Tuesday, 24 April 2012

My travels in India from Goa to Varanasi!

It was time to leave Ashiyana and I decided to leave Sunday around lunchtime and Hend from our group joined me for the day to go to Panjim and to visit Old Goa. It was nice to have a companion after hanging out with over 30 people for one month :) Thanks Hend!

First we found a guesthouse for me to stay for the night and then we got a rickshaw to Old Goa. Beautiful churches and chapels!

In the late afternoon Hend made her way back to Ashiyana and I stayed the night and the next day in Panjim, to catch the overnight bus to Hampi the following day.
Panjim isn’t a touristy city at all and it reminded me a bit about Danang ;) It was nice to get the vibe of a natural city.

The guesthouse was in a small little alleyway and the couple that ran it was lovely. They had a roof terrace for their guests. I went up there in the evening and bumped into a pair of German siblings. We chatted for hours; it was brilliant!

The next morning I practiced Yoga on the roof terrace, which was amazing!

The bus station in Panjim was an interesting experience; at least 30-40 busses all over the place and I had no clue which one was mine. Thank god there were different bus companies, so that helped a bit. But it turned out I had to wait anyways, as my bus hadn’t arrived yet. I met quite a few local Indian men (there were no women there at all) and they were all nice to chat to until my bus arrived. The sleeper bus was the same as in Laos, comfortable enough for one night and I was pretty lucky that it wasn’t fully booked, so I had more space ;)


The bus arrived in Hampi at 6am, when it was still dark. A rickshaw driver brought us to the peer, where we were waiting for a small boat to drop us to the other side, where apparently the nicest accommodations were located.

It was so true, as I found a lovely guesthouse called Shanti Guesthouse for 2 nights, with my own swing in front of the hut :) So cute!

They even had Internet, which was much more reliable then in Goa!

The first day I just walked around to visit some temples and different sites, looked for bus tickets, bought postcards, got some washing done and relaxed.

The 2nd day I decided to rent a motorbike to explore the nearby villages. 

It was a lovely ride; many cows on the road, waving kids and Indian men staring at me. I even saw a community meeting taking place in the middle of the village underneath a big tree. I stopped and watched it a little bit. Of course I didn't understand a word, but it was still interesting to watch :)

I even passed some temples, which were far up on hills, and I decided to stop at one and walked all the steps up to the top in the boiling heat at midday ;) Lovely view from the top I have to say and worse while.

As the sun was really blazing down, I decided to come back to my hut and have a rest and some lunch. I went with the boat to Hampi and walked to a lovely little restaurant called Mango Tree. 

It was located by the river, under a huge Mango Tree! Gorgeous :) Had some light food and decided to make my way to the waterfall. Two Swedish girls, whom I had previously met on the boat, recommended it. I walked for 20min or so through the banana tree plantations and reached a small little stall.

There was a nice Indian man there and offered me to guide me to the waterfall. I wasn’t really sure if a guide was necessary so I hesitated a bit in the beginning. Anyhow, I agreed and we walked for at least another 20min through the woods, banana trees, mud, over lots of stones and small streams. After a while I decided to take my flip-flops of and to walk barefoot instead. I had much more grip that way and it was easier.

We reached the waterfall; it wasn’t high, more wide so. 

The guide told me that it is better to go for a swim a little bit further down from here. So we walked a bit longer and I had a lovely ice-cold bath in the water! Wow, that was refreshing for sure! I loved it. The first time since I was in India that I didn’t sweat ;)

After a while we made our way back to the little shop and I walked back to the peer to catch the last boot.

I also got another sleeper bus ticket from Hampi to Hyderabad for the following evening. This time it was a government bus. I was curious to see, how they would look like.
When I arrived at the bus station, I wasn’t very positive, as all I saw were non-AC buses, millions of years old and almost falling apart ;) But patience was needed and a lovely AC sleeper bus came to pick me up. Differently laid out then the last one, but I actually preferred this one, even if I was the only Western person on the bus! No other tourists at all. I even had my own little sleeping cabin; that was lovely :)


What kind of chicken do you like?

