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South for Varanasi

After six intense weeks in Nepal it was time to cross the border into India. My first impressions were that it seemed busier and the landscape flatter and drier. Travel seemed easier than in Nepal due to the extensive train network that covers the country - although these trains get ridiculously busy they are cheap and move along surprisingly quickly and smoothly, a welcome relief after the Nepali travel experience.

In a way I was completely immune to most of the things that probably shock first time visitors to India - the poverty, the crazy roads, the wandering cattle - this all exists in Nepal. What did shock me was the greater contrast between rich and poor, you'll have modern metro systems and spacious government areas coexisting alongside slums for instance.

My first stop was Varanasi, situated on the Ganges river and famous for the riverside cremations that take place...

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Until next time

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On the bus from Sonauli to Gorakhpur

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Gorakhpur Railway Station

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Inside the train station

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On the train, not much chance of a proper seat - I had to sit on a sand bag opposite the toilet.

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Arrival in Varanasi

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I took a wander outside of the hotel to see if I could find the waterfront. A friendly tuk tuk driver pulled up at the side of the road and asked me where I wanted to go. I thought I might as well get in seeing as I didn’t have a clue where I was going (nothing new!) He showed me to water and explained to me that he could be my day guide for a fixed price of 15 rupees. Usually I would be very wary of people who wanted to show me around a place - in Morocco the unofficial guides are notorious. However since he agreed a reasonable price beforehand I thought I should go for it. I’m glad I did, he took me to places that I probably wouldn’t have had the time or patience to find by myself and nearly started a fight with my hotel receptionist when he thought they were charging me too much, loyalty must be included! Here he is on the left with his 'brother'...

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Varanasi waterfront

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Hindus come to bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges

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Life through the eyes of a tuk tuk

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Durga Temple

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Optimism

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Sunrise over the Ganges

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My tuk tuk guide took me to the city's old muslim quarter to see a man spinning silk...

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Here we are relaxing in an Air Conditioned silk shop, a welcome relief from the steamy city streets. They know how to reel in customers...

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The shop keeper started laying out all the shawls and bed covers in front of me - there was something therapeutic about sitting there being shown all these beautifully designed materials. I ended up buying a couple, I couldn't resist!

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Shawls that I bought as gifts

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I took a boat to the infamous cremation grounds on the banks of the Ganges. A guide explained that the souls of the people who had died were being liberated from their bodies by the 'eternal flame' and would go to 'nirvana'. Scenes that would only ever happen behind closed doors back at home were happening right in front of me - you could see various body parts crisping away through the fire. It was shocking to see. The man explained that they had a hospice there where people come when they know they are going to die and he asked me to give a donation so that "a poor family can afford burning wood". The acrid smoke was invading my eyes so I gave a few rupees and left promptly...

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Cremation grounds approach

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Smoke of the dead fills the Temple Grounds

India's roads have to be seen to be believed. Ironically they seemed to be in a better condition than those in Nepal but the driving was worse! Cars, tuk tuks and bikes hurtle down the wrong side of the road and swerve out of your way at the last minute. It is absolute chaos...

Driving in the tuk tuk on the streets of Varanasi. Notice how the driver will stop for nothing - even when a bike pulls out right in front of us (whilst trying to overtake).

Posted by Neil1983 26.04.2012 13:35

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