After an uncomfortable 19 hour overnight train journey from Delhi, Anna and I arrive 800km south east in the holy city of Varanasi. After what happened in Delhi, I didn’t bother booking a hotel in advance, I knew that we’d be able to simply get in a rickshaw and the driver would know somewhere we could stay; probably his brothers guest house or above a jewellers. The driver took us close to Shivaji ghat in the old city and set us up with a hotel that was walking distance from the river Ganges. The first thing I noticed about Varanasi was how overwhelmingly filthy it is. Coming from Delhi I didn’t think it could get much worse but this is twice as bad. There was literally shit everywhere. From the banks of the Ganges the buildings are laid out in a labyrinth of twisting, narrow walkways. It was very easy to loose your bearings and become incredibly lost. Despite the filth, I enjoyed getting lost, it’s a very interesting place and there is so much going on everywhere you turn.
The river Ganges is the most sacred river in India and it is lined with miles of ghats, which are basically large stone steps that lead into the water. Each ghat is slightly different and has a different purpose. Some might be for bathing and washing, and others for religious acts like offerings and cremation. Hindus believe the river Ganges is pure and purifying, but it is actually one of the most polluted rivers in the world and is more likely to make you sick. However, the brain washing power of religion influences Hindus to submerge themselves and even rinse the contaminated river water around in their mouths like mouthwash.
Goats wander the streets of Varanasi wearing knitted jumpers and stray dogs lay out in the roads, sometimes with a litter of pups. Monkeys can be seen scaling high in the buildings, and down by the river cows and water buffalo wander the ghats. The excrement from many of these animals is collected, shaped into a plate sized disc and dried out in the sun on the ghats. Once dry, this is then used to burn.
The streets in Varanasi are crazy busy; crowds of people everywhere. If you want to get somewhere, even if its walking distance away, its best to hire a cycle rickshaw. Walking is not only dangerous as there aren’t really proper footpaths and traffic will weave around you narrowly running you over but also there are thousands of shopkeepers desperate for you to look in their shops and you will be stopped every couple of seconds.