We spent two weeks here and really found it to be a worthwhile stay.
We stayed at Kushi Paying Guesthouse. It is a clean (by Varansi standards- which are unfortunately low) and friendly place down on Assi Ghat. We decided not to stay near main Ghat since our stay would coincide with Diwali and we wanted to have a chance to get away from all the craziness (turned out to be a perfect idea). The owner’s name is Deepak and he runs the place very professionally. It has a communal kitchen and living/ dining area, which feels like a little home away from home. The kitchen was fabulous for us because one of us is a very enthusiastic cook. We ended up making several nights of pasta dinner including a really nice farewell dinner of Cauliflower Pasta for our hosts.
Food-wise Varanasi is so huge that there is a seemingly infinite number of places to eat. From all manner of street vendor to fancy shmancy Indian restaurants, the food was all good. Any of the local places serving Indian thali are reliable, cheap, filling options. If you go out to one of the places popular with the Indian middle class you will discover some of the tastiest northern curries around. And, because it is such a popular tourist destination, you can even find Italian-style wood oven pizza. mmmmm.
Finally, the main to-do activity of Varansi (and the activity you most often are asked if you want to do by those hoping to get your business) is boat rides along the ghats. Prices vary wildly depending on the style and size of the boat (bigger is more, motors are more). The paddle boats are definitely the nicer though. With a motor it smells like diesel and you hear this “CHUG-CHUG-CHUG” the whole time. With a rower its so peaceful. It feels like the way they’ve been doing it for all of Varanasi’s history. AND you feel good giving them backsheesh (a tip) for their services since they just spent the last hour paddling upstream. Also, make sure to agree on a price beforehand or they will ask for much more than the trip was worth after it is over (everyone will expect a tip at the end of your ride, give whatever you like).
Varanasi is just, a place unlike any other. It’s older than history, and just being there you can tell. Even though in town people ride motorcycles and use cell phones, Sadhus and Brahmins are performing daily rituals that are 5 thousand years old. Though most people stay only a couple days to witness the famous evening puja, we really enjoyed spending a bit more time there to really let the city sink in. And I would definitely recommend the same for others.