I spontaneously dropped Naveen an email, an Ex IBM colleague of mine, which I had met on the CSC program, telling him I would be in Hyderabad for one night. He called me up, we had a lovely lunch in a place called Chutney’s. 

They make the best & biggest Dosa’s I have eaten so far!!!

They remind me a bit about lovely French crepes from Brittany. Delicious! We ate it with a sweet Coconut sauce :) Very tasty and Naveen ordered some typical Southern Indian food called Idly! So delicious :) 

After that, he showed me the IBM office. I had to giggle when I stepped onto the floor as it could have been in Blanchardstown, just the colour of the carpet an the wall was different ;)

I met Naveen’s family in the late afternoon and we visited the Golkonda Fort!

It was huge, really impressive and I loved it.

Afterwards we drove back into town and visited the Buddha statue in the middle of the lake.

Another lovely tasty dinner and then we drove to see Charminar, a landmark with dramatic 4-columns, 56m high and it was illuminated :)

On our way to the landmark, we passed a really exciting typically Indian (at least in my mind) shop area, where I would have loved to stay during the day and watch people. A shame I didn’t discover this area earlier - A really old street, with millions of pearl and Shari shops; Nothing seemed to be organized, it looked so cool. Maybe I will stop in Hyderabad on my way back, who knows and then I need to go back. Naveen & his family dropped me off at my guesthouse close to midnight! 

What an exciting day I had, and it was so good to see Naveen again and to meet his family! Thanks Naveen :)

Train: Hyderabad-Varanasi - YES or NO
The plan was to travel the next morning from Hyderabad to Varanasi by train. I had booked a train ticket more than 14 days in advance, but there was an enormous waiting list and I was No. 20. It reduced itself day by day and one day before my actual journey I was on No. 3. So I decided to wait until 2 hours before departure to see if I will get a ticket issued or not – in India it is called “chart prepared”. The train was supposed to leave at 10am. I got up at 7am, did some Yoga on the balcony and already packed my bag, as I though I will leave the guesthouse anyway to stay another night with Naveen & his family. I didn’t believe anymore that I would get a train ticket issued. At 8am I texted to check my “PNR”-status of my ticket and I got a text back telling me my carriage and seat no. I was stunned, as I didn’t expect anymore to get a ticket. So I asked the reception if I could get my breakfast as quickly as possible. I packed the rest of my stuff, called Naveen to say goodbye, had a quick breakfast and walked out of the guesthouse to find a rickshaw. At 9.30am I arrived at the train station, after a 45min rickshaw ride. Enough time, to get some water and biscuits for the train ;) Good news!

28h train journey: Hyderabad - Varanasi
What an interesting train journey really!
The 3A sleeper seat wasn’t too bad at all. All the compartments were open, however you could close the curtains if you wanted to at night time.

It turned out, that once again I was the only Western person on that carriage, but I didn’t really mind. The Indian people who shared the area (6 beds) with me were nice. They helped me ordering food and even shared some of their own food. Could have been in Vietnam really.
I tried a tomato soup as everybody assured me it is not spicy ;) Hehe, it was spicy! I only ate the breadcrumbs and the rest I unfortunately couldn’t eat. However, there was a possibility to order some plain rice with some dahl. So the Indian woman helped me to do that.
After 8pm it finally arrived. I was starving after boarding the train at 10am and the only food I really had were biscuits. So plain rice was lovely, the dahl I couldn’t eat, as it was really spicy. After dinner I went up to my sleeper bed on the top and fell asleep almost immediately. I got a good night sleep for sure and was looking forward to have some breakfast in the morning.

