Travel Journal

Trip to Varanasi

(Saturday 25 February 2012) by Andy and Babs
Journey to Varanasi.

Hello again from the intrepid travellers, hope you are ready for another episode.

Climbing aboard the Kalka Mail train for Varanasi, after a 3 hour journey by road from Darjeeling we settled ourselves in for the next 12 hours. Finally we get a carriage to ourselves...lovely to be able to actually see the countryside for the first time, previous trip had been through the night. Enormous swathes of rice fields in full bloom with pretty yellow flowers, interspersed with very scrubby land and lots of farms went whizzing by our window. Kept me entertained for hours. We were served meals throughtout the journey, even had some yummy ice cream, all included in the price of our tickects. Most unexpected!!

The station we were instructed to get off never materialised, so we decided that someone must have made a mistake and when the next stop said Varanasi, We duly got off and proceeded to wend our way through the hundreds of bodies all wrapped up and huddled together on the station floor. Very dimmly lit and cold we looked around expectantly for our driver and guide...oh dear nowhere to be seen. Wandering around outside in the gloom with no idea what to do we were suddenly approached by a group of men who gathered around us trying to find out what the problem was.

Andy drags out our paperwork and points to the hotel we were booked in to. One man took a great interest in it and when asked if he could read it, shook his head and said no. By this time we had about 8 people around us obviously wanting to help but believe me I was becoming very anxious as to what we were going to do.

Asked if any taxis around were told no....only tuk tuks.

Back into the station we go to get out of the cold. One man appeared to speak a little more English than the others and he with a bit of prompting by Andy took out his mobile phone and rang the number we had for the hotel. A lengthy conversation ensued with the phone being handed back and forth, Andy not understanding a word that was coming out of it....Eventually this man said follow me "I will take you to Hotel".Oh how trusting we are....suitcases duly shoved into this tiny tuk tuk with me in the back and Andy squeezed in the front we set off into the pitch black. All was going well when all of a sudden the driver takes this left turn into what was a very narrow alley way full of cows, dogs, and a couple of people sleeping on a ledge. He switches off the engine and says " Come with me. Not bloody likely says I!!! Off goes this man up the alleyway leaving Andy standing by the side of the tuk tuk.
After 10 minutes had elapsed Andy decided to go off to see what was going on leaving me sat in this tuk tuk. To say my heart was thumping is an understatement. Returning back to me Andy says I've no idea what is happening. Great says I!!!! After another 10 minutes, this young guy appeared wearing a uniform and a badge on his lapel saying the name of the hotel we were booked into. Phew!!!! Still not convinced we were in the right place until actually going inside. All I can say is, What a wonderful man to have brought us all the way from the station at 3 in the morning, and all he got for his trouble was 150 Rupees =£2

After the usual ritual of dabbing the red stuff on our forehead and waving a light under our chins and showering us with some petals, we were finally shown to our room. You have no idea how tense I was!!!! I'm surprised I slept at all.

Morning arrived and we got a phone call from the guide profusely apologising for the "cock up". He was at the station we should have got of until 4 30am and was in a right state as to what had happened to us. He finally had the sense to ring the hotel to be told we had checked in and were safe and sound. Wasn't our fault that 2 trains were running to Varanasi, one that stopped and one that didn't. We were on the correct train, it just didn't stop.

We were treated like royalty from then on....we got an extra boat ride, city tour and a free lunch to help make up for the mix up.

And so to Varanasi..... Oh My God!! We thought Calcutta was dirty. Not a patch on this place. Cows were everywhere, muck from them and the dogs was unbelievable. We were right on the edge of the River Ganges with dozens of water buffalo and the smell of urine wafting in the breeze was just absolutely incredible.

The boat trip in the late afternoon took us along the Ganges past all the temples, people bathing in the water, hundreds of other boats ploughing up and down laden with people.

Highlight of the evening was witnessing the cremation site, where about 10 bonfires were blazing away. Cows and dogs were wandering in between the funeral pyres as the chief mourners dressed in white led all the rituals of cleansing the bodies ready for burning. Huge piles of sandalwood were everywhere. No weeping or wailing, just the family around the fire. Apparently it takes about 4 hours to complete the process and anything that is left after the burning is then thrown in to the river.

We also took in a celebration ceremony dedicated to the River Ganges....that entailed about 5 priests swinging things that looked like christmas trees all lit up, and lots of singing and banging of drums and cymbals. Very colourful.

Following morning we were up before dawn and back on the river again for another trip to watch the devotees perform their morning ritual of cleansing. Men and women were dowsing themselves and even drinking the water. Yuck!!!!! Was all such a sensory overload for us. One minute you were assailed with disgusting smells and then the next with the beautiful aroma of the incense burning. We saw all manner of weird and wonderful people including snake charmers, astrologers and some freaky looking men with white painted faces and scraggly long hair.

Still can't quite get my head around all these men peeing wherever and whenever....AND huge piles of rubbish everywhere.

Varanasi is the oldest living city in India and consists of lots of tiny alleyways just chocked full of all manner of humanity. Donkeys, dogs, cows, water buffalo, monkeys and funny little squirrel things. Rickshaws, bikes, cars, lorries all fighting for their bit of the road.

We did manage a trip out around the city and had a walk around the huge University. The main Shiva Temple was having a celebration day and the queues of people wanting to get in was something else. Stretching for nearly 2 miles. Men in one and women in the other. All clutching flowers and what appeared to be bowls of water. Most noticeable was the beautiful coloured saris on the ladies. I must admit I did feel rather drab.

As always the 2 days were quickly in and we were packing up once more and heading back to the railway station and for me the main highlight of the trip, Agra and the Taj Mahal.

To be continued.

  • Chris B by Christine Bielby
  • Chris B by Christine Bielby
  • Not a good start to the day by Nicky

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