As the global community begins to recognize the urgency and necessity of environmental stewardship, green infrastructure is becoming a key component in modern city planning. Varanasi, as both a part of its efforts to become a ‘smart city’ and for the sake of its residents, should give attention to improving its environment. Environmentally friendly updates to existing infrastructure and investing in projects that prevent further damage to the environment and help mitigate previous damage are a crucial component of this effort towards a more environmentally sustainable city.

The studio narrowed down environmental research efforts to three critical aspects:

  • Rising temperatures potentially due to the Urban Heat Island effect,
  • Poor air quality caused by pollution and lack of green space, and
  • Dangerously poor water quality due to an outdated, run down, and overused sewer system.

The studio performed two analyses. The first, a Land Use Classification analysis used data from Sentinel and GIS to classify land as urban, vegetation, field, or water. The second, a Land Surface Temperature analysis, used imagery from Land Sat to classify surface temperatures from low to high.

Map of Unsupervised Land Classifications and Land Surface Temperature

By comparing the two analyses, zones in which Urban Heat Islands might exist were identified. Identifying and classifying these zones was an important step in identifying areas that have a more prominent need to install heat-mitigating infrastructure.

The results of the analysis comparison showed that the Assi Ghat area had little greenery throughout and pockets of high temperature along the riverfront. The neighborhood surrounding the rail station was mainly urban with a few moderately sized green spaces as well as a few large swaths of green space due to a military cantonment. Temperatures soared along the railroad, likely due to lack of vegetation along the railroad tracks. Sarnath, an area consisting almost entirely of fields and vegetation with a few small urban areas dotted across, was subject to moderate temperatures throughout most of the zone, likely due to high amounts of vegetation.

IIT-Kharagpur provided local data points that measured the air quality index at various points in Varanasi. The most relevant points to the three focus zones indicated that air quality in the Assi Ghat zone was quite poor, with an index hovering between 200 and 300. The air quality around the rail station was poor as well, but air quality was better at Sarnath, likely due to its location outside of the city and a high amount of vegetation.

Air Quality Map
Source: IIT-Kharagpur

As of 2005, at least 200 million liters of ‘raw, untreated sewage’ is directed into the Ganges each day (Hamner et al), and according to the Varanasi City Sanitation Plan, up to 70% of the city is not covered by the sewer network. The existing drainage system is old and unlined, often causing cross-contamination with clean ground water (City Sanitation Plan).  Because Varanasi lacks a separate drainage system for storm water, sewers tend to flood under the combined pressure of storm water and local sewage, releasing untreated sewage onto residential streets and sidewalks (Hamner et al). In the summer, the 3-month monsoon season floods the sump wells of the sewage pumping stations, forcing them to close for the duration of the monsoons and causing raw sewage “to flow directly into the river” (Hamner et al). The pollution in the Ganges river is so severe that the incidence of water-borne disease in Varanasi is 66%. Varanasi sees an average of 33 (documented) cases of cholera per year. Water from the Ganges is used to bathe, wash clothes, brush teeth, cook, etc. (Hamner et al) – it is a daily life-source for the residents of Varanasi who do not have an alternative source of water. Thus, the health of this river is vital to the health of the people.

Map of Existing and Proposed Sewer Network
Source: Varanasi City Development Plan, 2006

This studio aims to improve the quality of life for Varanasi’s residents by providing recommendations that will improve the environment surrounding their places of work, residences, and cultural establishments. While there are many environmental challenges to be addressed in Varanasi, these three areas – the Urban Heat Island, poor air quality, and poor water quality – can be addressed starting now through small-scale changes. This data collection was the first step towards recommendations for small-scale changes. The ultimate goal is to use the city’s existing infrastructure to implement affordable environmental solutions that local citizens can easily learn about, visualize, and support.


Mobility in Varanasi is a pressing concern due to the declining transportation infrastructure and the exponential growth in vehicular ownership. Lack of separated carriageways for vehicles and pedestrians raises safety concerns. Even though there has been a growing interest in transportation improvement projects, such as the flyover construction near the railway station and multiple proposals for widening major arterials, there is no coordinated traffic management plan that addresses the congestion issues.

