19 October 2013
We arrived in a very muddy & chaotic Varanasi (it has been raining although it has stopped now) and loaded ourselves and bags into tuk-tuks for the most hair-raising journey I’ve ever had – full speed over all the bumps, through the ‘gaps’ and with horn blaring the whole time. This was topped off by driving straight into Eke as she got out of her tuk-tuk at the hotel. Hotel Surya was a welcome oasis of calm: a grand old building with beautiful gardens. Despite the train being late, our rooms aren’t ready so we opt for breakfast (late) in the opulent dining room, and then retire to the swimming pool. Retire is relative – for some reason Ciara decided she was going to teach people Irish country dancing in the pool (sorry I missed that!).
Our orientation walk is cancelled due to the high water at the ghats (a series of steps leading down to the holy river), so we get a bit of downtime to get ourselves clean and sorted before heading out again in trusty tuk-tuks (3-4 in each). I didn’t think anything could be more chaotic than Delhi streets but Varanasi beats it hands down – with added layers of complication including a large number of sacred cows and nonchalant dogs who just lie down in the midst of everything. Rubbish and beggars are more obvious here and the recent heavy rain means that everything is a sea of mud and manure. It is a spiritual centre and apparently if you die here you go straight to heaven rather than going through stages of reincarnation so there are lots of old and infirm people here (population 13 million) as well as the pilgrims.
We head first to the main ghat area to get our bearings and see the masses of pilgrims, holy men and sacred cows. A ghat is a place on the river where people gather for prayers and do their ablution rituals.
Then we wind through the narrow, colourful streets to a silk store where an absolutely delightful man shared all the mysteries of cotton, silk and pashmina – soon we were sitting in a sea of colourful textiles sipping chai and deciding what to buy.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to see them doing the weaving as our evening chariot awaits. We board a boat and join the others thronging and bumping in front of the main ghat area where recently graduated monks treat us to a wonderful display of dance, chant and fire with bells and drums and incense. In the distance we see the burning ghats where the bodies of the dead are taken to be cremated.
Then we motor off up river and release a train of flower candles in our wake taking our wishes with them. Releasing them was an acquired skill – my first attempt included me getting the motor cooling water in the armpit and drowning the candle!
We enjoyed a vegetarian meal at a nice, clean, friendly restaurant – definitely no alcohol or meat allowed in the holy city. And then we reversed our tuk-tuk journey home and fell into bed knowing we had an early start in the morning.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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