Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple, The Residency, Uttar Pradesh, India

There are temples at almost every turn in Varanasi, but this is the most famous of the lot. It is dedicated to Vishveswara – Shiva as lord of the universe. The current temple was built in 1776 by Ahalya Bai of Indore; the 800kg of gold plating on the tower and dome was supplied by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore 50 years later.

The area is full of soldiers because of security issues and communal tensions. Bags, cameras, mobile phones, pens or any other electronic device must be deposited in lockers (₹20) before you enter the alleyway it’s in. Accounts vary as to whether or not foreigners can go in the temple itself. Officially, non-Hindus, which counts most foreigners, cannot enter the temple, but many expats living in Varanasi as well as travelers have reported they were allowed in. We get the impression it’s up to the whim of the security guards that day. For what’s it’s worth, they would not let us in until we returned with a local handler to sort things out. Declaring an interested or curiosity in Hindu beliefs may help you gain access (and it helps if you have an offering in hand, which can be purchased inside or outside the temple). Either way, bring your original passport (not a copy) if you want to enter. Once inside, it’s quite a show, with people pushing, tripping over and sometimes violently asserting themselves for a chance to give an offering and touch the lingam, which resolves one of all sins. Hindus routinely wait in lines for 48 hours to enter on particularly holy days.

On the northern side of Vishwanath Temple is the Gyan Kupor Well. The faithful believe drinking its water leads to a higher spiritual plane, though they are prevented from doing so by a strong security screen. Non-Hindus are also not allowed to enter here, and here the rule is enforced more strictly.

Visit India Epic India Route © Monika Newbound

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