Some people had left the train and new faces were in our carriage. However one guy was still there and he was so kind to order breakfast for me – toast with omelette! Great :)
I could really experience Indian life on the train. You could hear kids crying, loud music blurring out from a mobile phone, at least dozens of different people talking on the mobile phone. The noise level was incredible really. The guy who was sitting next to me broke the record in talking for the longest time ever on the phone on a train ride I think ;) He seriously spoke for at least half of the journey, which is 14hours! Indian men love their mobile phones, that’s at least my observation ;)

When I was looking out of the window during the train ride I felt like I was in the middle of a movie. It felt actually exactly like it, as if you would watch a movie from India! It was incredible, and I enjoyed every minute of it. A lot of people were curious, as I was the only Western person on the train ;) Some asking lots of questions and wondering why somebody would take on all that hassle to travel on a train in India ;) Funny all the different perspectives! I didn’t experience it as hassle at all ;)

During the train ride I collected all my rubbish in a plastic bag and before we arrived in Varanasi I headed to the other compartment, where I wanted to throw it in the bin. The officer from this compartment took the rubbish from me and I almost didn't trust my eyes: He took my plastic bag and threw it directly through the open train door beside the tracks! I was speechless, shocked and not surprised anymore, why it actually looked so messy along the tracks. It is really sad so as the Indian people need to make an effort to get the litter problem solved. It is more then disgusting and it will destroy their country in the long run :(

Varanasi - Here I am?!
Wow, not sure where to start. Well, I arrived at the train station in Varanasi and that was already overwhelming. I have never seen so many people at a train station sitting on the floor - everywhere; so many different smells and these people were actually all living at that train station and not waiting to board a train! I didn’t take any pictures, as I was so busy keeping an eye on my luggage and getting through the crowds to get a rickshaw. But I went back a few days later as I thought I might be able to buy my train ticket and here is the picture.

Train station Varanasi

I hadn’t booked any guesthouse in advance, but I thought that shouldn’t be a problem at all as it was apparently low season. Well, the rickshaw driver stopped in the middle of small alleyways and explained to me that I need to walk from here onwards to reach the Meer Ghat, where one of the guesthouses was located. Ok, so I got my entire luggage and I was walking through the narrow streets, no idea where to go in 39 degrees. On top of that the alleyways were full of rubbish, cow shit, urine and food left over’s etc., not to mention the smell everywhere. 

Small alleyways

Welcome to Varanasi I thought – now you have arrived in India! 

A man actually offered to show me the way to the guesthouse. I was a bit cautious, as I wasn’t sure where he would bring me to, but I didn’t really have a choice, so I followed him. I don’t need to mention, that my sandal actually broke and I was just walking with one shoes through these lovely clean alleyways! Needless to say, that some Indian people were carrying a dead body on a bamboo stretcher, chanting Hindi songs down to the so called “burning ghat”. 
What an experience I can tell you!!!
We actually arrived at the guesthouse, but it was fully booked. I checked my lonely planet and picked the next one, which was apparently close by. Well, the other guy had disappeared, but there was a lovely boy outside which offered me to bring me to the place without any charge. Well I had no choice once again, and he even suggested he can show me a place where I can get my sandal fixed first :) Wow, that was a good idea! I like that kid ;)
So I got my sandal fixed, and I already felt much better. We went to the other guesthouse, but my gut feeling told me it wasn’t the right place to stay. Finally I asked the little boy if he can bring me back to a place where I can get a rickshaw as I had decided to try another area called Assi Ghat instead, which is a bit further outside. The boy brought me there in one piece, with my entire luggage and I gave him some Rupees for it. He smiled at me and said he is hoping to meet me again. He was very kind I have to say, he didn’t expect any money, and so it felt even nicer to give him some ;)

Finally I arrived at the Assi Ghat, but the guesthouse was also fully booked. 

Assi Ghat

Assi Ghat

Assi Ghat

Wow, it seems to be difficult to find a room around here I thought. But the guy at the reception was so nice, he told me I can leave my backpack here and walk around in this area to see if I can find another guesthouse. That was a relief! 12kg less to carry in that heat ;) So I walked through the area and looked at a few guesthouses, and there were actually rooms available, the question was if I felt comfortable there. 

