Varanasi is first place we stayed in India… and wow, what an introduction to India!! It’s full of people, cows and chaos. It wasn’t as full on as I expected and I found it quite cope-able… but it was full on in ways I couldn’t prepare for… Varanasi is the kind of place that sends your mind into overdrive.
The city is situated on the banks of the Ganges river which is the holiest river in India and is said to be one of the holiest cities for the Hindu people – someone told me that each year a million or so pilgrims visit Varanasi! The place is chaotic and there is so much going on…. On the banks of the river you can see people taking their daily bath, going for a religious dip, scattering ashes of their loved ones, burning bodies (at the Ghats), doing their laundry and brushing their teeth. There are cows cooling in the water, the occasional corpse (people and animals) floating down the river and oooh so much rubbish. There are tourists piled on boats scampering to take the best photo (some of them forgetting to be respectful I might add) and then on top of that you’ve got the beggars and the scammers harassing you at every corner, cows wandering around just doing their thing and the people who live in the area just living their ordinary lives. Its really full on!
We arrived at our hotel after wandering through a maze of narrow alleyways, the hotel was called ‘Palace on the Steps’ it was certainly no palace but I had amazing views of the River Ganges from my room… the view made up for the bugs, intermittent power and faulty air-conditioning.
In the evening we took a boat ride on the river and had a little Puja ceremony where we lit candles on little floats and released them into the river with good wishes for friends and family. This ceremony reminded me quite a bit of the Loy Kratong festival in Thailand. After that we headed to one of the main Ghats and watched the evening religious ceremony from the boat (I can’t remember its name). The riverside was packed from all angles with people watching… it was pretty full on but interesting to watch.