Varanasi is known as a place where people go to burn the bodies of loved ones and release their ashes into the Ganga river. It is the holiest place for Hindu people and a common stop along the tourist path. This is one of the more intense places that we’ve been to in India. The combination of crowds of people, rituals and scams had us on full alert. While traveling in India we’re commonly told to be cautious of this or that scam, but in our experience there are just as many people if not more who want to help you as want to scam you. Here however we were told not only by the travel guide, but by multiple locals to be especially vigilant. We had no problems and the only major change in our traveling style is that we took a rickshaw home after dinner instead of walking. Nothing major.
Upon arrival in Varanasi we noticed a special treat in our hotel: a TV! We turned it on to an English station and there was all this hub bub about a certain royal wedding. Turns out I’d tuned in minutes before Prince William made his way to Westminster church and Lord help me if I didn’t choke up and get dewy eyed throughout the next hour or so of wedding coverage. I blame the terrible train ride with no AC packs of men crowding me and watching us read for my highted emotional state. By the way, how gorgeous was Kate’s dress?
After watching the wedding coverage we walked along the ghats (the steps down to the river) to check out the buildings and the vibe. We sat and watched a burial ceremony at the main ghat and made some new friends. The popular guru Sathya Sai Baba recently passed away and it turned out that the burial ceremony we were watching was for him.
In the morning we woke up at 5 to catch a sunrise boat ride along the Ganga.
I loved seeing the Ganga and ghats by boat. It was peaceful to be on the river and away from venders. It was also a nice way to sneak a peak at the pyres and see what the area where the bodies are burned looks like. Tourists are allowed to walk over there, but I felt a bit strange hovering over a somber moment for the family members. We were told that the women in the families don’t go to watch the bodies burn because if they cry the body won’t pass into the next life. I wasn’t totally sure what the protocol was for foreign women visiting, hence my reason for keeping some distance. In the photo above you can see the piles of wood, ashes and fire where the bodies are burned. The ashes are then released into the river. Our boat driver told us that babies and holy men are not burned, but tied with stones and dropped to the bottom of the river.
The rest of our time in Varanasi was spent hanging out, taking care of errands and making friends. By a stroke of good luck we managed to book a last minute ticket to Darjeeling, buuuuuuut missed our train due to some chit chatting and forgetfulness on our part. We forgot that the train left from a different station than the one we arrived in and didn’t realize that it would take at least a half hour if not more to get there. When we returned to our hotel to grab our bags and pay our tab the owner greeted us by saying, “You are so lazy! You will miss your train!” He frantically arranged our taxi and checked us out of the hotel all the while chastizing us for waiting so long to make our way over there.
We called and found out that the train was running late and our taxi driver drove like a bat out of hell to get us there in time. We ran through the station like mad women only to arrive at the platform to watch our train pull away. The thought of jumping on crossed my mind for a fraction of a second and then left. Oh Darjeeling, we had so many dreams of relaxing in the mountains and sipping tea. Of a scenic train journey and frolicing in nature.
While running through the station with my bags I began to feel weak. Like someone who had been sick for a month and had barely eaten in the last few days due to nauseous. Up to this point, I had been minorly ill for about a month straight. One ailment jumped to another and then another. I was rarely sick enough to stay in the hotel room, but a general feeling of crappiness followed me around.
After missing our train we had to go through the hellish process of waiting in lines, I mean elbowing our way through lines, to get our ticket refund and check other train options. While waiting in line I started to feel dizzy and flush, tell-tale signs that I was about to throw up. Somehow PZ rallied together the energy to fight her way through the lines, even though she’d been sick all day, and I just sat in a heap on the floor “gaurding the bags” and clinging on to my barf bag for dear life. (I never did actually barf. Stupid naucea.)
Eventually PZ returned with our refund and the message that we didn’t have a chance to make it on a single train from this station today. At this point I turned into a blubbering pile of tears and mumbled things like, “I’m soooo tired of being sick,” “What are we going to doooooo?” and “I want my mommmmmyyyy” (Don’t remember if I said the last one aloud or not.)
We decided to try the train station in Varanasi only to find out that it closed at 2 PM on Sundays. And what time did we arrive there? 2 PM! Worst day ever. So we did the only thing we could do. We checked into a hotel for the night. If there’s any silver lining in this story it’s that we sprung for a room with AC and a TV and spent the rest of the night convalescing.
The next morning we went to the train station and learned that we would not be able to leave for Darjeeling until the next day. Screw that! We wanted out of Varanasi ASAP. And so began our journey to Nepal…