Beep, beep!!! Honk, honnnnnkkkkkk! Moooooo! Hoooockkk chew!
(The last word was the sound of someone getting all the spit from their mouth and hurling it onto the ground haha.)
Ah, the sounds of India.
We made it to Varanasi after the worst bus ride we had ever been on. They say Vietnam has the worst roads… no sirree! 20 hours of bumpy, no sleep, near-death hell! The plus side, however, was we did stop for dinner at midnight and had the most delicious Indian food, and made it to a comfy hostel.
We spent the first day doing a bit of exploring and adjusting to the 40 degree heat as well as the loud honking. The car/bus/motorbike horns in India really seem ten times louder than anywhere else. It was actually painful when walking the streets and there’d be a million sirens going off!
The second day here was quite sad for us. Around midday here, I was lying on the top bunk and thought Kel was shaking the frame. I had a quick look but couldn’t see him standing around and I then had the thought that maybe he was having a seizure as the bed was shaking quite a bit!!! Frightened, I quickly looked down and he wasn’t there – he had gone to the bathroom. I honestly had no idea what was happening. I then saw the hanging lamp swaying from side to side and realised this may be an earthquake! It went on for about a minute which felt like a while and then it stopped. Everyone at the hostel was rushing out of their rooms to discuss what had happened. Not too long after I read the news on my phone: 100 dead in the Nepal earthquake. It felt way too close to home and I couldn’t believe that it was felt here in Varanasi, around 500 km away.
We spent the rest of the day updating news websites learning more devastating details as well as eagerly waiting to hear back from friends still in Kathmandu as well as the Nepali family we stayed with in Ilam. Thankfully we have heard from everyone and they are well and safe.
The next morning we took a boat ride on the Ganga at sunrise. Walking through the streets at 5am it felt so eerily quiet! The strange thing about Varanasi is that 32 million people live here, yet it really feels like a small city. Even walking along the river at any time of day feels very peaceful and quiet. After that sun rises it’s all beeps and honks on the streets from then on!
We saw the burning ghats which was very interesting. There is one ghat where anyone from any religion can be cremated and the other ghat is for Hindu’s. When someone passes away, their body and family come to the Ganga and have special ceremonies to send their soul to heaven. The body is wrapped in cloth and placed on a wooden stretcher type thing. It is placed on other pieces of wood, ghee is added to help ignite the fire and then the body burns (usually takes around 3-4 hours). The first few times we walked along the Ganga we saw a few bodies smoking and ashes being put into the river. On our last night, we saw four burning bodies that had recently started and the fires were pretty big. Kel got a bit overwhelmed as the cloth on the end of one of the bodies had burnt away, revealing the person’s feet.
There is more to the Ganga than just the burning ghats. There are also laundry ghats where everything from everywhere – hospitals, hotels – gets washed there and it’s quite a process! There are also swim schools in the river as well as Hindu’s praying and throwing water on themselves as part of it.
In some of the pictures below you can see how many steps there are up to the doors of the buildings. This is due to the level the river rises during the monsoon season. It’s amazing how high the river rises! Across the river you can see a sandy area which most definitely gets covered up in the monsoon season. On that side of the river, a different process occurs. Instead of being cremated, children under 10 years old, pregnant women and holy men (Siddhu’s) are covered in ropes and weighted with rocks for them to sink to the bottom of the river bed. I’m not sure of the significance of this different process so if anyone does know feel free to comment!
Varanasi is our first taste of India and we want more! Everyone talks about India as a massive culture shock and I think if we started our trip here and came straight from Australia we definitely would’ve been thrown into the deep end. But, with South East Asia under our belt it hasn’t been too much of a change. We definitely felt a bit stressed walking on the street as everything felt so fast-paced but the majority of people here are so friendly, love using their English, and wanting our email address to communicate in English!
The best night we’ve had was last night. Walking back to our hostel, a minute away, we pass a parade of people dancing to what looked like a marching band with a very dressed up man and horse at the very end of the group. It’s a wedding! I happened to meet the groom’s (the dressed up guy on the horse) father and he invited us into the dancing pack and into the wedding venue for more dancing!! It was the most fun we have had! Everyone was wanting to dance with us and teach us dance moves, we had never been so sweaty. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly, we really felt at home! We left after about an hour as we felt there was more attention on us than the wedding party! They offered us food and drink which was so lovely and it was hard leaving as people were telling us to stay. It was a great end to our visit to Varanasi.
We stayed a few nights more than we had planned as I got a lovely bout of food poisoning. I think food poisoning is really my worst enemy as it’s SO hard to stick to plain foods when they’re so much yummy food available!
Tonight, we are catching an overnight train to Agra to visit the famous Taj Mahal!