Varanassi, India
25° 20' N 83° 0' E
May 13, 2009 05:30
Distance 1016km

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Blog 4 - Varanassi

Blog 4 – Varanassi 13/05/09


After the hassle of the train, it was tempting to just say we’d just spend the next day and a half sitting in the hotel (this one had a fantastic looking garden and a swimming pool). However, in the interests of impartial research we succumbed to the latest in what is now beginning to feel like a long list of tour guides. Since we had been supposed to arrive in the morning, we had agreed to a one day tour of the city, planning on a rest day the next day.


Having arrived at 4 pm however, we reluctantly agreed to a very quick turnaround at the hotel and an evening boat trip on the Ganges or ‘Ganga’ as it is known locally. The tour guide handed us over to a driver who took us as far as the ‘Ghats’ or the old area of the city comprising what are now effectively monuments to previous kings. The driver then had to lead us on foot through the narrow stone-flagged lanes before diving down a small dark tunnel. Needless to say, we felt some trepidation in following him but on reaching the far end, we were met with a sight that really can’t be put into words.


Before us was the steps to the river which is the supreme holy place for Hindus. To our right, funeral pyres were burning, to our left, locals and pilgrims standing at the water’s edge while in the building immediately behind us, priests were ringing bells and chanting a mantra.


We were taken out in a small rowing boat (not particularly seaworthy looking but it looked as though it had survived the last hundred years or so) and given votive candles to launch on the Ganga.


Irrespective of your religion or belief, the experience of sitting on this river with the sun setting and a prayer ceremony to Shiva underway on the bank is a truly mystical one. Unfortunately we forgot to take a camera but maybe this was a blessing in some respects since photographs simply wouldn’t do it justice.


Being only a few yards away from families laying their dead on a funeral pyre did seem slightly voyeuristic however and although incredible to see, did make us a bit uncomfortable. I did also have a slight moment of panic when, watching the prayer ceremony, I thought I could smell barbequed food, then suddenly remembered what was happening upwind of us.


We were persuaded that a repeat boat trip at sunrise was equally unmissable so the alarm was once again set for 4.45am and we struggled down to meet our driver from the night before. The morning boat ride certainly gave a chance to take some decent photographs of sunrise over the Ganga but I suspect, once again, we were ripped off by going for both evening and morning.


Immediately following the cruise, we were taken to see yet another two temples. I’m sure they were both very interesting in their own right but to be quite honest, we were too tired to be interested so after a tour through the University (an amazing oasis of cleanliness and relative calm in the city centre), we headed back for some much needed sleep.


After approx 2 hours of sleep, our guide phoned (waking me up) to tell us that we could have another hour of sleep before he would pick us up for the afternoon’s chance to spend money at his friends’ uncles’ cousin twice-removed, business (we’re beginning to understand how the system works).


The afternoon therefore started with us declaring before we left that we would not spend any money. Approx one hour later, we had bought two bedspreads and eight silk scarves – decisiveness working as well as ever!


Finally we got back to the hotel and, would you believe it, despite the fact that we had already checked out, we finally managed to get something for free and blag our way into the swimming pool! Quick bite to eat later and we were off again to the railway station for another overnight train to New Delhi. Scheduled traveling time twelve hours this time – we’ll see!

Photos / videos of "Blog 4 - Varanassi":

View from the hotel balcony Typical view of a Ghat from the Ganges Sunrise over the Ganges