Varanasi, The Ganges And Some Burning Corpses

on Monday, 29 March 2010

So, we had expected to arrive in Varanasi at 11:30am, but by the time we arrived it was actually almost 2:00pm. The trains over this side of India have been very unreliable. We arrive at the station and I have heard that along with Agra, Varanasi is one of the worst places for hassle. We walk out of the station followed by several touts trying to sell us rickshaw or taxi rides, as we walk out we meet a couple of English lads also getting the same treatment and they recommend a hostel they have found in the Lonely Planet guide book and we share a rickshaw to the hotel for 60R. So 4 of us cram into the rickshaw with all our bags and off we go with our driver Pillow Panda. Because the alleys are so narrow down by the river, we have to get out and walk about 2km to the hotel through a maze of little alleys. The hotel is virtually on the bank of the Ganges right next to the Manikarnika Ghat, the main burning Ghat in Varanasi. We turn up at the hotel and decide we will all share a room, so we get a room for four, with air conditioning for 200R each. We drop our stuff and decide first things first to get our stuff posted, we are given a map of where to go, but soon realise this is not going to work as it seems to only show the main roads, not the maze of alleys. We eventually find the post office through a combination of luck and asking people every five minutes. Firstly we have to have our stuff packaged up, so we go across the street to a small shop and our stuff is wrapped in a cotton sheet and then knitted together with fishing line and some wax put on the joins, we think as a tamperproof seal. It costs 990R to send 1.250kg home and they say it will take about 3-4 weeks, we are told we could sent up to 10kg for only 2000R, so in hindsight we should have bought a load of cheap stuff and sent it back all in one go.

We get back to the hotel and have said we will go down to see the Ghats and have a boat trip along the river with our new roommates, Seb and Rob. We enquire about busses to Nepal and have two options, firstly we can get a coach to the border during the day and stay over night then get a coach to Kathmandu or we can get public coaches at night and stay the day at the border. We walk through the maze of alleys and luckily as we are so close we find our way to the bank of the ganges, coming out right next to the burning Ghat. They have four or five bodies burning and are given a little story about how they burn 200 to 250 bodies everyday and the ritual of washing and shaving the body and how the family have to pay a contribution and buy the wood for burning. Apparently they don’t burn, Holy men, pregnant women, animals, people with leprosy, people with cobra bites and children. We see the flame that has apparently been burning for 3500 years, and expect a big bowl with a flame or something, but instead it’s just a couple of smouldering logs on a wall.

We meet a couple of French Canadians Daphne and Maude, Maude’s name is pronounced Mould though and we all agree to share the cost of a boat trip and agree a price of 200R for the 6 of us. To be fair the boat trip is pretty boring and we see none of the Ganges dolphins or any dead bodies floating by.

By the time we are finished it is pretty dark and we have to walk back through the dark alleys being careful where we tread. Everyone is up for a few drinks so we go up to the roof top restaurant for a Kingfisher which soon turns into five and we get some drinking games going with our room mates, the French girls, and an American guy. Our budget flys out the window and we end up  with a bill of over 500R each. Our hotel seems to have a lot more tourists than anywhere else we have stayed, and we have realised that the lonely planet is the way everyone decides where to stay so from now on we will be using our lonely planet guide to find hostels.