We caught the 2330 train to Varanasi and arrived into Varanasi 3pm the following day.
The instant we got off the train we attracted attention from someone who acted as though he was guiding us to the exit. When outside he asked where we were going, knowing the price was no more than 80 Rupees I told him. He said 50 Rupees so I didn’t bother to haggle and we got in the rickshaw. He kept asking what hotel and I kept telling him it didn’t matter just take us where we were going. He started the speech about where we were going and there were many different roads and he needed to know the hotel. I refused to tell him and he just persisted. So we got out and found someone roadside and paid 70 Rupees. Basically the guy wanted to know the hotel for 2 reasons. Firstly so he could tell me it burnt down last night, or is dangerous or some other rubbish, but guess what – He knows a great hotel where he can get you a great rate, inevitably you pay a hefty fee and he gets a tidy commission. Or secondly so he can take you miles away from where you need to be and completely in the middle of nowhere, break down right outside a hotel where he will then try and convince you to stay whilst he gets someone to come and pick you up who of course never comes. It’s an age old scam and the way to avoid this is never ever under any circumstances tell them your hotel. Insist upon somewhere nearby where you can walk or get someone from the hotel to meet you. Internal calls within India are about 2 Rupees a minute and there are phone shops everywhere.
Varanasi is thought to be the oldest continually inhabited city on earth. It is the Hindu central and to me looks like a mini Delhi set on the banks of the Ganges. Cows, monkeys, dogs and goats roam the streets (in fact I got head butted by a cow, much to the amusement of Charlie)
People come to Varanasi to bathe in the Ganges which washes away a lifetime of sins, I have it on good authority that in fact it is heavily polluted and sceptic in many places. People also come to Varanasi to die and then be cremated on Ghats on the banks of the Ganges. I explained to the kids what this meant and would they like to see. They both wanted to, I explained if at any time they had seen enough we would leave.
It was ridiculously hot and so I found a hotel with a pool and after negotiating a good price we spent until about 4pm lazing by the pool which was a real welcome break.
Afterwards we got a Rickshaw to Assi Ghat which is the furthest South on the banks. En route we had a crash, I was actually very surprised that it has taken a week, nonetheless a heated argument ensued between both drivers, money changed hands and away we went.
The walk back up the banks of the river to the Ghat nearest to us was about 2km. Charlie saw some kids playing cricket and was invited to play. After a bit they started asking for money and so I gave them a piece of my mind and we left.
The Ghats are basically steps which lead down to an area next to the river where the cremations are performed. We were playing ‘see how many times we get asked for a boat ride’ (I won – 32 times) eventually we came to a Ghat which I forget the name of. There were two bodies wrapped in cloth laid on the floor and two stacks of wood. Basically what happens is the body is brought through the streets on a stretcher, covered in flowers and cloth. It is soaked with water from the Ganges and then put on the wood. A small ceremony ensues and eventually the wood is lit. We were about 10metres away and got a really good clear view of one of the bodies burning. It was almost surreal as people were metres away bathing, laughing and going about their day. Behind us kids were playing cricket and it struck me that we were witnessing life and death in Varanasi.
It surprised me just how long a body takes to burn, the cloth burnt off and we could see the charred head, both kids were mesmerised in what was one of the most unbelievable things we have ever witnessed. I have to admit, the smell brought a chill to my spine, a burning body smells like a sweet wax. I didn’t take any photographs because it is forbidden, but to be honest it is something that simply has to be witnessed to be appreciated. As we left there was another body coming down the stairway to be burned. It is a daily event in Varanasi and it has given the three of us a sombre memory I don’t think we could ever possibly forget.
After leaving there was a silence amongst Charlie and Abi, I think they were trying to understand what they had just seen. I didn’t say a word to them and left them to their thoughts. That silence was broken by watching something I had always wanted to see – A snake charmer. I always thought it was a blag, but the guy genuinely played a tune and the cobra rose from the pot. See the photo; afterwards he tried to get the kids to play with it. I was having none of it and we left.
The end of a very interesting couple of days in Varanasi and now it is onwards to Jabalpur and then Mumbai. The kids are both doing great, well, apart from last night when they decided to get up and rather than wake me for water go drink some out of the tap in the bathroom. I expect both to be ill within a day or two. It really surprised me actually, particularly given how well travelled they both are. I mean we brush our teeth with bottled water so it’s not like they didn’t know. I gave them both a lecture that I am sure will stay with them for the remainder of the trip. In terms of water, they can both drink as much as they like during each 24hr period as long as they have drunk at least 3 litres each. Generally they have been drinking about 4 litres each daily whereas I have been drinking between 5 and 7 litres. Each 1 litre bottle costs about 15 Rupees.
In terms of costs a meal costs an average of 200 Rupees including drinks. On average including accommodation and transport we are spending about £15 per day, sometimes less.
A final point to note about Varanasi, Orange doesn’t work here and O2 allows incoming texts but not outgoing. Also there are regular power cuts throughout the day.
Still, it’s an amazing place and one which should find its place onto any traveller to India’s itinerary.