04.03.2015 - 07.03.2015
Being prepared for probably THE most important Hindi town we arrived in Varanasi about 4 hours late but after a funny afternoon with an Indian family with a happy little 3 year old in our cabin. Expected by the usual touts our arranged pick up worked after a few minutes wait and a phone call (so really it did not work ). After not even 5 mins on the tucktuck we could already tell that this place was different to every other before. The tucktuck forced it s way through people, cars, bikes, cows, other tucktucks and the final way to our hostel was a long, wet and strange walk through the little alleys that lead down to the many ghats. Our hostel was located just behind one of the ghats…which sounds amazing at first but it was probably the very strangest place we have been. We had been moved to a small room (which didn t bother us as long as the bed was ok…and it was) but we had to ask for everything. No sheets, no pillows, blankets…no one to check in either….only a little box with lots of white powder that definitely wasn t chalk on the office table. Talking to another couple we qickly noticed that we weren t the only bewildered ones here. Meeting the owner the powder explained itself later on as he was 24 hours stoned and we were really wondering how he even managed to organise anything in his business. After a long relaxing sleep next morning we headed out to see what Varanasi is like and went straight to the ghats along the Ganges river. The town is spread along the river….the holy river that is believed to wash away all sins and Varanasi is THE town where Hindi come at least one a lifetime and at best to die (it s meant to liberate you from the cycle of life and death if you die here). There are over 80 ghats (bathing steps) along the River Ganges and you see any kind of people, bathing, swimming, washing or just sleeping, kids playing…! The riverside buildings are as dirty as anywhere else in India but they come with a surprising beauty and the many little temples scattered around give it an amazing look that only gets better for sunrise and sunset when it almost looks romantic if you forget the hustle and bustle behind it. Getting lost in the backstreets of Varanasi isn t hard and wandering your way through the dirty little streets with just uncountable amounts of shops and whole in the window Lassi sellers you have to be prepared for everything. The most intimate rituals of life will take place anywhere right in front of you and sometimes the sounds (people will spit and gurgle anywhere, anytime) and even more the smells leave you in despair to just run (which will only lead you to another smelling tiny backstreet). It not a place for a holiday or the fainted hearted, that’s for sure, but somehow it s magical and so unique and an experience that clearly belongs to India we decided. It gives you such close look on the way that life is like here without hiding anything. One of the most bewildering bit for us where clearly the burning ghats. As you walk along the Ganges there will come up areas with huge collections of wood, fired and flames and loads of people everywhere. Knowing what is was we quietly approached and stood aside the whole business. It s the most strange feeling seeing bodies being burned on huge wood stoves along the river whilst there s people everywhere, cows screaming and dogs walking in between. Others are being released into the Ganges… and just washed away with the water whilst you will see people swimming just 10 meters next to this all. It sounds strange and writing this brings back the pictures that will stay in our heads for a long time, but it s a very important part in the Hindu culture and just belongs there. Every evening there is a big ceremony down by the river that involves a lot of humming and fires and some men doing spiritual movings to a certain music and it s amazing to watch as it s not something that happens for tourists but just for the locals and the Indians that come to Varanasi for a reason.We didn t do much else the first eveing as the day walk had left us so tired and the kids had already started playing the Holi festival (festival of colours) where you throw colours and water and as a foreigner you re obviously the perfect victim. We were told to stay in the next morning…especially girls as there are many drunken men out and it can get quite rough at times. We watched it from the roof of our hostel though and you ll see especially young chaps being coloured all over. Women tend to stay in and when we came out for lunchtime I quickly noticed it s not much fun when you re being touched at every opportunity. Having Rob at hand was clearly helpful ( as they wont usually touch “the wife”), but even that didn t help sometimes….an elbow or loud voice does though!! So we had another quiet afternoon and some great curry in a little restaurant later on. Varanasi will clearly be one of the memories that you ll never forget and as tyring, loud and strange it might have been we re glad we came!