Varanasi also known as Banaras, the holiest place in India. The city is on the banks of the River Ganges. The Hindu’s believe that if your body is cremated into this river after you have died you will go straight to nirvana/heaven. There are 84 Ghats along the river, most of them are for bathing in the holy water but there are two main burning Ghats. Along the ghats there are many people performing Puja (a Hindu prayer ritual) but be warned, you must give money afterwards for the Gods.
We arrived in Varanasi at 9am, chucked off the bus at what seemed like a petrol station with tuk-tuk’s trying to barter to get our business. We crammed 5 of us into a tuk-tuk and bartered the cost down too, half of what the driver originally said!
We arrived at our first stay ‘Hotel Temple on the Ganges’ the rooms were very clean and spacious. We needed some breakfast so we met back at the hotels restaurant downstairs. It was a pure veg restaurant and the food was amazing! Some of the best we had eaten, so good we ended up eating most of our meals there! We then took a walk down the Ghats and into the town.
The lay out of the town was very similar to the lanes in Brighton. Narrow, crammed and easy to get lost in! We found the ‘famous’ Blue Lassi shop where you could get anything you wanted as a Lassi, and the owner makes them fresh in front of you! We had a chocolate & banana one and a mango & apple one. They were delicious, we joined in with the tradition of drawing a picture and sticking it to the wall. (See if you can find us if you go!)
We then went back to the hotel and relaxed on the rooftop enjoying the amazing views of the Ganges and watched the sun set! The four of us had an early night as we were up early the next morning to get a boat along the Ganges.
To watch the sunrise over the ghats with a burning red sun and the people starting the burning ceremony for their loved ones was so powerful. You’ll find a boat along the Ghats, most owners will hassle you to get one so make sure you barter for the best price but also take into consideration that the more you have in a boat the cheaper it will be as you pay for the boat not per person. For the 5 of us we paid roughly 160 Rupees each for our boat as we managed to get the boat for 800 Rupees all together. We took it from quite close to our hotel so you get to see a lot more from your boat ride. (and a lift back!)
We then went back, had breakfast on the rooftop and Harry cut Leila’s brothers hair. Afterwards we took a short walk back along the Ghats to a place to do Leila’s dads ashes. We all brought a Magnolia votive candle, put his ashes underneath, lit them and released them onto the river saying our goodbyes. India was a place Leila’s dad loved and her family took her here when she was 15. It changed her perception on life and what life is about and as a family we knew Varanasi would be the place for Glenn. He loved the Hindu religion and the culture of India, what better place to be than the river Ganges in Varanasi releasing him straight to Nirvana.
Later that evening we decided to take a walk to watch the Ganga Arti ceremony, it happens every night at around 6.45pm. We arrived to the town on the road side not the river side and asked someone for directions. He said he would show us the way but we said its okay we can find it ourselves but he was very persistent so we allowed him to take us. After walking through loads of back streets we arrived at the main burning ghat (which is far from the ceremony) and we explained to him that this is not where we wanted to be, we then had the talk of giving money to help the poor burn the bodies (which you can never guarantee it goes to the poor families endless you are giving to a proper organisation) and then asked if we would like to see his shop. At this point we was a little bit angry as we had 10 minutes before the ceremony started and still had to find our way there. We explained that we said from the start we did not want this to happen and quickly got on our way. We finally found the Dashashwamedh ghat and sat on the step to watch the ceremony. We missed the start but we were still able to watch quite a bit of it and it was amazing! It’s a must when you’re in Varanasi to go and see this ceremony. It lasts for about 45 minutes and you can either get a boat (can get pricey) or walk along to the Dashashwamedh ghat yourself. Just follow your Maps.me map instead!
The next day we checked out and got a tuk-tuk to our next hotel ’The Ramada Plaza’. We booked this hotel as it was nearly time for Leila’s brother to leave so he wanted a few days to chill out as where we was can be pretty hectic, but after staying at the Hotel Temple on the Ganges and comparing them both we would have stayed at our first hotel. The hotel ‘Ramada Plaza’ is fancy but we found the service shocking. For the money you pay most of the facilities wasn’t working, you only get wi-fi for 2 devices so if your sharing a room that’s two phones only so no laptop etc, endless you pay a lot extra. The hotel is out-of-the-way from the ghats or the main town so as soon as you leave the hotel the tuk-tuk drivers rip you off as they think you have loads of money. On the plus it was right next to a massive shopping centre which was great to see but we would have preferred to save our money and stay at ‘Hotel Temple on the Ganges’ instead.
We stayed two nights at ’The Ramada Plaza’. It was more to relax and enjoy each others company before Leila’s brother went home. We managed to find a travel agent a short walk away to book us our onward journey from Bangalore (where we were flying to next) to Combitore. We wanted a sleeper train but we left it to late and it was all booked up. So after a great experience we had before, we decided a sleeper but was the best way to travel the 8 hour journey. They managed to find a company in Bangalore than ran the buses and booked us onto the bus.
After one last paneer butter masala, Leila’s brother caught a connecting flight home early in the morning to Delhi then onto London. Along with Leila’s mum the three of us relaxed for the day before getting onto our flight later that evening to Bangalore.
Tip: Varanasi is a holy city make sure as a lady you dress correctly and cover your shoulders and wear trousers.