We were up about 5:30 this morning, after a fitful sleep, and ready for our 7:00 AM pick-up. Kamal was there on time and away we went to the Indira Ghandi Domestic Airport for our 8:55 flight to Varanasi. The young IndiGo check-in girl was great! We were both overweight – our luggage, that is – by a total of about 9 kg, and not only did she charge us for only 4 kg (Rs 300 per kg), she upgraded us to the bulkhead seats with more legroom and nobody between us for no extra cost! A great start to the trip!
While waiting for the plane to depart, we met a young woman from Oslo, Norway, who was in India on business. She had a weekend to kill between business meetings and decided that she couldn’t miss Varanasi. I think she’s very brave to be doing this on her own.
The flight was uneventful and we arrived early, which meant that we had to wait a few minutes for our driver to pick us up for the trip into Varanasi and the Heritage Inn, near the ghats (steps) on the Ganga (Ganges River). The drive in, which took about 1.5 hours, was unbelievable! I don’t think there are words to describe this place, but “gobsmacked”, “OMG”, “WTF” are a few that come to mind. Again the traffic was horrendous and the horn honking was continuous. Still haven’t figured out the purpose, whether it’s to get someone out of the way or warn them that you coming up beside them or, most likely, a combination of the two. Check out these few photos I took from the car along the road and you be the judge.
The sights and sounds along the way sure had us wondering what we were in for when we finally reached the Hotel Heritage Inn but, surprisingly enough, it’s not bad. The people at the desk were great and helpful. While we waited for the cleaners to finish with our room, we went up to the rooftop restaurant for lunch.
Lunch consisted of Aloo Gobhi Banasari (diced potato and cauliflower cooked in onion tomato gravy), Paneer Makhani (cubes of cottage cheese cooked in traditional Indian spices), Roti Ki Gulshan (flat bread) and Garlic Nan Bread. Nothing was very spicy, although the 2 main dishes had a hint of a bite. It was very good. Should have taken photos….next time.
Our room is a typical box with 2 single beds and a wet bathroom (i.e. no shower curtain or stall, so the whole bathroom is the shower). But, again, it’s clean and it has a ceiling fan to keep the air moving.
We took it easy in the room for a while, had a nap and then went out for a walk through the narrow streets and alley’s to the ghats, the steep, stone steps that go from the street level down into the Ganga. Now we started to get into some good photo ops compared to Delhi. Certainly there were lots of boat owners and kids along the ghats that tried to sell us a boat trip, but we declined. We’ve booked a private morning boat ride and an evening one. We’re being picked up at 5:30 AM to be taken to the Ganga. Then we’re out again at 5:30 PM for the evening trip. We saw the boats and I guess they’ll be OK, although you could wonder how they stay afloat.
We met a young New Zealand couple on the ghats. They had been to Calcutta and had nothing good to say about it, in fact they left as quick as they could. The highlight for photo ops tonight, for me, was this ‘Ganga Sadhu’ or Holy Man. I asked if I could take his photo and, wouldn’t you know, he wanted money. He let us take some pictures and when we each gave him Rs 10, a total of about 40¢, he told us that he wanted Rs100. We just laughed; however, I gave him another 10 to get a couple more shots with a better backdrop. I was sure that we’d have great opportunities for some people photos, but this was a great one…a face only a mother would love! I can’t wait to print it! The good thing is that people are quite agreeable to having their photos taken and most, so far, don’t want money.
After wandering the streets a bit more, we elected to head back to the room for an early night and an early rise.
More from Varanasi tomorrow.