Experiencing Varanasi, The Ganga and Ghats

A Guide to the Holy City of Varanasi

Varanasi, the holy city of the Ganga (Ganges) and ghats is an easy place to get lost and maybe even lose yourself.  As with most busy cities in India, bazaars and shops are everywhere.  Whilst the lanes and bazaars near the Ganga are a nice place to amble around, the holy river of the Ganga and the many ghats that line its banks are the main draw to this photogenic Indian city.  In North India this is one of the cities that visitors to really feel India.

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The Ganga / Ganges River

Worshipped by Hindus the Ganges is a fascinating place to people watch and soak up the atmosphere of Varanasi.  People bathe to absolve their sins and wash their clothes in the river, boatmen hawk for business, and kids play around in the water.
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Whilst the Indian government has tried to clean up the heavy pollution of the Ganga in recent times, the fact that Hindus use the unsanitary river to wash, clean and sometimes even drink from gives an insight as to just how important the river.
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Not only is it of religious importance, but it also provides India with tourism and indeed food in terms of fish and crops in its basin.  Alarmingly for some tourists you’ll even see bedsheets from hotels and guest houses being washed in the Ganges.
When the heat does get too much, the tight lanes of the bazaars around Dasashwamedh Ghat provides some shade but exposes you to retailers inviting you into their clothes, toy or souvenir shops every 40 seconds.
If you decide to visit the nearby Kashi Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu do not have your camera or mobile phone with you or you will be refused entry.

Ganges River Boat Trip

On a hot day, trying to explore a majority of the 88 ghats spread 8km along the Ganges is a tough achievement to accomplish.  Visit the more beautiful ones by foot and then take a river boat trip to get a different view of the ghats. Path Is My Goal provides a good guide on some of the interesting ghats to visit.
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The ghats vary tremendously in terms of style from palace-like structures to minimalist buildings.  Time your boat ride for around 6pm and not only do you avoid the burning sun but you’ll see the full power of the burning ghats of Manikarnika and Harishchandra and you will also have a great view of the Aarti ceremony at Dasashwamedh Ghat.

Aarti Ceremony

The ceremony is choreographed well with displays of movement, fire and chanting.
 Aarti_Ceremony
Two groups, one on each side combine to give the ceremony it’s appeal.  As one group leads the chanting the other plays background rhythm and before you know it, a smooth mix will have happened like the most amazing live DJ performance with fire visuals.

Swimming in Varanasi

Battling down the busy street of Luxa Road was a mission everyday as was the intense heat.  To enjoy some peace and quiet and to cool off we visited Clark’s hotel in the Varanasi Cantonment area to use their lovely pool for 500R each. As it is one of Varanasi’s premier hotels you will be better taking your own drinks if you’re on a budget, otherwise pay 10 times the price as a shop for a bottle of water.
Not much else is there by Clark’s except for a shopping centre including a McDonald’s.

Eating in Varanasi

McDonald’s

Given the amazing food in India there was no hankering for western fast food, but the McDonald’s menu in India was intriguing.
Of course there is no beef on the menu so patties are chicken or vegetarian.  Most burgers will have an Indian twist too such as Masala or Tikka.  Not bad, but none of that deliciously bad salty and sugary beef you get with a western McDonald’s.

Blue Lassi

It was tempting to avoid this place as it has become so touristy and try other notable places such as Green Lassi, but the signs around the Varanasi lanes kept pointing us there and it was hot.
At 80R it is more expensive than other places but the lassi is flavoursome, rich and good.  It’s a thick and refreshing concoction served in a little clay cup that is superior to any lassi outside of India.  An extensive menu means you can choose from a huge variety of seasonal fruit flavours.
Blue_Lassi
Rumour has it they will do you a “special” bhang lassi but if you’re on a budget and want to control the amount of bhang you try you are better off purchasing from a government approved bhang shop.

Brown Bread Bakery

With many signs in Varanasi’s lanes pointing towards this much mentioned cafe, we popped in during a hot late morning only to be very disappointed by its cheese platter.
Yes cheese in India seems a dubious choice but for cheese lovers, the menu of Himalayan and local cheeses was too tempting.  Mouldy over aged cheese was served with random salad and olives, but the ciabatta was good.

