We arrived in Varanasi and took a tuk tuk with a fellow traveller into the city. We were dropped off on a corner and had to walk down the narrow labyrinthine alleyways to our guesthouse. Varanasi is one of the oldest inhabited cities on earth and you could tell, it felt like it was built in an organic ramshackle way. Cubbies selling confectionary lined the alleyways alongside café's, phone shops and trinket shops. Cows and dogs wandered up and down the streets; I couldn't tell what was what along the path but the brown organic matter was piled up and hard to avoid.
We found our guesthouse hidden off a tiny street and climbed to the top floor where our room was, although it was lovely we decided to upgrade ourselves to the room next door for a small extra fee, it had air conditioning and a window looking out over rooftops and a view of the Ganges. Inside the room was beautiful, there was a pretty locally made rug on the floor and statement boutique-hotel style wallpaper, it was the nicest room we had been in in quite some time. After much deliberating I had managed to persuade Craig to continue our travels and visit Nepal for a couple of weeks. Although we had become weary travellers I had been so looking forward to Nepal and didn't want to miss our opportunity to see at least a little bit of it. We headed out onto the characterful streets and found a café for lunch and a tourist office to book our bus to Kathmandu. We found a photocopy shop and had hideous passport-style photos taken in front of a dirty white sheet for visa purposes and exchanged Indian rupees for Nepalese rupees and US dollars for the border. It felt exciting to be gearing up for a new country. After fulfilling all the chores necessary for our imminent trip across the border we took a stroll to a bustling market and along the edge of the Ganges, the sacred river that is an icon in India. We had seen the river once before in Rishikesh, there it was fast flowing with holiday makers making the most of the rapids on rubber dinghies. In Varanasi it was wide and slow and more what I had been expecting before we travelled in India. Children played cricket on the ghats and holy men were sat, cows went to the waters edge to drink and wooden boats lined the shore.
The next morning we woke early to take a sunrise boat ride along the river to see the famous burning ghats, where Hindu men and women are cremated. We waited with three other backpackers at a café in town before walking to the river. The streets were wet from rainfall and the sludge of mud and excrement lined the path. Being careful not to slip we walked down the steps to the ghats, unfortunately one of the backpackers did slip ending up covered in goodness knows what. We split into two parties and boarded the little wooden row boats. The river and ghats were already a hub of activity despite the early hour, a sunrise boat tour is one of the most popular activities in the city. The three of us sat while being rowed by a local, it was very peaceful. We saw the burning ghats where two people were being cremated at that moment. Funeral services are so private back at home in the UK that it seems strange that here the actual cremation is conducted in view of everyone. I was disgusted to see tourists in other boats taking photographs of the burning bodies despite being told not to do so, how utterly disrespectful. As our boat turned back it started to rain and we had no way to shelter from it. Children jumped off of a jetty into the water just downstream from the cremation site, laughing and showing off their excellent jumping poses and splashes.
Once we reached the shore we paid our rower and dashed up the steps to find our hotel, we were absolutely soaked to the bone. The streets had turned into practically a river of rainwater, rubbish and poo and was impossible to dodge out the way of. It's a memory that is ingrained in me, the coldness of my loose elephant print trousers clinging to my legs, my white converse now a distinctly brown colour absolutely sodden and heavy to walk in, us smiling at locals as we passed, dodging bicycles and cows. Once we reached the sanctuary of our room we peeled off our clothes and showered, our shoes had no hope of drying it seemed. Once clean we returned to the café for breakfast, unfortunately without shoes we had to wear flip-flops and yes, the contents of the dirty street ended up all over our feet and between our toes. We sat with the girl we had shared our boat with, she was near the beginning of her Indian adventure and sounded so excited. We dined at a restaurant in the evening ordering a smorgasbord of local cuisine, our last taste of India which was delicious. The next day we'd be leaving Varanasi and India, our two months travelling the most challenging country we'd come across was at a close.
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Have you been to Varanasi? If so, what did you think? Maybe you're planning a trip? I've got tonnes of advice and tips I can share. Let me know in the comments below.
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