Even cows eat rubbish here!

But finally I found a lovely family run guesthouse in a quiet area, with Wifi connection and a balcony outside my room. That’s it, I will stay here!

The son from the guesthouse

Needless to say, that on the way to get my backpack, my other sandal broke and I had to find another man, to get it fixed. But it wasn’t too complicated this time ;) Thank god! 
On the way I bumped into a guy I actually had met on Tonsai Beach/Thailand End Of January! He also recognized me and we had a quick chat - how small is our world really :)

So with 2 proper sandals and my backpack I walked to my new “home” and the first thing I did was to have a lovely shower. It felt like I was a new person after all ;)
I decided to try the Pizzeria which was mentioned in the lonely planet and which was supposed to be in the neighbourhood. Great idea I have to say, the Pizza was delicious. I almost felt like I was in Rome, except that Rome is much cleaner than Varanasi! But the Pizza was Italian ;) I even had a scoop of Vanilla ice cream as dessert, as I had only eaten bits and pieces on my 28h train journey and I was starving!
Back in my room I tested the wifi connection and it was actually working, even on my balcony! Wow, I got spoiled ;) Yippie! But too tired really to communicate with anybody, I went to bed. The room has just a fan on the ceiling, but I was able to leave my windows open. However, it is unbelievable hot even at night-time, so it was hard to get some proper sleep. But I rested at least ;)
I got some lovely homemade breakfast in the morning from the woman who is running the guesthouse.

My lovely breakfast

That was a great start to a new day. I decided to give the so called “Ghat’s” another try and so I walked along the river Ganges from one ghat to the next, taking pictures, watching people and just trying to grasp the atmosphere in that new city! It felt definitely better than the day before.

Assi Ghat

Using Cow shit and drying it!

Buffalos bathing in the Ganges

It didn’t take too long until I arrived at one of the two “burning ghat’s”, which is called “Harishchandra Ghat”. I could see the huge stables of wood from far away and had known what was coming next. 

huge piles of wood

The ceremonies 
But knowing and seeing it is a different story. There were two funerals going on and you could see one body wrapped in white linen or silk placed on a bamboo stretcher. Two people carried the stretcher into the river Ganges and dipped it a few times into the water and the people around prepared the wood.

The 2nd funeral was already further ahead and the body was already placed between all the logs, wrapped in white linen. After a few minutes they started to lighten the logs. I met an Indian man who apparently owned the funeral service. I’m not sure if that true or not, but it doesn’t matter in the end. He took time out to explain a lot of rituals to me. All the families have to buy at least 360kg of wood. If the body is very big or the person is taller than usual, they even have to buy up to 500kg of wood. Apparently 1kg of wood costs 300 Rupees. If you calculate that quickly, then the logs for the funeral cost at least 10.000 Rupees, which is around 200US$! Wow, a lot of money for India indeed. Not to forget, that was the cheapest option available! Sandalwood is the most expensive wood and people pay more than double for it. There are usually no women at all at the burning ghat, as Indian people think they are too emotional and the risk is too high that they will commit suicide and throw themselves into the burning fire as well to follow their husband. 

weighting the wood needed for the funeral

The sons of the person who just died have to shave their head in a very specific way. Almost the entire head is shaved except for one small piece at the back of the head. There are people close to the burning ghat, who do nothing else than shaving people’s heads. 

Shaving the son's heads

I learned that the dead bodies of men are wrapped in white, women in orange linen. 
Some elderly people are moving to Varanasi in a high age, to prepare to die there. It is very bizarre, disillusioning and unfamiliar of course.
However, maybe it is actually better to handle death in a more open way than as we do it in the West. Indian people are wearing white clothes for funerals, same as in Vietnam. I actually prefer this to black ones back home!