Chaat

Two great places are located on Luxa Road, the busy main road running west-east to the Ganges.  Kashi Chaat Bandar is famous for supplying catering to the rich and famous which we enjoyed, but even better was Deena Chaat Bandar.
Varanasi_Chaat
Chaat is essentially a gravy with aromatic spices pimped up with anything like chickpeas, potatoes, samosas, coriander, yogurt, tamarind etc.  Expect to pay 30R per chaat, 2 will be enough for a light meal, 3 if your hungry.  Recommended are Samosa Chaat, Aloo Tikka Chaat, and Tomato Chaat.  Chaat is a must try if in Varanasi.  It will probably be your best tasting value meal in a while.

Baati Chokha

Offering vegetarian food in a rustic setting, the baati (a bread roll that seemed to come from the biblical ages but tasted fresh as a daisy) and chokha (a fragrant mix of tomatoes, onions, and potatoes) were the stars.
Baati_Chokha
Adjust the food to personal taste with delicious ghee, pickles and chutneys.

Getting to Varanasi

We had booked an overnight 16 hour sleeper train from Jaipur to Varanasi, however we were still on the waitlist with days to go and no sign of moving up the list.  No foreign quota tickets were available so we had to hop on a 5 hour train back to Delhi Sarai Rohilla, grab a 300R tuk tuk and then catch a 3500R 1.5 hour plane to Varanasi.
Naturally Varanasi airport is not as close to the city centre as Varanasi Junction so another 300R tuk tuk was needed to get to our accommodation.

Staying in Varanasi

We stayed at the Zostel Varanasi costing 900R for an en-suite double room per night.  Just far away from the Ganges to be away from the noise and hustle and bustle but close enough to walk to the holy river at 15 minutes away (if the roads were not jammed).
Staff were nice as was the rooftop chill out area / cafe where travellers could mingle.  They can also offer hassle free tours around the city for not much more than if you did it yourself.  Rooms however were not the cleanest and our air conditioning was constantly turned off at the fuse box by staff.

Getting Around Varanasi

Walking and tuk tuks are your main form of transport.  There are also cyclo rickshaws that are cheaper than tuk tuks which we took for a short journey because it was hot.  However the guilt of paying someone to pedal us around in a hot and congested Varanasi got to us and we tipped big and gave the driver our remaining water.
Walking down the main road of Varanasi is just as strenuous as the most busy Delhi streets.  Pot holes, rickshaws, cows, motorbikes and other pedestrians all have to be avoided.  Walking back after the Aarti ceremony in the evening will take twice as long as normal.

Landing in Delhi: Metro Airport Transfer, What to Expect and Shams not Scams

Crash bang – Landing in Delhi

Bang! It’s a cliche but as soon as we land in Delhi all our senses are smacked hard by the hustle and bustle of the Indian capital. Tuk tuks honking, the blazing sun hitting your neck, Honda Heroes darting in and out of traffic, colourful saris flowing along, cows meandering down the street, and the sweet and spicy smell of street food is a busy Indian city.

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The hustle and bustle of the streets of Indian cities means that it’s not a place to chill (if you’re a tourist anyway). It’s easy to get distracted with everything going on around you and right in your face.

We landed right in the middle of it all at Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Getting from Delhi Airport into the City by Metro

The Delhi Airport Express Metro gets you to New Delhi after landing in Delhi in about 20 minutes, it runs every 10 – 15 minutes with trains running from 04:45 – 23:30. It’s clean, fast, and efficient and only costs 60 Rupees to get you into the heart of Delhi.

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The Paradise Island of Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui is Thailand’s second largest island and arguably the most beautiful with its stunning beaches and temples.  Thailand has long been a backpackers favourite and Koh Samui draws in all sorts of travellers especially the luxury traveller.  Koh Samui now has amazing high end restaurants, bars, spas and resorts to complement the more traditional temples, family run restaurants, and local towns towards the south-west of the island.

Koh Samui Attractions

Big Buddha and Wat Phra Yai 

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Tokyo City Guide by a Local

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Our three day stay in Tokyo was short for such a big city but we had other places in Japan to explore such as Kyoto, Koyasan, and Osaka.  To get a little local taste of Tokyo in such a short time we enlisted the help of a Tokyo resident to give us a local’s guide to Tokyo the capital city of Japan via Tokyo Free Guide.  In a packed half day we visited districts off the beaten path such as Shimokitazawa, Nippori, and Yanaka.

