Thrusted in to the chaotic city of Varanasi, we hop on our tuk tuk to weave and dodge our way through the traffic to our hostel named Stops Hostel. I had done my research and knew Varanasi was the place where Indian families bring their deceased to be cremated and scattered in to The Ganges River. As one of the holiest cities in India I didn’t know what to expect. The busy rush of traffic coupled with the ear-bleeding amount of noise makes the initial minutes eye opening but exciting. Despite already being in India about six weeks, this place was another level and we had booked in four nights, I couldn’t wait to see what was in store.
We shake off the dust from our clothes as we arrived at our cool looking hostel. Setting off to the ghats by the river we have to plough and force our way through the hoards of people in the soaring heat through the alleyways, which led to the river. Instantly you hear the death calls and songs from groups of mourners, reverberate throughout the banks of The Ganges and the whole city. The sight of these huge wooden coffins set alight for hours with ashes released in to the water was upsetting and surreal. You cannot escape it. This happens all the down the riverside from one ghat to another. After the initial shock we head inwards to drink the local lassi and take it all in. This Indian favourite is a drink consisting of thick yogurt coupled with a flavour of your choice, I went for strawberry.
The next morning a group and I decided to get a boat on the river to view this majestic setting in all its glory at sunrise. We were not disappointed. As the locals were going about doing their daily business, we continued along the river to watch the daily tradition of the dance to celebrate the dead, performed twice a day at 6am and 6pm. On our way along the calm water, we rode past Kedar Ghat where locals and some travellers alike were bathing in the water. This was highly recommended by our guide and Indian culture insists it gives you good luck. Some obliged and some watched, I just couldn’t bring myself to bath in it that dirty ash ridden water. Lets hope I don’t pay for that decision.
In amongst the chaos of Varanasi there are some little gems, which help you navigate the day-to-day busyness. Near our hostel we discovered a café in one of the more affluent areas and to our amazement this organic café had the best coffee I had tasted in all of India. My travel buddy who had been in India for 5 months previous to that confirmed this. Couple this with another little favourite local café called the ‘Kerela Café’ which served South Indian food, our little group couldn’t help but fall in love with this place. Plenty of activities to do, so much to see and lots of people to meet, this place was truly unique to any other place I had been. Recommendations couldn’t go far enough for Varanasi and I would always say this was a highlight of my three months in India.