The Ganges or Ganga River is the most sacred river to Hindus. It is believed that if your ashes are put into the Ganges, your soul will no longer be reincarnated and moksha will be achieved. To Hindus, the waters in the Ganges are both pure and purifying therefore pilgrims flock to Varanasi to the banks of the river and the ghats (stairs) that lead down to its edge.
Of course, this was a must see on our tour of India.
We were scheduled to arrive in Varanasi during our second leg of the trip and after many long drives, hotels and experiences(good and bad). We were looking forward to a cultural experience that would refresh us for the rest of the trip.
We flew into Varanasi from Hyderabad via Spice Jet and arrived at 6:10pm. The hotel sent a car to pick us up. They drove us into the historic part of the city. We knew once we got to a good dropping off point, we would be led on foot by “porters” from the hotel through streets where vehicles were not allowed. We were ready. We had our backpacks ready to go and our walking shoes on.
It was dark as we entered into the city. The people, cars, bicyclists, cows, and dogs were everywhere. To make matters worse there had been a water main break so the streets were flooded up to our ankles in most places. There were random high spots on the roads that were just mucky and everyone was trying to stand or step on these places to keep as dry as possible, including the dogs and cows.
Horns are blowing, people are yelling and every car stops facing each other from every direction. Traffic Jam. Now, this isn’t your normal American traffic jam where everyone is orderly but not moving. No, in India there is no order on the streets. If you want to get somewhere, you go. You don’t care if there is another car facing the opposite direction or there is a crowd of people. You push your car in and force your way out. Unfortunately, there was no easy way out of this flooded traffic jam.We sat there listening to more horns and more shouting for a good ten minutes while inching our way furthet into the mess. I’ll be honest, it was so overwhelming, I don’t remember how we even got out of all that, but eventually we did.
The car pulls over, two young men meet us and we quickly get out into the frenzy and grab our carry-ons while the men grab our backpacks. They say something to us about staying close to them and they take off. Jen and I look at each other, I grab the back of her shoulder and she weaves through the crowd trying to keep up with the porters as I try to keep a hold of her and all the while trying not to step our Croc covered feet into the sewage filled water flowing in the streets. It was a madhouse. The only other time I have been in such a self important, shoulder to shoulder crowd was in my early twenties at the Limelight Club in NYC. And I was enjoying this experience about as much as I enjoyed the previous one.
Now I know as you are reading this, you think you can picture it, but I want to ask you to triple the crowd in your head, double the cars and bikes and quadruple the cows and dogs. There. That’s what it was like.
We force our way across the road to keep up with the men leading, bumping into people with each step. Do you think the crowds stopped the vehicles? Absolutely not! In the middle of the road a car shoving its own way through the mob is stopped less than a foot away from me. I’m still holding onto Jennie’s shoulder and shuffling my feet through the massive amount of feet around me and I feel a nudge on the side of my calf. THE CAR HIT ME! It was not an accident! He was actually pushing me out of his way! We take a few more steps and a motorcycle rams through and DRIVES OVER JENNIE’S FOOT! We were flabbergasted! Three more steps and we are back on the sidewalk still hand to shoulder and trying to keep up with the men in front of us.
We weave through like a snake as we are trying to see this city for the first time, the little shops we are walking through and yet still maintain some sort of direction of where we are going. Finally we are through the crowd and into back alleyways of old stone buildings. It was dark and we had no idea where these men were leading us, but we persevered. Finally we turned a corner and the men entered a glass door. We arrived at our Hotel.
Now, after our recent experience at a Hotel in Gowri, we were ready for anything. (This will definitely be a future post) We got to the front desk as we were bombarded by flying gnats, mosquitoes and who knows what else. Yes, we were by the river.
I pull out our confirmation paperwork. The man behind the desk shuffles around and finally says, “I am really upgrading you tonight. You will have to change tomorrow to a lower grade room.” At this point, it is after 9 pm and we just want to get to a comfortable bed. Fine. He hands us the key and we head upstairs to our “Premium” room.
Now, before we left on our trip, we read to bring our own mosquito net because hotels would have them, but they may have holes and we’d want to be protected. Up until this point, we had not needed the one we packed, but I am so thankful we had it. We enter this room that is a total dump with no mosquito net, dead bugs all over the floors and try to start figuring out how to get the mosquito net attached to the ceiling fan that is very high above us. Jennie managed to figure it out as I took the sides of the net and stuffed them under the mattress to block out any openings. We change, lay down exhausted and lay on what felt like a thin futon mattress for another rough night of sleep.
We had scheduled a sunrise ride on the Ganges for the next morning, so needed to be up and ready to go at 4 am.
As Jennie falls asleep, I start trying to figure out how NOT to stay at this hotel for the next 4 days and to get to somewhere a little more comfortable. This hotel would do for one night as it was right on the Ganges and we would get that experience, but we did not need that much culture after 13 days of it! Yes, I am a princess, but I also felt the need to fix what I had reserved and make Jennie comfortable on this trip as well.
Hubby to the rescue!!! My husband had been our personal concierge from America on this trip. He came through anytime we needed a new comfortable hotel. All I would have to do was text him and he would work his magic and book us using his hotel points into the closest nicest hotel he could find. Within an hour he had us scheduled at the Ramada near the airport until we flew out to Delhi.
Finally things were fixed, the madness of the day was over and I was off to sleep to begin our next adventure with our Sunrise on the Ganges tour.
If you want to read about our tour and the interesting place that is Varanasi, please come back for my next post!