Now called Varanasi, but previously named Banares and Kashi (City of Light), Mark Twain wrote that the city is 'older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together'.
While the old city may look ancient, and its history can be traced back to 1200BC, few buildings are more than a few hundred years old. Nonetheless, this magical city gives the visitor an opportunity to see some of the most intimate rituals of life and death of an ancient but still living religious tradition.
It's one of the holiest places in India and pilgrims come here to wash away a lifetime of sins or cremate their loved ones. Expiring here offers mkasha (a freeing from the cycle of birth and death) and it, and the river Ganges that runs through it, are considered by the nation to be an everlasting symbol of hope.
Where is it?
Varanasi is located at the confluence of the Varuna and Asi rivers in the middle Ganga region of Northern India in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
What is it?
Arguably one of the oldest living cities in the world, this center of religion, geography, learning and civilization is over 2,000 years old.
Best time to visit?
October to March, when the temperature is between 5 degrees C and 15 degrees C is the best time for outdoor activities although there can be considerable fog. Summer temperatures, which can exceed 46 degrees mean a huge risk of sunstroke. However, while the heat and humidity of the monsoon (July to September) makes day trips a challenge this is when the area's nature is at its most beautiful.
Take a boat ride on the river along the ghats to understand the beauty and spirituality of this age-old link between spirituality and geography.