This is actually where I stayed with my travel stories from India. I love writing about my travel stories, they all bring back the sweetest memories. Varanasi is a holy city in India that could also be a separate universe. It actually was a love at first sight for me, when I arrived to Varanasi on my first trip to India. Maybe it was because I was traveling with my friend Michael at that time and he was so laid back about just anything. We arrived all tired and dusty after traveling for two days and nights from Amritsar by train. We chose a hotel that seemed nice in Lonely planet and took a bicycle rickshaw ride to the hotel. As every Indian city, Varanasi was bustling with life. The rickshaw guy took us to a certain point, where he stopped and told us we have to walk to the hotel.
That’s where the magic of Varanasi started.
Narrow streets, full of people, cows, shops, restaurants, cafes and such. That certain smell that I almost didn’t notice anymore in India. But Varanasi has a special smell. I’ll get there later on. Our rickshaw guy was walking so fast we almost had to run with our backpacks. Suddenly we were standing in front of Alka hotel. It looked shabby from the outside. But, there was a nice atrium on the inside and a gorgeous terrace with a million dollar view. So, that was the real magic of Varanasi. The mighty Ganges river and on its banks ghats with so many steps and behind them buildings one next to another. Such a wonderfull conglomeration of life. I believe this is the right description. We payed for the room, had some rest, lunch and lots of chai on the terrace. And we couldn’t wait to start exploring.
Exploring Varanasi is a one of a kind experience.
Varanasi’s streets remind me of a huge maze. But somehow, we managed to find our way back to the hotel after exploring the maze. It’s not possible to describe exactly everything that is going on in Varanasi. It’s such an incredible place. There are temples at every corner, huge staircases, called ghats next to each other by the river Ganges. So much is going on at the ghats all the time. The streets are always busy. Everything is so intense. Pilgrims are bathing in the river, temple bells are ringing, may it be sunrise or sunset. Well, sunrise is a time to bathe in the holy river and sunset is the time for aarti, a ritual, prayer for the river. Both sunrise and sunset are a must see timings when visiting Varanasi.
I was hooked. I loved Varanasi, even though not everything was like a fairytale.
On my first visit I never thought I would be back. I decided to stay almost a week in Varanasi. I had Michael for company the first two days and then he left to Nepal. But there was always somebody to talk to at our fabulous hotel terrace. It really was the best place. Well, Varanasi isn’t all magic. It’s also dirty, too crowded and the river, oh don’t look closely at the river. With Michael we went for a sunrise boat ride on Ganges and it was intense. Look, a body, said the boatman quite often. He explained to us, who gets thrown into the river after death and who gets to be burned at the special ghat. For us, westerners, it’s quite something. But it actually didn’t feel weird and it was kind of refreshing to see, how in India death is such a normal part of life. But the smell at the burning ghat, well, not for the faint of heart.
Coming back to Varanasi a few years after my first visit.
On my second day of my first time in India trip I knew it’s not the last time. When I returned to Varanasi, it was actually my third time in India. We did a wonderful trip to the North East of India and to Nepal. As we knew we would be passing Varanasi while going back to Delhi, we decided to stop there for a few days. We stayed at the same hotel I did the first time. Hotel Alka with that wonderful terrace. This time we stayed in one of the better rooms. What a change! The terrace was the same. I loved it still. The best view. I knew where to go for the freshest yoghurt and the hottest thali. How great it felt, discovering the beauty of Varanasi again. But the season was different. The first time I stayed after the rains and the second time before the rains.
The second time around I saw the reality, but still loved it.
Yes, I saw it all. The dirty river and ghats, smelly streets, that smoke from the burning ghat. But there were also magical evenings, when aarti was performed. All we did was sit and enjoy. We discovered new little places to eat and drink chai. We walked all along the ghats in both directions from our hotel. It felt almost like a vacation after two months of traveling in India. We still didn’t swim in Ganges at that time. I actually swam in Ganges, but not in Varanasi, in Rishikesh. The river before the rainy season didn’t seem too pleasant. You could really see a lot of bodies (of those that can’t be cremated) and a lot of trash was there. Well, but we did see one traveller swimming in Ganges in Varanasi! I was amazed, how could the sheets, being washed in Ganges, be so white. There’s a lot of magic in Varanasi. I loved watching pilgrims in the early morning. They didn’t see the reality. They just saw their holy river and took a dip. For them, the dip in Ganges was pure magic. And for me, being there and witnessing it all, was magic.
Yes, Varanasi is a must in India!
I’ll probably see it again one day. And I’m so looking forward to it. When I was walking Varanasi’s narrow streets for the first time, I thought, this is how I imagined India would be. So I do suggest to each and everyone, visiting India, to visit Varanasi. Hope you’re going to love it!
Until next time,