January 9, 2017

India Day 13 – Varanasi

Filed under: Trips — pearsey @ 9:01 pm
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The Indian overnight train:
I’ve been on overnight trains in Russia, Mongolia, China (two trips) and Vietnam, so I have a fairly good idea of what to expect, although all have their differences and are unique in their own way. Our train to Varanasi was unique in that our group ended up in 3 different carriages (random apparently) and it was the first time I’d been on the train with a drunk who threw up all over the carriage floor. (The Russians may have been drinking all night, but they could handle their drinks!) Heather and I shared a little compartment with Mike and Des, an English couple on our tour. We had a great time and spent hours laughing as we travelled to Varanasi. There were Indian sellers who walked through the train selling random things – we couldn’t figure out what they were saying, so we made it up. There were a couple of younger guys at the end of our carriage who were our attendants. Actually I’m not really sure what they did, but we did strongly suggest to them that they clean up after the Indian guy who got a little ill (and missed the basin). These guys obviously have some power, as they ended up stopping the train and grabbing some supplies (sticks, branches etc) to help in the clean up. We had a little chat to them, they may have been around 18 I think from memory, and were happy to be working on the trains. They told us that the train was 22 carriages long, 72 people in each and 200 extras like staff etc. That made a rough total of about 1784 on the train and it was mostly full. I say rough, because all the carriages weren’t sleepers and there was also a restaurant carriage. Not sure whether that was included in the 22 or not, but either way, it was a pretty long train with a lot of people on it.

The train, arrival at Varanasi

The train, arrival at Varanasi

We arrived in Varanasi around 7am, which was a little later than scheduled, but not too bad. We piled into tuktuks who then proceeded to race each other to the hotel. It didn’t bother us too much, but I don’t think our tour leader was too impressed.

Got to the hotel too early to check in (not til 2pm) but could have breakfast and connect to wifi. For some reason our tour leader decided to wait until after check in before having our orientation walk, so we had the morning free. A few of us decided to go for a walk, so we headed down the road towards the centre of the town – past the typical shops, rickshaws, cows, dogs, rubbish and people asking us if we needed a lift.



We found the Ganges River and happened to stumble upon one of two sites where they do Hindu cremations. You can’t take photos of the actual cremation fire, but I have some from a distance somewhere. It’s hard not to, blazing fires on a river bank tend to stand out… it’s not that exciting: piles of wood and you can’t see the actual body as it is wrapped in brightly coloured fabric and clothes.

Piles of wood for the cremations, Varanasi

Piles of wood for the cremations, Varanasi

Wandered along the river edge for a while, you could also see where the river had flooded a while ago leaving lots of mud deposits. A couple of girls tried on a few sarees then back to the hotel to check in.

Rowing the Ganges, Varanasi

Rowing the Ganges, Varanasi

In the afternoon our group jumped in a cycle rickshaw, which is a little small and has no suspension. It really is uncomfortable and is almost easier to walk. From the city centre our tour leader marched us through the chaos and down the little market alley ways. We were going too fast to see much or stop and look at anything – just managed to dodge cows and people.  We were taken to a shop that sold silk, pashmina and cashmere and learnt how to tell the difference between real and fake.  It was actually quite informative, but a little too late for one who’d bought a saree on our earlier walk that was “genuine silk”.  We spent a fair while there before heading down to catch our boat for the sunset cruise.

Colourful sarees in the air con shop!

Colourful sarees in the air conditioned shop!

The river is very different at night, there are boats everywhere, and a loud hindu ceremony takes place in two different areas on the river. As the ceremony begins, the noise travels across the open water making it seem much louder than it really is, interrupting the warm peaceful night and the quiet noise of the water splashing against the boat. Closer to the shore, the large crowd gathered on the nearby ghat becomes visible, boats full of onlookers jostle for viewing space in the water and young kids jump from boat to boat selling candles, lights or anything else. The lights from the buildings on the shore reflect on the water. Those same lights also light up the night sky, as do the slowly dying fires from the cremations. Hundreds of small tea light candles float down the river, placed there by those wanting to trust in the hindu gods by making a wish for a better life.

Evening hindu ceremony, Varanasi

Evening hindu ceremony, Varanasi


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