Varanasi is Very-Nicey!

We’ve spent a relaxing two nights and three days in Varanasi, taking in the sights of the ghats, reading while enjoying the views from rooftop balconies, and strolling along the riverside. The title of this post became our catch phrase!

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Despite the relaxation we have enjoyed, our arrival in Varanasi was somewhat jarring. The day before we had spent 5 hours in a car from Dharamsala to Amritsar, then 5 hours on a train from Amritsar to Delhi, and far too long in an auto-rickshaw from the train station to Ronnie and Rignam’s apartment. As there was some confusion with our arrival time, no one was home when we arrived, but when we managed to get in touch with them they quickly returned home to collect us, at which point we all went on to a party at their friend’s apartment. After many laughs and sips of whiskey (more than sips for the boys) we collapsed into bed around 4am, waking at 8am to catch our flight to Varanasi.

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The short flight didn’t allow much time for catch-up on sleep, and I emerged from the car in downtown Varanasi after nodding off for most of the half-hour ride from the airport. All of a sudden, I was once again surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of a busy Indian city.

We were unsure of how to find the Ganpati Guesthouse, and were incredibly sceptical of the man wandering alongside us who insisted he worked there. (Turns out he did… but don’t the guesthouses know that a man wandering the streets trying to lead tourists somewhere is kind of creepy? He didn’t even have a business card or badge.)

Lucky for us, the guesthouse managed to fit us in, and we collapsed for a much-needed nap.

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After perusing Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor, we decided to focus our time here on the Ganges river, and chose to forego other destinations like the fort (far away) and the monkey temple (after too many encounters with charging, crazy monkeys, we thought it best to give that one a pass).

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We woke up early the next morning for a sunrise boat cruise, and bookended the day with an evening boat cruise which took us in the opposite direction along the river, stopping to observe the nightly ceremony. We learned from our boat guide that the grand buildings lining the Ganges (or Ganga, as they call it) were once summer palaces of the various Indian Maharajas.

The rest of the time we filled strolling along the ghats, stopping to observe various rituals, including the cremations on the two burning ghats, and lounging on rooftop patios to eat, drink, and read (and of course chat… Beth and I love to chat!) Our one excursion beyond the river was a necessity, as we quickly marched ourselves to an ATM and back, realizing that the riverside was the place to be… and stay.

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There were some recurring sights along the ghats: people bathing and washing clothes; cows; dogs; men playing cricket; children chasing one another and climbing the slanted walls like Spiderman; candles and flowers floating in the water; and endless rows of boats. In Varanasi, life centres around the river. We’ve also noticed a lot more families with children traveling in Varanasi, as well as hipster tourists. After spending a few days here, I can see why, as Varanasi is a very nice place to be.

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On our last day here, we had one of the most exciting moments in India so far… we literally almost bumped in to Macklemore! No joke. I had seen the night before on Instagram that he was in Varanasi, and he had previously been in Dharamsala, but it never crossed my mind we would actually see him!! He was walking along the ghats with his girlfriend, just like us, when we passed right by one another. Beth and I literally froze midstep (which we’re pretty sure he saw), but kept going because it was pretty obvious he didn’t want to be noticed. We kept walking along in the opposite direction, chatting excitedly, and barely noticing the touts who continued to hassle us to come for a ride in their boats. We couldn’t believe it… I never dreamed I would see Macklemore in person, let alone in India! And come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever really spotted anyone that famous… well, anywhere. Part of me was kicking myself for not stopping him, but I decided I was being respectful of his obvious desire for some private time… and I would have been far too tongue-tied to say anything intelligent.

Some of our recommendations for Varanasi…

1. Stay somewhere on the river, preferably with a rooftop patio/balcony with a view. We stayed at the Ganpati Guesthouse, which was comfortable and affordable, and helped us out with booking both boat cruises, and our onward train tickets.
2. Eat at the Lotus Lounge (in particular if your stomach is craving something familiar – we had the spaghetti with pesto and penne with tomato sauce, and the pasta was cooked pretty much to perfection).
3. Hang out at the Dolphin Restaurant during the day, as it boasts one of the best views of the Ganges.

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