We left Delhi in the early afternoon for a very long 16 hour train journey to Varanasi, it was incredibly hot and humid on the train during the day and freezing in the morning. We arrived in Varanasi at about 5.30am and walked though nearly deserted streets, we knew our hostel was right beside the Ganges, so we walked towards it.
My first view of the Ganges was through a thick, swirling mist, with little boats dipping in and out of sight. I just thought "wow". It was one of those sights I will never forget. We walked along the ghats, which is are the steps down the bank of the river to get to the water, and found our hostel (Ram Bhawan), who kindly let us in and gave us an amazing breakfast.
The first day we didn't do alot as we also got free lunch at the hostel (which incidentally was the best food we have had since we were in India!) I then had a nap, then in the evening we had heard there was a Hindu ceremony by the Ganges at 6pm, so me and Pia (one of the girls in our Dorm room) went down to watch it.
It was a very complicated ritual which involved ringing bells, and doing complicated dances with fire, water, petals and feathers. There were 5 monks doing the ritual and it fel very spell binding to watch them so intently do this long ritual.
Afterwards me, Andy and Pia got a rickshaw to a mall, with the worst rickshaw drive rin the world. He was just really angry and felt like quite a dangerous driver. The mall felt very strange as it was the most modern place in India which we had been too, plus combined with the fact that Varanasi is suppose to be one of the holiest places in India, and a materailstic mall is at such odds with that.
The next day (which was Diwali) everyone in our Dorm got up at 5am and we went down to the Ganges for a boat ride at sun rise. When we got there it was pitch black, and managed to bargain a good deal as there was so many of us and no one else was around. We set off, and already the bathers had gathered at the bottom of the ghats, some people bathing and washing themselves and there clothes, and some washing their sins away, as the Ganges are suppose to be the gateway to Heaven.
We then went up to the other side of the Ganges to where the burning ghats are which is where they cremate the bodies before putting them into the river. You could see the smoke all the way along the river, rising up from the banks. They cremate everyone out in the open on the banks, and we were given a "tour" around it. It was very eye opening, at how close life and death in India is. We saw the white piles of ashes of bodies which had already been cremated, and the "untouchables" who work there shoveling the ashes into the river. We also saw them performing the death ceremony on one body, where the eldest son has to go round the body 5 times with fire before lighting the pyre. It all felt very surreal.
We then went and met up a new Indian friend we made, called Sarabjeet, and he showed us round a Hindu temple for the monkey god, which was really interesting as it was one of the busiest worshiping temples we had been too, and everything was painted in orange.
We then wandered around the University which was like a ghost town since everyone had gone home for Diwali. We the went to a second temple which they had made a giant picture on the floor made of coloured sand which is called Rangoli, which was amazing.
Me and Andy then went back to the hostel for the Diwali celebrations. We all sat on the roof top and watched as the city lit up with fireworks in all directions. It was really beautiful and magical, and it was made more exciting by the fact that there doesn't seem to be much safety regulations in India, so fireworks exploded just above us, came rushing past us, and we saw children firing fireworks out of plastic bottles next door, and also building a fire and throwing fireworks in! It was a crazy night and food we had a the hostel was amazing.
We also had a firework show on our roof top too, run by the kids there. When one fire work didn't go off they just built a fire around it. All the westerners ran away but the kids just stood there as fireworks flew in all directions! The party went on all night, but I headed to bed at around 12.30am!
The next day me and Andy went to Sarabjeet's house for lunch, and his Mum cooked us the best Indian food I've ever had. It was really lovely being in his house and meeting his family. There was one awkward moment where he was like "would you like to see my Mums shop", and me and Andy just looked at each other like "Oh no were being scammed again!" but it was fine, they just showed us the workshop,and explained alot of her clients were ladies going to Kitty parties which is basically a weekly meetup for richer ladies.
We then went to where Buddha did his first sermon called Sarnath, and had a look around the temple and the site. I am quite interested in Buddhism anyway as my Mother is a Buddhist and I realized how much nicer Buddhism is that Hinduism, as no one in the temple hassled you for money or tried to scam you, and there was just a feeling of peace and serenity.
I then went back to the hostel and Andy went to a bar with some people. Me and Gloria (another girl from our Dorm room) went to the Ganges and saw there late night ceremony of taking statues of each of the Gods down into the river and doing a ceremony in a boat. This was combined with crazy drumming and dancing while local children set off huge firecrackers. It felt completely insane and you could feel the explosions from the firecrackers. We then danced with the locals who all wanted photos with us. Then headed back to the hostel.
The next day me and Andy just wandered along the ghats for a few hours which was really interesting We saw where the monsoon period has completely covered the ghats in mud, and people clearing it with huge hoses. We then when out with our little Dorm family, Gloria, Dominic and Sarabjeet and got some Lassi's, and then watched a sitar performance which was amazing.
On the last day I just wandered around the back streets and got lost for awhile, and then wandered up the other side of the ghats and was offered Opium cookies which I declined! I then met Dominic from our Dorm and we sat and chatted for a few hours, and bought some things off a child seller called Monica who was the cutest kid I met In India.
We were then back on a train.