….India Diaries ‘Varanasi’
The penultimate stop on our epic India trip was also going to be one of the main highlights. We had been pretty spoilt up to this point, in terms of being chauffeured around to all our exciting destinations, and for the most part not having to be at a specific place by a specific time. That was all about to change however, as we ventured out to make our own way by train to Varanasi….via the infamous Indian railway network. We LOVE travelling by train, it’s the perfect mode of transport to daydream the journey away and of course we had romanticized it, imaging ourselves breezing through the Indian countryside nibbling on our tasty local snacks and making more travel memories. Cue reality check……
We arranged our tickets prior to leaving Canada through a highly rated service called Train Tickets Please’ firstname.lastname@example.org, the owner Raj gave us amazing service and lots of great tips. The train was due to leave at around midnight and ‘take approx. 12 hrs, with many stops along the way. We did in fact leave almost on time, but somewhere along the way our we lost 5 hrs and our 12 hr ride turned into 17 hrs (which we were later informed is pretty good going with respect to potential delays which could be up to a full day/night). Upon boarding, we found our bunks which were top deck in the aisle way, adjacent to each other, with local travellers below us. We were fortunate enough to be riding in an air conditioned car and it actually worked, in fact it was right above my head and so I settled down for a night in what was tantamount to a meat locker….but as tired as I was, sleep escaped me. Pete was out like a light within a few minutes, and quickly joined the chorus of snoring and farting (only snoring on his part – I think!)….to say it was torture would be an understatement. So I resigned myself to a sleepless night and my mind drifted to the wonders that Varanasi would hold…we had been advised that if we thought Delhi was hectic, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
We scored yet again with the Ganapati Guest House http://www.ganpatiguesthouse.com perched on the banks of the River Ganges in the old town of Varanasi and with a rooftop deck that served beer…sssh!
From our roof top deck we had a great vantage point to watch this young dude conduct a flock of pigeons who circled high above us at the tilt of his stick, over and over again – it was mesmerizing.
A guided walking tour was a great way to get our bearings on day 1 and learn more about the rituals of riverside cremation, including the tactical pieces like where to buy wood for the pyre, which is carefully calculated and weighed out to ensure the fire burns long enough to fully cremate the body.
Sidewalk latrines….yuck! But better than peeing/pooping directly into the Ganges which obviously occurs. Wikipedia reports: “The levels of fecal coliform bacteria from human waste in the waters of the river near Varanasi are more than 100 times the Indian government’s official limit. The Ganga Action Plan, an environmental initiative to clean up the river, has been a major failure thus far, due to corruption, lack of technical expertise, poor environmental planning, and lack of support from religious authorities.”
Who’s photobombing who….?
Another day….another veggie Thali – India is such a great country to be a vegetarian!
Laundry day….even if you think you’re in a guesthouse and therefore clean…think again – the majority of them contract out their laundry to locals and it all ends up in the Ganges.
High energy anticipation for the evening payers on the banks of the Ganges.
Another random couple who thought it would be great if I took their photo.
This event which runs 365 truly is a hawker’s heaven. We figured out pretty quickly that once you’ve purchased a marigold candle offering and received a red bindi on your forehead, you were no longer a target. It was however amusing to sit back and watch the same few guys in each area descend on any fresh foreheads that came through.
This kiddo hopped from boat to boat and was working so hard, I hope that everyone else who purchased a candle gave him a fair price.
HOLY COW…! I know, that one’s getting a bit old.
No photography or videoing was permitted a the burning Ghat where cremations are taking place throughout the day and night. However, our boat guide assured us it was OK to snap a few pics from the river at the night cruise.
Stunning sunrise and we were off again for another boat ride.
Once clear of the main tourist ghat’s, the level of pollution was plain to see, it wasn’t unusual to see a random dead cow floating along the river either, from any vantage point.
Like all the other destinations we had visited, Varanasi tourism is supported predominantly by Indian travellers, many of them making the pilgrimige to bathe in the holy Ganges and often a once in a lifetime experience.
Sadhus making their way to morning prayer.
Despite everything we had observed which should have prompted us to run a mile from this body of water rather than let it touch our skin, we felt we had to take the plunge and did not regret it (mostly because we didn’t in fact get sick!). We knew we would never return to Varanasi, and so gave it our best carpe diem.
We hoped a couple of non-religious whiteys wouldn’t cause too much of a stir and we didn’t. In fact, those locals who were in the vicinity gave us nothing but encouraging nods and a thumbs up. It was the closest we have come to a spiritual experience….and then we quickly hoofed it back up the steps to our guesthouse and took a 10 minute HOT shower.
Not a great quality pic but we were feeling very grateful to have spent time in this welcoming location.
The final destination of our journey was a few days at the beach in Goa (connecting through Hyderabad), and it was super chill but you really don’t need us gloating about our time in paradise…..so it’s a wrap!