It's another round of cliche dodging! Varanasi is incredible, it really is one of the most uniquely beautiful places you could ever wish to see. First though I've got to tell you about our madcap rickshaw ride to the station a few hours ago (yep more trains!!). We got caught up in this protest by the local Muslim community of Varanasi, they'd blocked the main road and the riot police had been called in but this didnt stop our enterprising rickshaw driver who was determined that we wouldnt miss our train. So, off we go down the tiniest alleyways at breakneck speed dodging cyclists, cows and loads of goats. It was a proper heart in mouth experience & I found myself worried that we might end up in that insignificant middle bit in the 6 o'clock news, no film, just a really bad photo and a description of two young lives tragically cut short. I jest. Anyway, Varanasi!
This is a very important religious place for Hindus and thats obvious as soon as you arrive from the many people from very different backgrounds washing themselves at the banks. Aside from a few of the usual touts and salespeople (a lot less than Delhi) The area beside the river is very peaceful. It is very dirty, cluttered with litter and with the constant stench of urine because of the lack of toilets, but this doesnt detract from the picture postcard tranquility that exists here. Its really difficult to sum it up in words (ouch, cliches!) but we knew straight away that the late decision to add it to our trip was a great one! I have to admit that all we really did for three days was sit at the banks relaxing, watching religious processions and children playing cricket as well as having some banter with post card salesboys.
After so long sitting amongst residents and pilgrims you get a feel as to why this place is so special. Its made even better by the 'Brown Bread Bakery' - a small cafe/restaurant whose profits go towards running a local school & conveniently has the best food in Varanasi! When we weren't at the Ganges we were here. Its like an Indian version of Moorish/Hyde Park Social (sorry none Leeds people might not get that), loved it.
I should probably mention the kind of places we've been staying. In Varanasi it was Ganga Fuji Home, well reviewed and only 3pounds per night. We arrived to quite a plush, newly renovated room with AC but because it didnt have a bathroom (like we'd booked) I (stupidly) complained. We got our room with a bathroom but no longer did we have views of the city, instead, a wall and don't get me started on the beds, or should I say shelves!It wasnt all bad though, it had a nice rooftop restaurant and the location more than made up for owner's bad manners!
Writing this last section the night after the train journey from Varanasi, it turned out to be a good one! Got loads of sleep and met a really nice man called Ravi, an rather esteemed chemistry professor who has lectured all over the world! He was sharing his opinions on Briitsh/Indian society and politics after we spotted a newspaper photo of Gordon Brown at a museum in Delhi that we visited a couple of days earlier. I bet his time in Delhi wasn't as manic as ours. Anyway, on to Agra.
P.S. We have photos now! Oh and to people who've asked if we have a laptop to write on train, fraid not, its just old fashioned pen and paper and then type it up