Back on the Northern Railway

New Delhi Travel Blog

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Varanasi visitors

On our last day in Varanasi we got up to see sunrise over the Ganges - a beautiful red ball reflected in the river and slowly turning orange, then yellow. Men and women bathed at dawn, just a minute or so in the water with a quick duck under, before changing into dry clothes. We walked along the ghats to see the now familiar activities. A young man picked us up and became our guide. He took us through the old city, a maze of souk-like narrow allies with temples, shrines, occasional cows and big crowds and armed police around the main Golden Temple. We wouldn't have found it without him - he got a good tip.

Luggage collected, autorickshaw negotiated, off to Varanasi Cantt Station for the 7.15pm train. Huge crowds, no signs, unintelligible announcements.

Dawn over Mother Ganga
  A Northern Railways official led us to the Executive Waiting Hall, where about 30 backpacking foreigners (and us with one small overnight bag) awaited various trains, mainly the hour late Kolkata fast. We had to sign in and give passport numbers!. The Shiv Ganga Express pulled into the platform. Our carriage was at the other end. We edged and pushed through the crowds and piles of luggage. No coupe this time, but a 4 berth compartment. Julienne (mom) and Erin (daughter) from San Diego joined us, and we got on well, even though mom, but not daughter, turned out to be a Republican.

By Allahabad at 10.00pm we'd made up the beds. As the train crossed the long viaduct over the Ganges, we saw thousands of tents at the holy Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna, and the (mythical) Saraswati rivers.

Pilgrims and dhobi-ing
It's the spot where the great Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years - 17 million pilgrims in 2001! There was a smaller Mela going on, but still thousands of tents in orderly rows.

Sleep, of sorts, arrival in Delhi at 8.30, 40 minutes late, then an east taxiride to Canada, breakfast, shower and rest.

Varanasi grew on us. It's an extraordinary place of sacred and profane. The touts are as insistent, if not more so, than Agra. The city attracts westerners in search of - what? - spirituality? Older women in long skirts, lots of young men with dreadlocks and men and women with baggy trousers walk the ghats. Some sit in a lotus position contemplating the river. The water buffalo wallow just yards from the burning ghats and the dhobi wallahs work only a few more yards away. Hindu pilgrims cram onto boats and like pilgrims through the ages are there for a holiday too.

Unmissable - but don't make it your first stop in India!

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Varanasi visitors
Varanasi visitors
Dawn over Mother Ganga
Dawn over Mother Ganga
Pilgrims and dhobi-ing
Pilgrims and dhobi-ing
New Delhi
photo by: peeyushmalhotra