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Best Offbeat Places Near Varanasi

I love places where Nature rules. The less human invasion, the prettier the region. And there are some hidden gems under 100 km drive from Varanasi

Offbeat, next to the oldest living city in the world is unbelievable, but just a few hours’ drive from Varanasi, Nature has been left to flourish and please the human species. Thankfully! We had a lot on our explore list that day, from manmade to Nature-made.

The first stop was Chunar Fort. Looking at the blue waters of the Ganga flowing behind the Chunar Fort, the breeze seemed to sense my joy, for the branches of the trees moved gently, as if in a greeting. The uneasiness of an early morning drive was slowly vanishing under the clear, open sky.

Chunar Fort is located in Mirzapur district; I only knew of Mirzapur from the OTT series. Located on the banks of the Ganga that flows through the Vindhya range, Chunar is approximately 45 km from Varanasi. Legend says that Lord Vishnu placed his foot here as Vamana avatar during the reign of king Bali. It was called Charanadari then.  

The fort might have been forgotten by time, but its mysteries and history continue to fascinate tourists. The structure goes back to 56 BC. It is built on a rocky bluff and we crossed a British cemetery on the way up the hilly terrain.

It is widely believed that the king of Ujjain, Maharaja Vikramaditya, built Chunar Fort to honour his elder brother Raja Bhrithari who became an ascetic. Apparently, Raja Bhrithari took Mahasamadhi at this fort. A temple is dedicated to the ascetic here. And a stone plaque with a quote from the Neeti Shatak written by him is installed at the entrance.

Shloka from Neeti Shatak at Chunar Fort entrance,Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, India
Shloka from Neeti Shatak at Chunar Fort entrance,Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, India

Going by the chronology, the king of Nepal also came here to worship the river mother. As per Alha Khand, King Sahadeo made this fort his capital and established the statue of Naina Yogini in a cave of Vindhya hill in1029 AD. The place was then called Nainagarh.

King Sahadeo also built a stone umbrella r mandap which covered the 52 pillars, commemorating the victory over 52 kings. His daughter, Sonwa, was to marry the bravest man, but unfortunately this umbrella or mandap never saw the marriage. She got married to the King of Mahoba and the mandap is preserved as Sonwa Mandap.

The fort attracted the Mughals too–Babar, Sher Shah Suri, Humayun, Akbar all took to the fort. And then later the Britishers’ took control in 1772 AD.

The fort was a main battalion during the independence struggle. State prisoners were held here. In the middle of 19th century, the king of Chunar gained control of the fort and hid his treasures here in the network of tunnels under the fort. Natives says that his spirit now guards the treasures. Well, we didn’t have the time to go on a treasure hunt and we didn’t meet the spirit either.

During the mutiny, Jind Kaur, wife of Maharaja Rnajit Singh of Punjab, was also held prisoner here. But she escaped, disguised as a maid and got political asylum in Nepal.

Much closer to our times, the fort attracted Naxalites, who used it as a training ground. Now, the government has made a police post at the entrance.

Visitors are only allowed in a small part which comprises the Sonwa mandap, jails, tunnel and a temple. There is a guest house, which was once the court of Sher Shah Suri and then housed Warren Hastings, the first governor general of Bengal (1772-1785). An ornate balcony overlooks the guest house, where queen Fateha Begum would sit. The guest house offers a magnificent view of the river. There is also a covered well in this area.

Sun dial, Warren Hastings' house, Chunar Fort, Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, India

A little away from the main area, is the home of Warren Hastings. There is a magnificent sun dial in the backyard and the house is now used to keep excavated antiquities.

Timings: 9 am-5 pm. No entry after 2 pm. The fort is closed on Fridays.

Entry is free.

Best time to visit is from October to March.  

There is a small tea shop and toilets are in the guest house. You have to request the caretaker to open those.

After this deep round of history, it was time to enjoy the magnificent waterfall at Aurwatand. This is a small village with a population of 265 people in Chakia tehsil, Chandauli district, about 40 km from Chunar. It comes under Naugarh S.O.

Aurwatand, Chakia tehsil, Chandauli district, Uttar Pradesh, India

The raw rocky terrain of Chakia plateau, part of the Vindhya ranges, was magical. Where no man has gone…so it seemed. Two major rivers flow through this part– Chandraprabha and Karamanasha. The are also has Naugarh Dam, constructed after India’s independence.

