Varanasi, once known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi, is a city at the banks of the Ganges river in northern India. Being the most sacred city in Hinduism and Jainism, and important in the history of Buddhism, Varanasi is India's most important pilgrimage destination.
Situated on the left banks of the Ganges and with a population of 1.2 million people, Varanasi is one of the most important of the seven holy cities of the Hindu faith. Varanasi is 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 realise that they are close to death. For some, the culture shock of the burning corpses in plain view and the feces overflowing from the Ganges 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.
Varanasi is not a city with distinct tourist destinations; the experience is in watching the spectacle of life and death on the river and meandering through the alleys of the old city.