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VARANASI:The city of Varanasi is situated along the west bank of the Ganges in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Called Benaras by the British, Varanasi is an important pilgrimage centre for the Hindus. The city finds mention in the great epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. It was a flourishing trade center when Buddha came to Sarnath, about 10 kilometres away, to preach his first sermon in 500 BC. The renowned American novelist Mark Twain once wrote, "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together." Right from the ancient times, Varanasi has stood as a symbol of Hindu renaissance and preserved the rituals and traditions of Hindu philosophy. Down the ages, pilgrims from distant lands have come to Varanasi in search of divine blessings.

Summers can be quite harsh in Varanasi with the temperatures going up to 45°C. The monsoon season, which starts by late June or early July, brings in the torrential rains and high humidity. Winters are quite pleasant with temperatures remaining at around 20°C in the day. However, the early part of the day can remain enveloped in the fog.

Temples form the major source of attraction in this ancient city. The banks of the Ganges, considered to be a sacred river by the Hindus, are the centre of much of the religious activity that occurs in the city. The ghats built along the banks of the river for such religious activity also form a major source of attraction here. Some of the other interesting places to visit around the city are Alamgir Mosque, Durga Temple, Vishwanat Temple, Bharat Mata temple, Tulsi Manas Temple, Banaras Hindu University and the Archaeological Museum.

Excursions around Varanasi get you further acquainted with the mystic religion of Hinduism besides presenting an insight into the Buddhism. A visit to Sarnath, Bodhgaya and Kushinagar puts you on the trail of Buddha from the period of his attaining enlightenment to his passing away. Allahabad and Ramnagar Fort are the other places around Varanasi that are worth a visit.

sarnath

SARNATH: Sarnath, 10 km from Varanasi, where the Buddha preached his first sermon in the Deer Park, contains the most impressive remains, as well as a modem temple.

The Dharmarajika, Chaukhandi and Dharnek stupas are outstanding. There are also the remains of a monastery, and the beautifully polished Lion Capital of Ashoka.

Sarnath contains a rich library and at the Mula gandha Kutir Vihara there are excellent frescoes by Kosetsu Nosu. The Sarnath Museum, not far from the site, contains some of the finest specimens of Buddhist sculpture.

At all centers of Buddhist worship, the Vaisakha (April-May) full moon is observed as the anniversary of three important events - the Buddha's birth, Enlightenment and death, while the Asadh (July - August) full moon is observed as the anniversary of his first sermon.

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