Women with babies/small children begging.
Are they in need - most likely.
Are they genuine beggars - it is highly likely they are syndicated and all 'earnings' go to a boss to be distributed later minus a fee.
It is impossible to know so it is up to you. Guides and local authorities advise you to ignore them as there are agencies available to them. It is a difficult issue. Just be aware that if you give to one all of a sudden there will be many more wanting the same.
As with any religious site spurious holy men abound. Men dressed in colourful robes with painted faces are most likely to be fakes. Take their photos if you like but be prepared to pay. A good zoom lens works here. If you want your photo taken with them - and it is all part of the fun - then come to an agreement first.
Beware of 'holy men' who walk straight up to you, say Namaste, plant a daub of red/yellow paint on you forehead and then expect money. Just walk away. This is locally known as being 'dotted' or 'spotted'.
Don't say the name of your Hotel. It smacks of fresh arrival. Have you ever heard the Story of the Guy who wanted to go to Hotel Blah blah in the in in Old Varanasi by the Ganges.....
The Rickshaw Wallahs will tell you outright blatant lies to make you change your plans and go with them. If you are not careful, before you know it, you will be rushed off to a guesthouse at the other end of town and find you have to pay two or three times the price for your room as well as a hefty rickshaw charge.
Often after your question, the Wallahs will reply , "Impossible. Hotel blah blah has been destroyed by a fire." Of course this is a blatant lie. This line is standard in Varanasi. Then you will hear, " I can show you a beautiful guesthouse with everything you need ."
You can retort, "Please take me to the Ganges I will find my own guesthouse."Afterwards you will he given the next set of lies like, "You'll be robbed" - "You'll be murdered."
Now the Wallahs see that you are getting angry, but they anticipate this and then they play good cop, bad cop with you. Soon another Wallah, one you haven't seen yet will come over to you and say, "Hey sir, I Know a wonderful guesthouse near the Ganges. I can take you?"
Now you have two choices - You can ask how much or not. In Asia, Asking the price is not just an inquiry like the west, it is an entrance into negotiation to recieve a product or a service. If you ask this 'NICE' Wallah the price, you will haggle and he will take you to his place. If you have no intention to go to his place, you shouldn't have haggled the price.
But if this is a Hassle. Tell the rickshaw wallahs on the street flatly that you don't want their business and walk away. they will accept it. The next wallah you see, tell him to take you to Marnikarnika Ghat. Forget about the guesthouse name, it stinks of ARRIVAL. Rickshaws can't enter the old town, so they'll drop you at the first street down to Marnikarnika Ghat..... Shanti Guesthouse is there.
Arriving in Varanasi carrying a rucksack is to advertise yourself as fresh meat. Sadly there isn't much you can do about it, and the rickshaw wallahs and hotel touts will follow you everywhere, but there are a couple of things you can do to minimise it.
Don't give the name of the hotel you want to a rickshaw driver - they will try to tell you that they know a better one, or that it's closed, etc etc. Instead, give them a street name, or better yet (if you're staying next to the river), the name of a ghat. They won't be able to drive you the whole way (as motorised vehicles aren't allowed on the ghats), but they'll drop you as close as possible. We got dropped off at the roundabout just back from Dasaswamedh Ghat, then walked along the river to find a hotel.
If you get followed by touts (we certainly did), I think the best bet is to just say no, firmly, once, and then don't get drawn into any further argument, as they seem to take that to mean that they still might get your custom (and find it quite amusing into the bargain). Bear in mind that if you do follow a tout to his hotel, you'll be paying for his commission on top of the normal room price.
Your hotel will almost certainly warn you about this, but make sure you keep all doors and windows closed whenever you are out of your room, and probably even if you're there. The monkeys of Varanasi have gained a reputation as vandals and theives, and our hotel (and probably most of the others) had wire mesh over all the roof terrace areas to prevent them from getting into the corridors. We spotted several hanging around on the balconies and lintels over windows near to our room, and my partner, who had visited Varanasi two years before, still likes to tell the tale of monkeys getting into his room and stealing his shorts and toilet paper!
Varanasi is one of the most interesting cities in India. It is also the most confronting. Because of the diversity in cultures, religions and spiritual conceptions regarding death and dying.......I feel that if you should take a child with you on a visit to Varanasi- it is of the utmost importance that you prepare them for this city. This can perhaps be done by explaining that the Hindu religion is different in its beliefs (regarding cremations) and reincarnation. I know that this may be a difficult concept for a child to grasp. It also, of course, depends upon the age of the child.
However you do it- it has to be done. It is almost impossible to avoid the pervasive atmosphere of dying, death and cremation here. Walking along the ghats- you will see the funeral pyres. You will also smell them.
In the alleyways, amongst the shopping stalls, bearers will be hurrying along every few minutes, carrying a deceased relative to the cremation ghats.
Because all Hindus believe that to die in Varanasi brings release from the cycle of death and re-birth (moksha)- many old sick people come here with the hope of passing on in Varanasi. One can see them lying on the ghats, seemingly oblivious to every other thought.
