In and around Varanasi

Trip Start Sep 11, 2010
Trip End Sep 11, 2011

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Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Monday, October 11, 2010

October 10 2010. As it is Sunday, and the tourist office in Varanasi is closed, we decided to take a hotel taxi to the Saranath area to view the Buddhist ruins and temples.  The monuments were closed until 1300 so we set off after a nice leisurely morning spent in the hotel. The drive through the very busy streets was an experience (how our driver didn't knock someone off their cycle or go into the back of one of the many Ambassador cars is a mystery!) but after leaving the Cantonment area traffic thinned out.  We were on the main road to Kathmandu – a mere 300k to the border with Nepal - a little too far to go for our afternoon drive!

Along the way were lots of buzzing communities; strung along the roadside were their stalls, makeshift homes constructed with different materials ranging from rough bricks to corrugated sheets and sheaves of straw.  However, behind the walls lining the road were fine houses  within gated grounds

Our first stop was at the Buddhist ruins set in tranquil gardens. The excavated ruins were surrounded by concrete to protect them and also to enable visitors to view them at close range. Dhanekh Stupa in the grounds of the ruins was where Buddha preached his first sermon.

We also visited Mulagandha Kuty Viraha Temple, both the Chinese and Japanese Buddhist Temples and finally the very fine Archaeological Museum. The Lion Capital in the entrance foyer (no photos allowed) is from the 3rd century BC – it has been adopted as India’s national emblem. Next, a walk around the Chaukhandi Stupa, a monument dating to the 5th century AD, where Buddha met his first disciples.

At most stops we were besieged by young children begging either for food and/or money.  One had a tiny baby in his arms, crying on cue; it was very hard to walk away.

The volume of traffic does a good job in churning up the dust and many of the pedestrians and bike and cycle drivers wear scarves around their faces.  We had been advised that for driving in India you need a good horn, good brakes and good luck!  The horn in the taxi sounded like a strangled cat it had been used so much….

Back to the hotel, via a declined visit to a silk weaving shop, for a cup of tea and supper.

October 11 2010.  An interesting day visiting the Ghats and old city of Varanasi. We had been advised that a guide would be beneficial as the streets were so narrow and a bit’ warren-like’ that it would be easy to get lost.  Through the good offices of India Tourism, a guide was found and with him we set off in a tuktuk to battle through the traffic.  It was 1230 ish and the younger children were just coming out of school so traffic was horrendous.  Eventually we got as far as the tuktuk could go, and set off on foot to the first of the Ghats (steps leading down to the River Ganges).  It was a good time to visit as it was relatively quiet: first thing in the morning is the busiest especially as most pilgrims come to bathe then. In the distance we could see the 2nd of the two crematoria, this one with traditional as well as electric facilities.  The level of the river has gone down by about 8ft in the last week, and it will be another week or two before it reaches its normal level. 

The narrow streets are lined with shops with houses above; it is surprisingly cool as the tall buildings block out most of the sunlight.  There are temples, small and large, at every turning.  The streets are dusty and dirty, especially with the number of cattle, dogs and goats roaming around, but the conditions were not as bad as we had been warned they might be.

The guide was excellent and had a wealth of information to impart.  He is a tax lawyer by profession but enjoys doing the guiding as a way of relieving the boredom of the job!

We were taken to the outside of the Vishwanath Temple, or Golden Temple, as non-Hindus could not enter.  The area is heavily guarded and security is tight as there is a Mosque on the site next door and for historical reasons and current tensions, is a potential terrorist target.

Then it was onto the main crematorium at Manikarnika Ghat after which we retraced our steps back out to the busy market at Godaulia Crossing.  Another tuktuk ride through the early evening rush hour traffic to return us to the hotel to prepare for our busy day tomorrow.


- Which stretch of water does the Ganges flow out into?
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Bill Allen on

Another great read! I'm already looking forward to the next installment (and the DVD)

Bill Allen

Silvereagle on

Another excellent episode, all these wonderful travelogues and pictures of a LongEZ couldn't get much better.

Chris & Pete on

Another great episode in the adventure - your narratives are great. Loved the photos. Have fun in the hills. C&Px

Michael on

Did you find the "Most Welcome" restaurant in Varanasi?!
Recommended in Lonely Planet, but so (apparently) foul that our taxi driver almost refused to take us there.
Needless to say, Fabulous Food, and no ill effects!

Mitch & Ann on

We have been trying to follow along, absolutely stunning trip. You have certainly got our travel adrenalin going. I am off to Mexico tomorrow (business).
Take care and keep sending the lovely pictures.

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