Enough now, I finally moved on with my walk along the Ganges. There are a lot of people washing and drying their clothes alongside the steps and lots of people are taking a bath.
Drying clothes next to the burning Ghat!

Washing clothes in the Ganges

Drying clothes

Bathing in the holy Ganges

Meanwhile the sun was blazing from the sky and I decided to have a break. I went to a small little Indian place called “Blue Lassie”, which apparently has the best lassies in town. I didn’t get disappointed. The banana lassie was delicious – very different to lassies I know, but really refreshing! I met a lovely Portuguese woman there and we got chatting. She gave me some tips regarding Nepal and how to get there :) So nice!
Refreshed I walked through some more alleyways and went slowly back to my guesthouse to have a rest and a shower. It was so boiling hot outside!

In the late afternoon I decided to visit the Ramnagar Fort, which didn’t seem to be very far away from my guesthouse. Well, never trust any Asian maps ;) I walked over an hour for sure and then ended up to walk over a very extraordinary bridge for another 20min until I finally reached the Fort. 

A woman selling green peas on the way

The bridge leading to the Fort

The Fort finally ;)
It was not too special I have to say after seeing the one in Hyderabad. But well, it doesn’t matter. I decided to get a rickshaw on the way back as I was too tired to walk another 1.5hours! What an exciting day I had really! So many impressions and there are more to come.

Unfortunately, I woke up the next morning not feeling the best in my stomach. The lady from the guesthouse was so nice, she cut some bananas and cooked lemon tea for me. I decided to go back to my room and sleep for another while – I felt so weak. There was not much I could do really during that day, I just took it easy and I tried to get better. 

The next day I felt a little bit better, but still took it easy. But I had to see the ceremony they are performing every evening at 7pm at one of the Ghats. So I went and it was actually beautiful. So many Indian people watching it, some were praying, others were watching it from a boat on the river Ganges.

A lot of people bought little candles surrounded by flowers in a little basket to lighten it and let it swim in the Ganges. I also bought one from the little girl and seconds later it floated on the Ganges :)

After the ceremony I was hungry, so I decided to go back to the Pizza place. I met two really nice ladies, one from Ireland and the other one from Italy. We actually had dinner together and we planned to take a boat at 5.30am the next morning to watch the sunset from the river Ganges. I had also tried to arrange my train ticket directly at the train station, which wasn’t any success – so I booked it online instead and on the waiting list again ;) 
It was hard the next morning to get up at 5am the next morning, but I made it and the Italian woman met me at the Ghats. We hired a boat for an hour and watched the busy life of Varanasi from the boat during the sunrise. 

Locals brushing their teeth in the Ganges

Bathing time

It was very beautiful until we passed the burning ghat again.

All these days in Varanasi I felt like being in a movie. It just didn’t feel real. I was even expecting to wake up any moment and to realize that I had only dreamt all that. But it was actually real – real life for people who live here. My bicycle rickshaw ride around town was another unforgettable moment. It reminded me about Sissi, when she was at the Cornmarket and she told her husband that the people almost tattered her dress. Not that Indian people did that, but they were staring at me when I was riding through the local markets and streets, as I guess it wasn’t a touristy area and people don’t see so many foreigners at all.

Varanasi really got to me – it said in the traveller guide that it might be difficult for light-hearted people. I didn’t expect that it would affect me so much, but it did! I just couldn’t cope any longer with all that dirt in the streets and all the unhealthy smells in the air. Really looking forward to my train trip tonight towards Nepal! Another adventure is about to start ;)

Bye Bye Varanasi!!!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing Kerstin! I am loving reading your blogs (i received both blog emails at around 6am - as i have been getting up for work!)..love hearing about your adventures..wishing i was there with you x x love tali

  2. Great way to detail all adventurous places all over India and making a showcase of it.Like it.Thanks.

  3. Such peaceful places. I wnt to visit it once.

    Kpn Travels

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