Greet the day on this cultural wake-up call in Varanasi! You're getting up bright and early to get up close and personal with some of the most sacred traditions in India. Cleanse your Karma with a fire god ritual, witness traditional Indian mud wrestling, sail a boat down the cherished Ganges, and see the city's spiritual side awaken before the sun comes up.
Make sure you get a good night's sleep because your Varanasi tour starts bright and early at the break of dawn. A bit of sleep sacrifice is totally worth it, though, as you'll get to see local religious traditions at their most fascinating moment.
Also known as Banaras and Kashi, Varanasi is a pilgrimage destination with a thousand years of history behind it. Indian civilisation was born, raised, and shaped on the banks of the sacred Ganges River ' and we're going to see how ancient traditions are still carried out today.
Bleary eyed but ready to explore, you'll be picked up from your hotel and taken to Assi Ghat, a prominent bathing ghat in Varanasi. You'll see people taking a holy dip in the Ganges, waiting for the sun to rise and the morning session of Ganga Aarti to begin. Pandits (saints) will call out shlokas and mantras in Sanskrit, and a call for Surya Dev (the god of light). In the early morning light, you might feel like you're still dreaming, but this enchantment is all real.
You'll see pilgrims engaging in Havan, a ritual that praises Agni (the god of fire). The ceremony fills the surroundings with smoke, believed to purify the air all around. Participate in the ritual yourself and cleanse your Karma.
After the ceremony, you'll get to visit a series of temples. You'll also see people practicing Akhada (mud wrestling), an ancient Indian art that's equal parts exciting and surreal to watch.
We'll then take our Varanasi tour out onto the water as we sail the Ganges. Not just any boat tour, there's a story to be told here ' your ride will begin at Assi Ghat, marking the birth of life, and end at Manikarnika Ghat (the cremation ghat), marking life's demise and the arrival at salvation. As the sun rises to your east, you'll see plenty of traditions happening on the numerous ghats you'll cross.
Lastly, we'll disembark at Manikarnika Ghat and head toward the Kashi Vishwanath temple, crossing through narrow lanes and alleys. Vishwanath is called the King of Jyotirlinga, and attracts a million pilgrims every year. We'll visit the temple and stop for a hot cup of tea before you are dropped back at your hotel.