The research conducted in this sub-discipline primarily revolves around a congestion analysis given a set of origins and destinations (O-Ds). The data collection procedure uses a Bing API to extract typical travel times and congested travel times during the AM peak hour for the set of origins and destinations. The objective of this analysis is to observe high congestion routes between high activity locations and popular points of interest in each of the three zones. The origins were by default assigned as the top 60 hotels and hostels in Varanasi, based on the assumption that most tourist trips originate from a hotel. Tourist attractions, like the ghats and famous temples within each zone, were chosen as the destinations.

The difference between the congested travel time and typical travel time gives the excess delay that commuters experience in Varanasi. Based on the travel times observed, the Bing API also provides the most optimal route that vehicles use to navigate between the said origin and destination. Simply put, this process is like using Google or Bing Maps as an individual to get to any destination from your location, aggregated at the trip level for multiple O-D pairs. The collection of all the routes observed provides insight into the most frequently used roads for movement and accordingly, the most congested corridors in the city

Congestion Routes Map

An often-overlooked issue when dealing with transportation is pedestrian infrastructure and safety. Varanasi is subject to heavy tourist influx, and their means of getting around in the city include taxis, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, and walking. Even though private vehicle ownership is on the rise, locals also traverse their city streets by foot. Mode share for walking is high for the city, owing to its high land use density and the extensive network of “gallis” ­– extremely narrow streets not conducive for regular vehicular movement.

The same congestion analysis conducted for motor vehicle traffic was conducted for pedestrians. The routes obtained were mostly similar to the routes obtained for motorists, with a handful of exceptions. The number of routes merging in and out of intersections were used as pseudo measures of pedestrian activity. The larger the number of routes that passed through a given intersection, the greater its pedestrian activity. If pedestrian activity was high enough, the intersection was classified as a pedestrian hot spot.

Pedestrian Hot Spot Map

It is a well-known fact that Varanasi, like any other Indian city, faces heavy congestion problems. The need for a more streamlined traffic flow, carriageway separation, and pedestrian facilities is evident. However, it is unrealistic to look at the city’s road network as a whole and suggest improvements. The purpose of the above analysis is to localize the broader issues into smaller, scalable corridors for which recommendations can be made.


Source: Daniel Son, 2019

Varanasi has long been a center of history and culture in India. Situated on the banks of the Ganges River, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Said to have been founded by Shiva, it is one of the holiest cities in the Hindu religion. Buddha preached his first sermon at Sarnath, just north of Varanasi, and four Jain tirthankaras were born in Varanasi. A city of temples and worship, the religious importance of Varanasi draws many pilgrims to visit.

Non-pilgrims and foreign travelers also have an interest in visiting Varanasi because of its extensive history and cultural significance. Already home to 1.2 million people, the influx of tourists into Varanasi poses some interesting challenges. The research this studio conducted around tourism aims to enhance the tourist experience and leverage the impacts of tourism to benefit the local population.

Data collection on tourism was meant to understand Varanasi’s history and current conditions. Analysis of tourism centered on locating tourist attractions using Google maps and identifying hotel availability through data collected from Trip Advisor.

Map of Tourist Spots and Accommodations

Varanasi is known for its beautiful silken clothes. An often-overlooked aspect of the Varanasi tourist economy, weavers work for days to produce elaborate sarees and other pieces of attire. Currently, the weavers themselves to not receive much benefit from the tourism and the sales of their work. To address this issue, analysis was done to identify the locations of weavers in Varanasi. Clusters were found throughout the city, often correlated with the location of slum.

Map of Weaving Clusters

Finally, to understand the perspective of tourists when they visit Varanasi, a sentiment analysis was conducted using tweets. This perspective was mainly from foreign tourists, as Twitter is not as popular in India and tweets were mainly from foreigners.