Train schedule - leave Agra 20.30 hrs arrive Varanasi 07.30 hrs.
Reality arrive Agra station 04.40 am arrive Varanasi 20.35 tired, irritable, exhausted and hungry and if I thought Agra station was overcrowded with people sleeping all over the station floors, Varanasi was way more crowded and I was told, usual.
We were met on the platform by an entrepreneurial Tuk Tuk driver and I agreed to the overpriced fare of 450 Rupee to take us to our hotel, I listened to the drivers description of our hotel (closed, then expensive and in a bad part of town) we arrived and although it was open, agreed with him. Two hotel stops later we agreed a price with an owner of a budget priced hotel recommended by the driver and were driven by him at no extra charge to Dominos Pizza to get a double cheese, double mushroom pizza which we demolished with a sprite in no time at all ( trust me Denise ate the lions share), two Advil Pm's later and I was sound asleep.
Next morning, late, we had a toast and egg breakfast and after agreeing a price for a boat ride on the Ganges to see the evening ceremony we set off, cameras in hand, to explore the famous Varanasi Ghats. On the bright side, look out for the drunken Goat, the guy sleeping it off in the street, and the ? Looking like a ghost in the street but also be aware there are photographs of bodies waiting to be burnt as well as funeral pyres in the process of burning the bodies.
At 5 pm we met with our boat and driver, Rattan, at Kedar Ghat and were ferried first downriver to see the funerals taking place at Harishchandra Ghat,
after which we made our way upriver to Dasashwamedh Ghat where every evening priests come down to the Ghats and there is a ceremony to worship the Ganges with multi-tiered flaming lamps.
At the end of a very exciting day we made our way back to the hotel and explored the shops in the area after which we killed a couple of bottles of Kingfisher and a miniature bottle of Rum with a Diet Coke.
Tomorrow morning, I've been told, I'm looking forward to a 6 am riverboat ride to see the sunrise and the sight of the Ganges waking up, hmm we will see.
To paraphrase "The Four Seasons" - "Oh what a night" but not in the same way, unable to get to sleep due to the incessant talking by a group of Indians outside the window, I held it in until 12.45 am when I opened the window and in a loud voice politely asked them to be quiet or move on somewhere else which they agreed to do and left. Head down to get some sleep as getting up early to see the sunrise. At just after 1 am two tractors full of sacks of something decide to park outside and this sets off the local pack of dogs ( eight of them) who then become the equivalent of the Welsh male dog choir and keep up the racket until 3.20 am during which time I was so desperate I could be seen at the hotel window throwing screwed up beer cans at them and cups of water but nothing did any good until they eventually quieted down just as it seems the alarm went off - Hey ho happy start to the day.
No wash for me and a briskish sort of walk got us to the jetty, but no sign of our guy or boat!! After fending off numerous offers of boats we settled on one before sunrise had come and gone and did a repeat trip of the night before but with a very unfit rower who we had bets on as to wether he would survive the trip - He did, Just.
After a breakfast at "Brown Bread" cafe !! we went back to the hotel made our excuses and left in a Tuk Tuk to an hotel we checked out the day before which we hope will be much more quiet.
While Denise caught a Tuk Tuk to get her hair done I spent time with the receptionist trying to find train tickets for Darjeeling which was going to cost a lot as my original plans got shot to bits as the toy train is suspended due to track repairs.
Leaving the receptionist to sort out the train I left with Denise on her return to check out the shops for a warm coat for me (no luck) then a walk through the market to see the Ganges ceremony again this time from the Ghats.
Finally after inspecting a venue to celebrate Denise birthday with a slap up dinner tomorrow night, we ate at "The Dolphin" overlooking the Ganges ( good meal 1,000 Rupee) and a walk back through the Chowk ( market) to receive the good news we have passage by train and car all the way to Darjeeling, even though we don't know if we can get back from there and so to bed. Hey Ho and prayer for a quiet night.
The next day and it is Denise Birthday and after presentation of the birthday card brought all the way from spain we had a breakfast and headed out to wander the Chowk (market) where Denise found a fair trade shop and settled in to do some serious retail therapy. I headed off to visit the Golden Temple. Sixteen gates I was told but only number 2 allows tourists access. Since the fear of Isis Attacks the area has been heavily fortified with Indian semi para military police and army and you have never seen such a sorrier bunch of bully boys in your life. Out of condition, middle aged men lounging around with Second World War rifles causing trouble with peaceful Hindus trying to visit their temple. I got searched three times by three different officers each one seeing the previous one search me then I had to show my passport, have all the details recorded and then get searched again before being pushed into line and an attempt made to usher me quickly through and out the other side, which, those of you that know me, know didn't go to their plan and I took my time looking around, although no pictures are allowed inside the temple.
On my return Denise had managed to convince herself the clothing she had bought would not take up any more room in her already overcrowded suitcase and as it was her birthday I of course agreed. Having worked up a thirst we retired to a Ghat side hotel called "The Alka" and watched the boats go by while sharing a cold one.
The Shree Ganesha Palace where we were staying had convinced me to eat there that night instead of the plans we had made, and was I glad we did. When we walked to our outside table I was expecting it to be made up nicely, but nothing and no staff to welcome our happy birthday Denise. After 5 minutes a waiter asked us to go inside the owners house and this is where to the strains of a recording of Happy Birthday, Dense was presented with a home made cake and a beautiful necklace from the hotel owners son. After a few Indian ceremonies that included Denise having to close her eyes to make a wish and getting birthday cake smeared over her nose and cheeks we went back downstairs where she shared her cake and evening with other guests from our hotel.
Our final day in Varanasi consisted of a late breakfast after which Denise who was now coming down with the sniffles and I set out to find the Nepalese Temple and to sample a lassie the the famous Blue Lassie shop.
Both missions were accomplished along with a second visit to our Alka hotel on the Ghat where we took in the filming going on, on the far bank of the Ganges.
Back at the hotel to find the train to our next stop was running two hours late but were also informed the train station was a one and a half hour taxi ride away. Nothing is simple in this country. Next stop in the mountains of Kalimpong.