With deep sorrow, we left paradise (see the Andaman Islands) to get to our last Indian stop: Varanasi, the holiest Hindu city.

Ferry, bus, airplane, train and taxi: 48 hours and a quick stop in Kolkata to watch a Hindi film without subtitles. Can’t wait to see the part II of Bahubali!!!.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Hundreds of boats cramming to watch the evening ceremony from the Ganges.

Through the years I’ve developed and allergy to the “accommodation hunt” upon arrival with a 20 kg bag on my shoulders: walk around, avoid touts, bargain, climb three flights just to see a crappy room and start over. Probably it’s partly genetic, but even when you’re not getting the best or the cheapest hostel in town, your room is secured and you know where you stand. Especially today, you can get a pretty good idea of the premises through so many different websites and reviews. My grandpa would be proud.

Varanasi welcomed us in the best Indian way, your AC room has no AC, actually, there is none in the whole building. And it 39*C outside. And there we go, under the scorching sun walking among cows, broken streets, dung mines to find our new dreamed hostel. Guess what… we didn’t. Staying by the Ganges river is apparently quite a luxury, the “budget police” led us to a dodgy building, classic fat dude at the entrance connected IV to his fan.

No window, no water sink, no hot water, a latrine and a cooler that brought me up nostalgia for the turbine rooms I used to work in.

At night we left for dinner in the old town, just 2km away. The longest two kilometers ever walked. Looking down to avoid stepping on dung or fall in a pothole; looking up to prevent being hit by motorbikes, man-peddled rickshaws, and cars; and at the same time listening to one single and the continuous symphony of honks.
We ended up exhausted and returned to our room just to check out the day after.

IMG_5614
Hectic traffic in the streets.

Our dreamed hostel materialized at Blox, where Vishal welcomed us with a smile, polished English and a whole program for the coming days spread on a map.

Benares: “24 hours, full power, no toilet, no shower, smelling flowers”. That’s how locals describe this overwhelming crazy city. They can’t be more right. Two months into our trip to India and I was surprised by my ability to be shocked: Dirt is everywhere, never settles and it will find its way to every hole of your body, the cows walk freely on the road and the rubbish covers the streets.

Ultimately we spent our afternoons hiding out of the heat in the lovely Open Hand café, an oasis of quietness.

Varansai1
Amazing wall painting across Blox Hostel.

By the mighty and sacred Ganges river lie the ghats, the steps that lead down to the river, more than one hundred different locations, each one with its own purpose: Laundry, bathing, praying, dancing… and the most important: the crematorium. A set of bonfires burn up more than 500 bodies daily out in the open, to have the ashes thrown into the river. The image is bizarre: piles and piles of wood (quality matching the family budget) wait to be burned in pedestals where Hindus from all over the world bring their deceased to be rinsed in the holy waters and then cremated. Among them cows that rush to eat the fruity offerings left and dog looking for a bone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sacred bonfires / open crematoria

This was our last stop in India, closing a cycle that started with a landing shock in Delhi (See: Nothing can prepare you), I’ll be writing an India closure post soon, but one thing is for sure, Varanasi left a deep impression on me.

Tips:

Accommodations: Stops or Blox hostels will provide you with badly needed oasis of normality.

Eating out: Don’t miss the Blue Lassi, as you will see the dead processions while you enjoy the best lassi of your life. The Open Hand serves great western food in a chilled down shop/café. Dosa Cafe is a small and tasty restaurant served by a south Indian family.