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.
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.
Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in India. Tourists are not the only ones who go here. Pilgrims from all over India Descend on Varanasi (their City of Light) to commit their dead to the Ganges, to get Married, or to make a pilgrimmage of purification to the Ganges. Varanasi is a spiritual centre for India's Buddhists too. Who come to pray at Saranath.
With all these travellers in mind, remeber its quite hard to get a train ticket in and out sometimes. You have to book well in advance, and you have to look at India Rail with a lateral approach.
India is a crazy place. But one of the biggest concerns is water, in particulat drinking water.
If you are like me, and don't really enjoy foreign stomach microfauna, helping you with your weightloss, then you will be a little cagey about drinking the water in India. Never drink tap water. That goes without saying. Often this water comes straight out of an OPEN well. Even if it doesn't, the filtration systems, and chemical treatment is not even close to par. So its best to drink bottled water.
If you are in the main centres, and tourist centres this is a good idea. water is mass produced and usaully treated and then blasted with UV rays.
However if you are in Rural areas, and smaller towns, then often bottled water cannot be trusted. the bottles are refilled and re-sealed with un-treated water. I read a report that reported a water factory pumping water into bottles straight from a nearby stream. So one should always be vigilant.
If you are cagey about bottled water, you caould always drink soft drink (Soda) as they are manufactured under strict international standards. but then that may mean having to brush your teeth more, which takes us back to ahhhhh - bottled water.
I drank Chai. lots of it. and I drank tea. lots of it.
The River Ganges is very Holy, and very venerarated, But it also has one of the worst pollution and microbial ratings in the world.
Studies conducted in 1983 on water samples taken from the right bank of the Ganga at Patna confirm that escheria coliform (E.Coli.), fecal streptococci and vibrio cholerae organisms die two to three times faster in Ganga than in water from other rivers
The principal sources of pollution in the Ganga are domestic and industrial wastes. Conservative estimates put the effluents flowing into Ganga at approximately 1.7 billion litres each day out of which 1.4 billion litres is untreated.
The Ganga basin is home to over 300 million people, out of which 20 million live in densely populated cities directly along it banks. Most of the urban centres lack proper sewage treatment facilities. 88% of the pollution originates in 27 cities located along the banks. While industrial pollution accounts for only about a quarter of the whole problem, it is by no means insignificant since most of it is concentrated in specific areas and the effluents are more hazardous. The state of Uttar Pradesh alone is responsible for over 50% of the pollutants entering the river along its entire journey to the sea.
Domestic and industrial pollution, combined with deforestation, use of pesticides and fertilisers and other factors, have rendered the water of Ganga unfit for drinking or bathing.
Upstream from Varanasi, one of the major pigrimage sites along the river, the water is comparatively pure, having a low Bio-Oxygen Demand (B.O.D.) and Fecal Coliform Count. However, once the river enters the city these levels rise alarmingly. Measurements taken at the city's various bathing ghats during a few years ago show that the average B.O.D of the water rises by over 1300 percent. The average Fecal Coliform Count at the ghats is over 6000 times what it is before the river enters the city.
The touts are a pretty persistant lot most anywhere you go in India, and Varanasi is no exception. Even when trying to take a quiet dawn boat ride on the Ganges, you will find no safe harbour from them.
Here a boat laden with bells, toys, and other tourist trinkets stalk their pray on the river... (Actually, not so much different from the experience I had in Luxor Egypt on the Nile last year....)
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.
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
Here in Varanasi, the mosquitoes are about double the size compare to those in my country. The moment we step out from the railway station, we went to a tuk-tuk and the moment we put our luggage into the back seat, a whole bunch of mosquitoes in huge sizes flew out. The driver saw our expresson and laugh "...hahaha, this is Varanasi mosquitoes...hahaha..."
Sorry, no pictures for you, mosquitoes are to difficult to snap.
The first night I ate a plate of Chicken Masala probably not well cooked or some other reasons, I got fever that night and the next day diarrhea and vomit for 3 continuous day. The bacteria here were too strong to challenge, I was defeated the first time ever in my travel so far and spent 3 days on the bed only waiting for time to pass, what a torturous moment that was, can't believe it was here in the holy Varanasi.
While strolling on the ghats, this guy appeared from nowhere to ask me to take his photo. My battery was low that moment, so I told him 'no battery'. He was very angry to hear that and shouted "Terimah...!!! @#$%^*& blah blah blah...!!!" repteated many times. I knew it was nothing good from him, but still I turned over and took this photo.
I was nearly into trouble while trying to explore the back alley here. All roads along the ghat are actually back alleys width about 10 feet most, some 6 feet or less. If you are first time to Varanasi, these alleys could be a problem. I was sick that day for diarrhea but insist to explore these alleys, I walked into a place near Shivala Ghat. The place has a beautiful ancient construction of stupas near the river and a guest house named Shiva Gangga. I walked into the playing field where kids playing cricket and the moment I saw a bunch of young men in gang up there. One of them waving hand to invite me up but I said I will walk back after looking at the river. Then as I walk, three young men run to me to shake my hand and began to offer me 'a better view' claimed by them. They actually wanted to drag me into the abondoned construction beside to rob me in the dark but I refuse to go in there while kept saying the Shiva Gangga Hotel peoples are still waiting for me. One of them probably without patience try to pull my hand by strength into that construction but I pretend to enjoy the riverview by saying "Oh look at this view...." then as I get retreat a few step back, I walked quickly towards the original entrance where kids playing cricket and I said the hotel guys are still waiting for me. One of them followed me all the way with mouthful of Ganja smells finally gave up when I get near the hotel and he said, do you have a cigarette, no I don't smoke in reply.
It is a rather terrifying fact that nearly 70 % of India's available water is polluted, and about one third of all deaths are caused by that contamination.
It may well be true that the ganges has a very high amount of Oxygen in it compared to other rivers and it may well be true that organic wasye decomposes much faster in it. It may also be true that batheing in it and drinking it frees you the cycle of re-incarnation in some forms of Hindu Theology - but I'm not going to risk testing the veracity of the statement yet !
Apart from the tons of chemical pollutants, untreated sewage , chemical fertilizers, PCBs and heavy metals one of the other main sources of pollution is partially burnt corpses. 20-30,000 are burnt by the river in Varansi every year, and many more at point mainly upsteam.
The authorities have tried to cut down on the practice of using the ghats, but it is widely ignored. Using much cheaper electric pyres has had only limited success. In a piece of great lateral thinking 32 million dollars has been spent on breeding thousands of three-foot long dead flesh eating turtles (you just can't make this stuff up). One downside is that although the turtles wont tackle live flesh they have been known to come out of the water and run off with corpses brought to the waters edge in body bags ready for cremation. What a way to go.
Try to avoid the Ganges unless you happen to enjoy typhoid, tape worm infestation, cholera, viral hepatitus, gastro-eneritis or ameobic dysentry
Taking a bath in the holy water of the Ganga river washes away your sins - purifying your soul. So, people thought, why shouldnt it be good for cleaning the clothes, too? Not only common clothes get washed in the "cristalclear" water, no even the doctors coat, mouth and head cover for operations get "cleaned" in this river water. And additionally these clothes were put on the "clean" ground of the Ghats to dry in the sun.............
Think twice about giving your clothes to the laundry :-)
Not to mention ending up in a hospital in Varanasi.