Rock art at Aurwatand, Chakia tehsil, Chandauli, Uttar Pradesh, India

From where we stood, the river stream flowed through the massive rocks to fall deep into a gorge. The vastness of the sky, the stillness of the rocks and the insignificant us! It could have been a jungle book, as we walked across a narrow ledge to a rock shelter where rock art was painted. We were transported to the prehistoric era. Not all treasures are manmade. One wrong step, and we could be part of the deep gorge. This spot needs more exploration, but maybe on another trip. Our drive continued to Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary.

This sanctuary was established in May 1957. The hunting ground of the rulers of Benares during the 18th century, it is a perfect escape from the humdrum of Varanasi. It is spread over 78 sq km on the Naugarh and Vijaigarh hillocks on the north slope of the Kaimur Range. The Karamnasha and Chandraprabha rivers form two stunning waterfalls here: Rajdari and Devdari, located with 700m.

Rajdari waterfalls, Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh, India
Rajdari waterfalls, Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh, India

The dry deciduous forest has mahua, saagun, amaltas, tendu, koraiya, ber trees. There are over 150 species of birds here and is home to leopard, wild boar, nilgai, sambar deer, chinkara, chital, blackbucks, gharials and python. It was also the home of the Asiatic lion once upon a time.

Devdari waterfalls, Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh, India
Devdari waterfalls, Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh, India

It is about 65km from Varanasi. So, if you would like to follow this itinerary, then its best to begin the day early. And do take packed breakfast, lunch and snacks along with a garbage bag. Carry your power bank and extra batteries too.

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12 thoughts on “Best Offbeat Places Near Varanasi

  1. Thanks for this list. While Varanasi is in my wishlist, good to know about all these places. I really wouldn’t want to miss Chunar Fort. The history is intriguing with Raja Bhrithari becoming an ascetic & attaining samadhi here. Good to know that it is free to visit. I really want to visit the prehistoric rock paintings in Chakia plateau.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Varanasi is one of my favorite destination and have lived there as well for close to four years. So it was quite nostalgic to revisit Chunar Fort which I think I last visited in 1985. The history of the fort was so nice to recall again. Next time I am there I would make it a point to visit the Aurwatand waterfalls and Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary.

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  3. Of course I have read about Varanasi (but never been there), but I did not know that there is a lot to explore in the surrounding area too. The history of Chunar Fort is quite interesting and I guess a visit is possible as a day trip? I like staying in cities a bit longer, make use of the good infrastructure and do some day trips from there. So this post gave me some good ideas for the future.

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  4. Due to my fondness for nature exploration, I simply adore this itinerary. Being in front of the Rajdari and Devdari Waterfalls seems to be relaxing. I find the Chunar Fort intriguing and would like to learn more about its past. Varanasi surprised me by having a variety of attractions, so I’m really delighted I read your blog post.

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  5. We are still planning most of our travels with lots of outdoor experiences. I would not have expected so many great outdoor gems under 100km from Varanasi. The rocky terrain of the Chakia plateau and the Rajdari waterfalls looks amazing. I would love to see some of the wildlife – but would pass on meeting up with a python or wild boar!

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  6. It’s a pity I didn’t know your guide when I was in Varanasi because you showed little-known places. Gems worth seeing. And these are often unusual places created by mother nature. Great tips with less popular and less touristy destinations within 100 km of Varanasi. This makes these places great for day trips. I would most like to see Chunar Fort and the raw rocky terrain of the Chakia plateau, part of the Vindhya ranges. As I love taking pictures of waterfalls, I add Rajdari, Devdari, and Chandra Prabha Wildlife Sanctuary to my bucket list.

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  7. These offbeat places from Varanasi are gems from history. Chunar fort earns the status of an iconic spot built by the famous king Vikramaditya and was also housed by Sher Shah and Warren Hadtings. It’s a surprise that it was also a training ground of Naxalites. The Rajdari and Devdari waterfalls are truly beautiful with amazing cave art in the background. And the Chandraprabha wildlife sanctuary has a rich population of flora and fauna which I would love to see.

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