Where should I go?
As a traveller with no plan, it can be tricky to decide which destination you should go to next. This of course is the excitement of traveling too.
So far I have been following advice given by hostel staff, other travelers and guide books. Arriving in one place you can work out where the buses and trains go and decide which place is next on the cards.
Since my first day in India I heard about a city named Varanasi. In Mumbai another traveler said it was the most intense city in India. At that moment I vouched not to go.
However, hearing more tales, my curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see the mayhem for myself.
Historically Varanasi was known as Kashi (the city of life). It is one of India’s seven holy cities. While overcrowded, it is not to be missed.
Consequently, we booked a sleeper bus from Agra to Varanasi (12-15 hour journey).
A tuck tuck picked us up from the hostel Zostel in Agra at 23.30ish and took us across Agra City to the bus station. It was pitch black outside as lorries, trucks and other vehicles towered above our little auto.
We were pleasantly surprised to be met with a luxury bus. The compartments were the same as the basic buses but they were more comfortable with power sockets, a television and full sized windows.
We arranged our backpacks and lay down for some sleep.
N.B – If booking a sleeper bus make sure you book a bed on the top berth for more privacy. Also if you are alone ensure you do not chose a berth for two people as you will end up sharing with a stranger. One of our friends ended up being hugged by an Indian man all night. He said he didn’t sleep much.
Our ride was very bumpy. The buses in India don’t seem to have much in way of suspension.
It is customary for vehicles in India to incesently beep. The horn is used to: indicate, say hello or make others move. This is why in India if there are vehicles there will be constant noise.
The streets are manic. There are no lanes as such. Vehicles will just push their way through as best as possible. The only thing that will cause a vehicle to stop is a cow. They cause many traffic jams. They can’t be hit or moved as they are holy animals.
The night was spent drifting in and out of sleep listening to background beeping noises. I think I am getting used to it slowly.
As the sunlight shone through the curtains I peeped outside. From my bed I watched India go by. The world was starting to wake up.
People were washing their faces in water ways or brushing their teeth. Tarpaulin homes lined the streets. Arid ground went on for miles.
The nearer we got to the city more construction work was taking place. Foundations were being dug. Metal rods protruded from the mud.
After quite some time we arrived in Varanasi. Walking off the bus we had our usual royal treatment. Everyone wanted to take us to the hostel.
We chose one driver, who luckily knew the hostel – Go Stops. Some of the drivers say they know your destination to get your business but are actually clueless. It is best to give addresses rather than hostel names.
We enjoyed lunch at Cafe Kerela tasting south Indian food (vegetable biryani and flavoured flat bread).
Feeling refueled we decided to go to the train station to buy tickets to our next destination (attempting to be organised for once). We ended up waiting at the station for a long time in the tourist (tikal) line.
Varanasi train station is mental. You have to walk around people sleeping on the floor. It is rammed. There appears to be no space to breath.
The ticket office for tourists is in an empty room with sofas. It was not the worst place to be stuck.
Relieved that we managed to buy some tickets we explored the holy city Varanasi.
The streets are carnage. Everywhere you look there is something to see. People swarm around you like busy bees. Vehicles practically skim across your skin as you walk. Cows roam around eating rubbish on the floor.
Citizens throw their garbage on the road. Street sweepers gather all the rubbish into a pile and it is either eaten by the cows or burnt in the middle of the street. This doesn’t happen quickly, so there is always waste everywhere.
We walked to the Ghat (river point) near the hostel. To get there we strolled down small, narrow, windy side streets. Shops sold food and other products there. Luckily only motorbikes whizz down these roads as they are too narrow for larger vehicles.
Spieng the holy Ganges river I was in awe. It was huge and packed with people. Boats journeyed up and down leaving a cloud of black smog behind them. People sat on the steps or walked along the river. Many vendors sold flowers and Chai tea.
A pungent barbeque smell filled my nostrils. There were cremations taking place next to the water edge.
Indian’s travel from all over the country to burn their dead ones in Varanasi next to the Ganges. The body is cremated to remove impurities, the soul is then left to reach Nirvana (the afterlife).
A lady watching her relative’s cremation asked us for a selfie. It was surreal.
Children, pregnant women or those bitten by a cobra (holy snake) are not burnt. Instead stones are put on their bodies and they are sunk into the Ganges River.
The bodies are wrapped up in a orange cloth (holy colour) and flowers are tied around them. During the burning you can see the outline of their bones melting on the fire. Men use a wooden stick to shove the body into the heat of the fire. You pay per killogram of wood for your relative to be burnt. If the wood runs out before the whole body is burnt, the feet or arms are simply flung into the Ganges. Every day around 40 bodies are burnt.
Some of the bodies that are not completely burnt are eaten by the Aghori people. They are cannibals. To spot them is easy they have painted their faces with the white ash produced during burning the corpses. They wear either black shirts or are topless. The Aghori also eat rotten food. They are considered very holy.
After sunset every day at 6.30pm there is an aarti ceremony were priests light incense and sing mantras. It is a very special time of the day.