifestyle which includes eating human flesh, drinking from a human skull and practising some out of the ordinary rituals. (Yikes! Make sure you have travel insurance just in case – get a quote from World Nomads here)

Beware of Blessing scam – There are some touts around the city that will try to convince tourist to receive blessings and participate in special ceremonies.  Be cautious as some ask for an outrageous amounts of money afterwards and if you don’t pay they threaten you. You should only ever give a donation that you are comfortable with.


Varanasi temple photos

There are over 23 000 temples to be discovered in Varanasi. This offers photographers ample opportunities to capture the temples beauty and stunning architecture. Many of the temples reminded us that colour really is part of India’s language. Be mindful that not all temples allow photography inside. Always ask before taking photos inside any temples.

varanasi temple, temple photography, image of varanasi temple

How incredible are the colours? Image of Varanasi temple we found while exploring.


Which temples in Varanasi should you visit?

  • Annapurna Temple – The Goddess Parvati is worshipped as the giver of food and nourishment.
  • Vishwanath Temple – One of the oldest and most sacred Hindu temples in India.
  • Kathwala Temple – Famous for it’s exquisite architecture and wood work.
  • Sankat Mochan Temple – This temple is also called as the Monkey temple because of the many monkeys inside the premises.
  • Kaal Bhairav Temple – Believed to be the guardian of the city and is known as the protector of devotees that may be in trouble.
  • Sarnath – One of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage centres in the country. 13 kilometres from the city of Varanasi and the Stupa of Sarnath is it’s greatest attraction.

varanasi architecture, Varanasi history


Banaras city images

There is something interesting down every alley and often something out of the ordinary too. You can expect to find hundreds of shops to haggle, street foods of all kinds and even a few cosy restaurants to escape the busy streets.

Getting lost in the street mazes are half the adventure. Just make sure your camera is charged, invest in a good power bank and that you have the number of your hotel just in case you cant find your way back. People are very friendly and we often had shopkeepers help point us in the right direction. Here are some of our favourite Varanasi pictures around the narrow alleys.

bike in street, Banaras city images

There is something new to discover about Varanasi around every corner.

Varanasi picture of the narrow alley’s

man sitting in shop, images of varanasi city

Looking for pictures? Check out this update with more of our images of Varanasi city.

photos of varanasi, walking down the street

Loved capturing these Banaras city images


STAY AT A HOTEL ON THE GHATS

If you looking for a place to stay during your visit to Varanasi, then we can highly recommend Suryauday Haveli. Not only are they right on the ghats, but they offer a complementary evening boat ride to watch the evening Aarti ceremony and some awesome evening traditional music. Alternatively, check out Booking.com which has some great options to choose from and  hundreds of reviews of different properties.

Hope you enjoyed our Banaras photo gallery. Have you been to Varanasi, did you enjoy visiting the city? Let us know your experiences in the comments below.

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* Although we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and corrects, we cannot be held liable for any errors. All opinions are our own. All images from this Varanasi blog can be used around the web as long as you credit us and link back to our website souldrifters.com. Images may not be used for advertising and commercial purposes. You are welcome to contact us for rates and terms for commercial rights. This page may contain affiliate links which allows us to earn a small commission at no additional cost to you and help keep this blog running. 

Liza Williams

Born in South Africa, fascinated with culture and loves wood fire pizza. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away” Follow me on twitter: @soul_drifters

11 thoughts on “Photos of Varanasi – The ghats, temples and beyond

  • October 5, 2018 at 10:16 am
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    I really enjoyed your post, even though I visited Varanasi a couple of times myself. Your pictures are absolutely amazing and I loved the way you described the place too. The sunsets in Varanasi were one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen

    Reply
  • September 16, 2018 at 4:19 am
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    Varanasi is very colorful and you have taken very natural and lovely photos of ghats and daily life. It is true that we Indians believe that once in a lifetime we should visit Varanasi. Wow, you are so lucky that it was your second visit to Varanasi. Sunsets on Varanasi Ghats looks splendid and watching Ganga Aarti is on my wishlist.

    Reply
  • September 14, 2018 at 3:30 pm
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    I agree for the fact that Varanasi is photographer’s delight. But at the same time I feel that Varanasi is one of the most filthiest places after Agra. I haven’t been to this destination which is a sacred place and enrich with so much history, but whenever I will visit, I will only visit for photographing its essence into my lens.

    Reply
  • September 13, 2018 at 1:50 pm
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    Too many temples and beautiful local photos of people of Varanasi! I haven’t really been to India but your post makes me
    feel like I’ve just made it! Varanasi is a colorful area, isn’t it? I see colors everywhere! The Afternoon swim in the Ganges- that’s a total shot!

    Reply
  • September 11, 2018 at 10:58 pm
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    Wow you are right! It really is a photographers dream. I wouldn’t have expected the monkeys though! haha. You have so man wonderful details about the culture, I am bookmarking for the trip you just inspired me to take!

    Reply
  • September 11, 2018 at 11:11 am
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    Amazing photos! I visited Varanasi last year and thought it was magical. There’s so much life there, and while it overwhelmed me a little, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. You’ve really captured Varanasi well.

    Reply
  • September 10, 2018 at 5:11 pm
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    I really enjoyed reading this post, as I’ve never been to India, and so read it through the eyes of other travellers. Varanasi is so colourful, and definitely has a charm to it. I never knew what a gnat or a sadhu is, so thank you for informing me on this!

    Reply
  • September 10, 2018 at 1:35 pm
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    Great photos! I have always wanted to visit Varanasi. Thanks for the info about the Sadhus, very interesting. I’m curious to watch that documentary!!

    Reply
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