We stepped off the platform at Varanasi to be greeted by warm refreshing drizzle, and a carpet of people covering the station floors. The transition from Khajurharo to Varanasi was at first difficult for us. As with anywhere the general rule of thumb is the bigger the city, the less friendly the welcome, and this was obvious when entering to Varanasi – a city of over 4 million people. Where normally we are able to lock into someone’s gaze and after a sometimes uncomfortable amount of time, either us or them would break into a smile and the deadlock would be broken, there was no such warmth here.
As our hotel pick up decided not to turn up we chose to walk to the hotel located in the cantonment area of the city. Almost all Indian cities have these areas near their centre and they for all intensive purposes a military barracks surrounded by a high wall, however the surrounding neighbourhoods fall under the cantonment or cantt district.
After persuading Sarah to stay in, watch a film (grizzly man) and get some rest, I ventured off to find a pharmacist, which I was reliably informed by Google maps was just a 20 minute walk from our hotel. During this walk it dawned on me that the inexplicable madness of India, the stray cows, un-warranted horn blowing, the middle of the road street sellers all fall into an order amongst the chaos and after a certain amount of time, it all becomes the norm. Certainly when on foot, this settling in hinges on a persons ability be comfortable with fast moving vehicles whiz past at a much closer proximity than they may travel in the UK (it would be unwise to turn to talk to the person next to you wearing a 50 litre rucksack for example, risking being dragged down the street by an unhappy rickshaw driver or knocking a motorcyclist clean off his bike) something I can maybe get along with better as I often get criticism at home for the seemingly relaxed (but calculated!) way in which I cross the road. Granted the thoroughfares of Dale Street and Hannover Street are distinctly peaceful in comparison to the highways of Varanasi and Agra.
The reason for our visit to Varanasi was to experience the Ganges. Our boat ride on the Ganga at sun rise was my highlight of India so far. The whole spectrum of Indian life can be found here, families washing and playing, holy men meditating with the morning sun on their faces, washer men cleaning the hotel laundry sheets and the ceremonial burning to release the dead. We savour the rare moments of calm in India and this slice of tranquility was fully appreciated as we headed back into the madness of the city.
The rest of our time in Varanasi was spent in and around the hotel due to illness ( it’s happened!) catching up on washing and haircuts, thankfully we are both now fit and well. Our final day we travelled to Sanarth, the place where Buddha delivered his first sermon, walking round some beautiful temples and gardens and bartering over handmade Lanterns. In contrast to Dubai a western style mall was a welcome relief and we treated ourselves to a domino’s pizza before taking a step back in time and walking around the silk factories.
Next stop Nepal!
P.s. links to the photo albums should now be at the bottom of each post