Around the world travel, Backpacking, Ganges, India, long term travel, Travel, Travel Wishlist, Uncategorized, Varanasi



I make it safely to Varanasi, as do my bags, and I spot my name outside the terminal for my hotel pickup (which is always a good feeling). I share a bus to Alka hotel with a couple of other tourists. The airport is only 13km from the city center, but the journey takes about an hour, due to congestion and road conditions.I find myself sucking in when we’re about to clip a pedestrian or side-swipe another vehicle. For some reason, drivers don’t like to pick one lane, and prefer to drive in the middle of the road. It seems the rule is the bigger vehicle gets right of way, and mopeds just bob and weave in between.

As we get closer to what feels like the city center, I begin looking for the hotel. Well, I begin looking for something somewhat clean, or new, but who am I kidding- this is Varanasi, which Mark Twain describes as “older than history, older than tradition, older than even legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” I don’t think anyone can sum up this city better.

A few minutes later, our driver pulls over, and three men meet us to carry our bags. We are told to follow. We enter a narrow alleyway, pass some cows, goats, and dogs, go down some steps and around a corner and arrive at Alka. We are away from the blaring horns of the rickshaw and perched above the great River Ganges.

It is HOT! I am thankful for booking a room with AC even though it doesn’t appear to be working. A man, who introduces himself as “second in command” comes up to take a look at the wall unit. He explains that the one generator they have for the hotel is off right now, but he assures me it will be back on within an hour. I really want to believe him! He asks me my name on the way back downstairs to the lobby, and when I tell him, he seems surprised. He tells me we will  get along so well because our names are so similar. Well, he has my attention. “What Hindi name sounds like Eleanor?” I think to myself.  So I ask him his name and he replies, “Leslie.” I chuckle to myself. I like this man already.


The ghats of Varanasi, leading down to the Ganges.

A little history on Varanasi- It is one of the oldest cities in India, and the most spiritual. Considered to be the birthplace of Hinduism, this is where all Hindus hope to be when they die. Only then can they break the cycle of birth and re-birth, known as moksha. It’s also a place where many come to cremate the deceased. The cremations take place on the ghats, which are steps leading down to the river, and apparently, one family in Varanasi is in charge of all cremations.

The Ganges River, like most rivers in India, serves many purposes. It’s a place for prayer, bathing, laundry, yoga, cremating the dead, and fishing. It’s a mode of transportation, but also unfortunately, a main sewage system. According to Lonely Planet, water samples from the river contain over 5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 4 ounces. Safe bathing water should contain less than 500. That’s India for you. Surprisingly, the river doesn’t smell!

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