Image by Tony Gervis, www.jupiterimages.com Getty Images
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 and any electronic device must be deposited in lockers (₹20) before you enter the alleyway it’s in – or just leave your stuff at your hotel. If you are a foreigner, head to Gate 2, where security will instruct you to walk past the long lines of Indians waiting in the queue, then go through a metal detector and security check. Walk past another line of Indians until you are pointed to a desk, where you must show your passport (not a copy) and leave your shoes. Then enter the temple through a door across the alley.
Once inside, things can be quite intense, with people pushing and tripping over each other for a chance to give an offering and touch the lingam, which absolves one of all sins. Hindus routinely wait in lines for 48 hours to enter on holy days. If you are not fussed about Hindu temples, it's probably not worth the hassle required to visit.
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 not allowed to enter.