Travel Memories: Varanasi

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge, an initiative that invites bloggers to post an alphabet-themed post every day (excluding Sundays) during the month of April.  As part of this challenge, I’ll be sharing some of my travel memories to known and unknown places in the hope to inspire your travel dreams.

Varanasi

A peek down the tiny lanes of Varanasi (formerly known as Banaras)

V is for…Varanasi (India)

The holy city of Varanasi is a must for most visitors to India, and with good reason. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to the 11th century BC and is one of Hinduism’s most holy cities. Hindus believe that if they die in Varanasi they will achieve nirvana, releasing them from the cycle of reincarnation. Because of this, many people make final pilgrimages to this city when they are close to death.

Varanasi

The ghats underwater with late monsoon flooding

If India is considered the graduate school of traveling, Varanasi is where you defend your dissertation. Here you will come face to face with life and death, your senses will be inundated, and you will have to endure the near constant bombardment from touts. It is smelly. It is filthy. It is crowded. It is intense and overwhelming. You will want to cry with frustration, with sadness and with complete adoration for what you see and experience.  This is India in it’s most extreme form.

Varanasi

Meeting friends as we walk along with our baby in the backpack

But if you persevere past the harshness of this city, you will be rewarded with memories of a lifetime. In it’s own way, Varanasi is magical. For the visitor, the ultimate sight is to ride along the Ganges at sunrise watching the pilgrims do devotions in the murky water, hoping to cleanse themselves of sin. It is also walking along the ghats at sunset watching the twinkle of lights. And getting lost in the narrow car-free winding lanes that all look the same.  Some get lost hoping to see the open fires with burning corpses. For others that is just too much to bare.

Varanasi

Flooded ghats meant the bathing space was even more crowded than usual

When we visited in 2011, the ghats were flooded due to a late monsoon showers. We didn’t get to experience the magicalness of walking along the ghats or the sunrise boat rides. Instead, we waded knee deep in the dirty brown water along with the devotees, searching for higher ground. We spent hours walking the lanes, getting lost, not worried about finding our way out. Having our baby with us meant that instead of touts pestering us, we had aunties and uncles coming to say hello with the wish to touch our son’s head for good luck.

Varanasi

Rare time to see all of the boats at shore rather than with tourists on the water.

In the end, we didn’t get the experience we had longed for, but we walked away with a view of Varanasi that many others have never seen.

Other posts in the A to Z Challenge:

Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Belchite, Spain
Czesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Devi Garh Hotel, Udaipur India
Emeishan, China
Flores, Guatemala
Gimmelwald, Switzerland
Highway 1, California
Istanbul, Turkey
Jaisalmer, India
Kashmir, India
Lily Beach Resort & Spa, Maldives
Machu Picchu, Peru
Niraamaya Retreats, Thekkady Kerala India
Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima Japan
Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Queso – all over the world
Red Square, Moscow Russia
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain
Tonle Sap Floating Village, Cambodia
Ubud, Bali Indonesia

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12 Responses to “Travel Memories: Varanasi”

  1. Lauren Says:

    This is such a brilliant idea for a series of posts. I love it! Is every place that you bring up in your A to Z a place you have gone to yourself?

    Reply

    • kkowen Says:

      Lauren, I have been to them all myself. I really realized doing this challenge that I have been so lucky to have travelled to some amazing places! For some letters I had many many options and it was hard to choose!

      Reply

  2. Elaine J. Masters Says:

    It’s hard but also wonderful to travel with a small child. I had so much fun with strangers who would melt when we would wander through with my small son. Once your son has grown it will be a different experience.

    Reply

  3. Constance - Foreign Sanctuary Says:

    I love your description of the place and how you presented the bad and good things about it. However, I can sense through your words that the good things about Varanasi is worth the visit.

    Reply

  4. Tim Says:

    I have seen others on my travels who have had a young one with them and the response from the local population has never been anything but warm and sweet as I am sure you have experienced throughout Asia. I agree with you that Varanasi is truly a magical city.

    Reply

    • kkowen Says:

      Travel with a kid is definitely different. Our days are shorter, our needs are different, but the one thing that has really been amazing is the openness of locals when you have a child. We still get pestered by touts, but not as much when you have a kid. They get side tracked by him and end up just chatting with us instead of pushing us to buy something!

      Reply

  5. Suzy Says:

    I lived in India for 28 years and while I was there I never had a craving to visit all its beautiful places. Now that I’ve moved overseas and away from my beloved India, I want to see it all the more. Glad you enjoyed Varanasi. I hope someday I’ll visit too.
    Dropping by from the A to Z.

    Reply

    • kkowen Says:

      Thanks for stopping by! Thats always the way isn’t it – when you think it’s close, you don’t feel an urgency to visit, but once its far away the urgency pops up. We have tried to continue our sense of urgency no matter where we live now because we never know how long we will be in one place!

      Reply

  6. Arnie Says:

    Your description is so right on that I was almost tense myself. What an amazing scene.

    Reply

  7. Pola (Jetting Around) Says:

    Varanasi… Where do I start? The several days I spent there was by far the most intense time on my Indian trip. I will never, ever forget the public cremations, boat rides with our guide drinking water out of Ganges, or some of the best lassi I’ve tried. This city is intense as hell!

    Reply

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