More on Varanasi. It’s such a complex city that I have four posts about it. I actually could write more and just might. I recently shared an intro to Varanasi about where to stay, how to get there, and how terrible it went for me at first. I also told you what to expect at the Ghats, which can be an overwhelming place. Now here are 20 random but important tips before you head to the holy city! I have one more post coming next week about my intense time in Varanasi.
20 travel tips for Varanasi
1. The most important tip is to make sure you go here while in India! Varanasi MUST be on your list because it is all the chaos and love of India all in one place. IT IS THE CULTURE CAPITAL OF INDIA. It’s the most shocking place on earth that tourists can go. Bold statement, but probably true. Every two seconds, your eye will catch something new and exciting.
2. Having said you must come here, don’t come to Varanasi first. It will scare you. You’ll be so overwhelmed that I can’t imagine you’d want to leave your hotel room. You need to ease into India a month or so then make your journey here, plus, this way you will appreciate it more. These travel tips for Varanasi aren’t to scare you away! Anything negative I say is just the truth and to warn you, but it’s still a magical interesting place that I would 100% go back to.
3. Getting there: It’s cheapest to fly into Delhi and take a train to Varanasi. You will have a stopover in Allahabad most likely. From the station get a rick to take you to Old city. You’ll have to walk through once you get to the entrance. If you haven’t ridden a bike-rick, now is your chance!
4. In my intro to Varanasi, I say where I slept. Other than that I don’t have tips on where to eat or party. It’s not a city for that. Eat street food and drink lassis. It’s probably not the best place to even try to find a party. Save that for another city in India. You can show up and find a place, but if you book ahead someone can meet you at the entrance to Old City and help guide you through. I showed up alone in the middle of the night and had to find a place. Not ideal. Look for places that say “near the main ghat”.
5. You don’t have to “make a trip” to the Ghats. The old town is built on them. Part of your daily walk will involve seeing the cremations on the Ganga. That’s the great thing about much of India; you can just go about your day and the normal sights are the things you’ll remember years later. Be aware of what to expect on the Ghats.
6. You cannot take photos of the cremations. It’s a special and holy time for the families. Yes, you’ll see their own family members taking selfies with the deceased, but you should keep your phone/camera stashed away. You can take photos of the Ghats of long as there is no cremation happening.
7. The Vishwanath Temple is the most famous and while I was there was not open to foreigners. I’m told this can change daily.
8. You’ll see lots of Sadhus smoking something along the Ghats. You can take their photo but ask first, and sometimes they will ask for a fee. Please be careful doing drugs anywhere in India.
9. Touts here are the most persistent I’ve encountered in India. Don’t give in to them just asking for “wood” money. If they start to follow you or tell you a fact about the Ghats, they will expect payment unless you tell them you don’t need their services. You have to be very direct to make them leave you alone. If you allow one to follow you, he will make a scene wanting money when you’re ready to leave. They will probably curse you with bad karma.
10. Apparently you should be careful telling a woman she looks nice (she had just been married and in India that means henna everywhere, bangles galore, and so much head jewelry!). He husband claimed her like a piece of meat and said, “Mine” as he pushed me to the side. As if I’m trying to steal your bride, dude.
11. There is more cow poo in the alleys of Varanasi than in all of the state of Goa. They are a very religious city, respect their cows immensely, and allow them everywhere. There seem to be 10x more cows here, hence 10x more cow shit. Basically, you’re going to step in it at some point. It’s okay, but being head-butted by a cow was not.
12. The alleys are small and plentiful. You’ll probably get lost but eventually they lead to the main road and you can start all over again. Make sure to have a business card from your guesthouse so you can ask people which way to go when it’s time to get home.
13. SO. MUCH. PAAN. Paan is betel leaf and all the dudes are chewing it. They spit it all over the place and roll it at lots of booths all over the city. It’s popular all over India, but I’ve never seen so much of it as I have here. It’s basically old school chewing tobacco.
paan source photo
14. If you hear bells jingling and yelling coming from behind, get out of the way- it’s probably a body coming through. Family carry them on stretchers above their heads down the main street in Varanasi. Although normal, it may shock you at first.
15. You have to negotiate a LOT for the boat rides on the Ganga. Don’t feel bad about it. It may be a holy place, but business is business, and if there’s anything I learned in my time here it’s that Indians won’t cheat or steal from you, unless of course it’s just business. If someone puts paint on you, just walk away- you don’t have to pay them.
16. Watch the little boys get their first hair cuts along the river! I know their a reason for it, but it’s totally escaping me right now. Hopefully one of my Indian readers will remind me in the comments why so many boys were getting cuts. Some type of sacrifice?
17. I’ve explained previously the Do’s and Don’ts for how to dress in India, but seeing as though here you are borderline also at a funeral, you should cover up even more than usual.
18. While some Ghats are for cremations, some for washing bodies and clothes, some are for curing leprosy. Needless to say: do NOT get in the water. Even the Indian government is outspoken about the changes needed in Varanasi and the diseases in the water. They urge Indian nationals to stop getting in.
19. I actually got to visit during the Dee Deepavali, which was in November and always on a full moon. It coincides with a Jain festival and there are lights everywhere which were great to see from a boat on the river.Try to go during Maha Shvratri festival for Lord Shiva. It’s apparently the 14th night of the new moon (sorry guys, that is all I can find online!) My friends assure me this is a BIG deal.
20. Take a really good shower after you leave. The ashes are in the air and you may not see them right away, but after some time they build up on your clothes and skin. You can see the Sadhus covered in ashes (on purpose I believe) along the riverbanks.
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