14 hours on a rickety train, and we make it to Varanassi. And Thank-God we booked accommodation, one with a pick up service too!
The accommodation we booked was Yogi Lodge, which had decent enough reviews on hostelworld.com. We met our driver at the train station and he took us to town. Upon dismounting his rickshaw, we were greeted by a small, elderly man, with only a couple of his brown teeth left. We walked down the main road of this city with our bags- heat from the sun soaking right through to our backs- dodging and diving the masses of people, motorbikes and cows on the street!
I said I thought Kolkata was crazy, but it was nothing compared to this! We later learned that many of the people who had gone to the Kumbh Mela Festival in Allahabad, had then come to Varanassi. It was truly mental, busy, dirty, beautiful, noisy, colourful, awesome!
Yogi Lodge is hidden in one of the many small alley ways, turn left, turn left, turn right, keep going, turn right, turn left, etc… Finally we arrived, and we were greeted with smiles and a coffee! After a short nap, we saw that Luke & Winnie, who had been here for a couple of days already, had messaged us telling us to meet them at the Burning Ghats. We tried to find our way using the most useless map given to us on a piece of card, and after getting lost, hot and bothered, we returned to our abode. Back in our room, ready to message them to explain, we heard their magical voices hovering outside our room! Hello!
They showed us the way around (not that we’d remember), and we headed to where they were staying, overlooking the River Ganges. On the way, we passed the main burning ghat, where we saw the open cremation of a body. Not that I could look for long, but I could quite clearly see the burning severed charcoal corpse, under a few heavy pieces of wood. Not something I’d ever seen before, but I was quite happy not to linger too long. (as well as the fact that if we had, someone would have asked for money for wood to burn). We also saw people weighing the wood used to burn people. Pretty crazy.
After a curry by the Ganges, we headed to Luke and Win’s accommodation and enjoyed some beers on their rooftop, where monkeys roamed, overlooking the river, and we ended up playing Uno with some friendly Japanese tourists.
As the evening drew closer, we headed back towards the river, where we were greeted with the strong pleasant scent of incense. The closer we approached the Dasaswamedh Ghat, we could see a huge gather of people crowded round clouds of smoke and the loud sound of Hindu prayer, and we realised we were just in time to see the Ganga Aarti ceremony, which is a pretty amazing, choreographed ceremony using candles, a conch, shrines, and incense, which occurs every evening. We were told that the ceremony gives offerings to Lord Shiva, the River Ganges, the sun, the fire, and the universe. It was pretty awesome to see, obviously. It was a very holy and spiritual atmosphere.
Following dinner, and an exploratory walk around the chaotic streets, we said goodbye to Winnie and Luke, who were getting up early the next day to leave for their next destination. Brendan and I carried on, walking past cows, and people, and dogs, and people and cows, and shops, before returning to Yogi Lodge and enjoying a couple of drinks.
The following morning, we woke up at 5.15am, ready for the sunrise boat trip on the River Ganges that we had pre-arranged and paid for at the hostel. They had actually told us to be downstairs between 5.30 and 6am, and we were surprised and a bit begruntled that the guide had already left! Back up to bed we went. When we awoke later that morning, we spent the day walking around shops. I was looking for some ankle jewellery and some other trousers, as mine had been worn constantly the whole time in India so far, and didn’t feel too fresh. I found two pairs of your typical Indian-traveller style baggy trousers, and 2 Indian-style anklets. We walked around the city, and the Ganges, taking in the sites, taking photos, etc. My evening ended when, after the bit of rain turned the streets slimy, I slipped on and fell onto a rather large pile of cow pat, and fell on my elbow. OW! These clothes and shoes would not be washed for QUITE some time and my elbow had a large wound, with pain shooting right down to my fingers.
While the following day was also similar, minus the poo, and despite still being in some pain, we did manage to get there on time for our sunrise boat trip – though we were actually waiting for our guide to wake up, who was sleeping in our meeting area. As we expected it was stunning and amazing to see. While it was still dark, we could see rickety wooden boats like ours, illuminated in candles and we watched as people dressed in white and orange, laid their candles into the river, lighting it up. As the sun began to come up, we were back at the Dasaswamedh Ghat, where we saw the masses praying where the ceremony had taken place the previous evening, and saw others praying and bathing in the Ganges, brushing their teeth in it, washing their clothes. Something I would not advise anyone to do, after looking at the state of the river – it’s not clean that’s for sure.
Later, we booked a taxi to take us to Allahabad, so we could see the final bathing day of the Kumbh Mela Festival. We were persuaded to take the taxi at 1.00am so we could arrive in time for the sunrise, and leave fairly early too. The previous day it had taken a taxi driver 7 hours to get back to Varanassi from Allahabad due to the traffic and as we had a 6PM train booked to Khajuraho, we decided we would leave around 10am, and hopefully have seen what we wanted.
It was quite a sudden booking, and meant that we wouldn’t be staying in the room we had paid for tonight. However, we enjoyed staying up and chatting over coffee, to the other guesthouse owner before we departed to get our taxi.