Having said this- IF a child is prepared for what they might see, smell or hear, and is made aware that death need not be feared, Varanasi can offer a wonderfully enriching and cultural experience to young and old alike.
If you should have to walk along the ghats atnight, please take care. There is no lighting, and it is very dark. The paths and walkways are uneven, and its very possiblethat you could trip and fall. Also, there are certain dodgy types that hang out in these dark corners-be alert.
And ALWAYS carry a small torch. It is an invaluable item for Varanasi at night.
Violent crime is rare, but do be careful in the lanes after dark. Carry a torch; power outages are extremely common, and the alleys are hard enough to navigate in daylight let alone in pitch dark, with broken paving stones and cows common.
Women need to dress conservatively, and to be careful. Even taking precautions expect to have the odd local young man try to quickly grope you, and run away. Respond agressively and loudly to try to discourage this behavior as much as possible.
Rickshaw/taxi scams are a norm in Varanasi, and the driver will inevitably tell you that the hotel that you wish to go to has burned down, is flooded or closed. Don't believe him. Drivers receive commission from hotels for bringing in new guests, and this is one way to trick newcomers to going to these places. Don't get annoyed, but see the exchange as playful banter and part of 'the Varanasi experience'. However, if the driver continuously refuses to follow your instructions, threaten to get out of the rickshaw. If after all this you still end up to a different place, just refuse to pay until you arrive at your hotel. The same procedure will need to be followed when sight seeing, as drivers will inevitably try to take you to handicraft stores from which they receive commission.
Do not stay at the YMCA - Radiant Hotel. It is a complete and total hotel ripoff. The rooms are horrible, the airconditioners are from the Jurassic Age. The bathrooms are horrible, if you wash it down, the water enters the bedrooms. A very horrible experience here.
The city of Varanasi is made up of thousands of narrow, dark alleys. There are maximum chances of getting lost/confused. So just be a bit cautious. If you find yourself lost, just ask somebody about the right way instead of getting more and more confused.
The steps down to the ghats are connected via a myriad of tiny streets and passageways that are known as Gali's. These are where local people live, eat, work and shop and as they're extremely small and twisty, it's very easy to get lost. I got easily lost when I was trying to make my way from the ghats to the Vishwanath Temple. At least the alleyways are too narrow for traffic but you may encounter motorbikes. Make sure you don't get lost as it's not a nice feeling! If you do get lost, try and head back to the ghats and start again plus it may be helpful to take a compass.
While visiting Hindu temples, tourists are required to leave their shoes with private shops outside the temples as the shoes are not allowed inside. Although I personally don't have experience of theft, but I feel expensive shoes should be left at home. Further, the place outside temples are always full of clay. This may also destroy your shoes
Being a famous tourist spot, commission agents and brokers are everywhere to be found. They make false representations with a view to earning commission. Avoid them. Try to book hotels/tours directly with the authorities instead of going via them
without going too much into detail... (lest i tempt fate & muddy my path)
i, like alot of other people who arrive in varanasi, anticipated some sort of 'spiritual enlightenment/guidance,' of sorts. i even went so far as to 'seek out' a meeting with a spiritual guide... having asked around, i was put-in-touch with an "astrologer/holy-man of sorts," who will remain un-named... i paid ALOT of money to have this 'guru' reads my palms & face... take my date and time of birth - and proceed to tell me about my past, present and future lives. I won't bore you with all the details (!) but will say that - beyond parting w/quite alot of cash... this guy (without a shadow of a doubt) was trying to get into my pants.
following my first sitting, i was reluctant to see him again... he having suggested a "retreat" (for which i would be footing the bill, of course) that entailed travelling away to the middle of nowhere (for a week) and as he explained it, with neither of us wearing any clothing... need i say more?
he continued to phone the guest house continually & turn up at the most inopportune times, looking for me... he EVENTUALLY faded into the sunset on his motorcycle... and i wouldn't be able to repeat the awful things he claimed about me, in my past life.
a really disappointing, disheartening experience, to say the least. one i shall put down to being yet another lesson learned the hard way...
a thing to watch out for, are the indian people (both children AND adult MALES) who are in the water as you sail down the river. several seemed intent on splashing you with water (which is not good, as you will see when you read on...) with some actually trying to CAPSIZE the craft... i could scarce believe it.
***Hindu pilgrims come to bathe in the river, a ritual that 'washes away all sins,' and the city is considered an auspicious place to die, since dying here offers 'moksha' (the liberation from the cycle of birth and death) People do their washing in this river... they have their daily bath... they swim... they even DRINK this water. Let me give you some information about this body of water.....
'The Ganges River is so heavily polluted at Varanasi that the water is septic - no dissolved oxygen exists. Samples from the river show that the water has 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 100ml of water. In water that is safe for bathing - this figure should be less than 500!!'***
Need I say more? But I will..... on our early morning cruise down the River Ganges, we saw such 'floaties' as a human corpse (wrapped and tied in plastic...) a huge, skinned buffalo-carcass... a rat... and the obligatory, every-day, human faeces... to name but a few.