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Drinking in Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Tokyo- Tiny Bars, Big Fun

Golden Gai is in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo known for its nightlife and brilliant little bars to drink in.

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Surrounded by skyscrapers and bright lights, Golden Gai (Golden District) is a small area of alleyways packed full of tiny bars in little old buildings.  This place has character and you’ll find yourself wondering around the intriguing area for a while before even stepping into a bar for a drink.

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Food in Japan is not just about Sushi – Japanese Food Adventure

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A Guide to Food in Japan

Sushi is of course one of Japan’s most famous exports.  For lovers of fish, sushi is a beautiful way to enjoy the fresh delicate flavours that only seafood can provide. I love fish and I love sushi, but what if you don’t like fish or sushi?  Japanese food has something to offer everyone, pretty much all of which is tasty, some a bit weird, but you’ll be sure to enjoy an amazing adventure of food in Japan.

Japanese food is probably the most palatable of all Asian foods to the west.  Simple fresh flavours seasoned with salt and sugar to boost umami.  Japanese food is perhaps the Italian cuisine of the Far East in terms of highlighting the flavours of the natural ingredients rather than overpowering them with herbs and spices (although you’ll probably find a bottle of 7 flavour chilli powder – Shichimi containing chilli, sansho, orange peel, black sesame, white sesame, hemp, ginger, and nori) on most restaurant tables for those after a healthy spicy kick).

Japan is a wonderful place to have a food adventure and experience amazing tastes and flavours.  Here are some great food options to try in Japan other than sushi.

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Gerber Shard – An airline safe compact travel keychain multi-tool

The Gerber Shard is a brilliant multi-tool that is small and compact.  In fact it’s so small that it easily fits on your keychain without digging into your thighs when you’re walking around.  It’s about 3cm long, and only weighs 9g. It’s also coated in titanium nitride for corrosion resistance and it looks pretty cool too in a slick matte black.

The size is brilliant for travellers, but more importantly it’s airline safe meaning you can carry it across airport security and onto planes without any trouble.

It might be small, but it’s a proper multi-tool too with 7 of the most useful tools:

  1. Small Flat-head Driver
  2. Medium Flat-head Driver
  3. Philips Screwdriver
  4. Wire Stripper
  5. Lanyard hole
  6. Pry Bar
  7. Bottle Opener

Yep, the all important bottle opener for that beer that is begging to be opened.  Also a great way to be a hero when someone else doesn’t have one.

I don’t carry around a big bulk Swiss Army knife or wonder what those 20 other things are on my other multi-tool any more.  This little powerful and useful beauty is more than enough and a brilliant travel companion that doesn’t take up much space or weight.

Get it on Amazon for a super cheap price.

Liebster Award | What Way Today

Liebster_Award_What_Way_TodayThank you so much to Global Debauchery for nominating us for the Liebster Award after less than two months of launching our travel blog.  Also thank you to Travel Experia who nominated us for the Liebster Award shortly afterwards.

As is customary for the Liebster Award that celebrates up and coming blogs we have been asked 11 questions so that we can share a little bit more about ourselves.

We will also nominate some great new travel blogs that are doing a sterling job inspiring people to travel.  We’ll ask them 11 questions so they can share their personal views and experiences on the wonderful world of travel. 

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See Cherry Blossom Trees in Japan 2016

Cherry Blossom season in Japan is upon us for 2016.  Cities further towards the south such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are already experiencing first blooms of the beautiful Sakura tree and it will be time to have fun at Hanami outdoor parties enjoying the views of the Cherry Blossom trees in Japan.

Magic of the Cherry Blossom Trees in Japan

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Whilst Cherry Blossoms live across the northern hemisphere including the USA and Europe, the Sakura is probably not as appreciated anywhere as much as in Japan.  Last year we were lucky enough to see our first Cherry Blossom tree right outside our hotel which was on the edge of the lovely Ueno Park in Tokyo. Seeing it at night for the first time under the lights only highlighted the natural and beautiful brightness of the Cherry Blossom.

During the day tonnes of people were taking selfies in front of the trees whether they were tourists or locals.  The Sakuras in Japan brought genuine joy and happiness to people everyday which you could see with the big wide smiles and eyes gazing at this beautiful example of nature.  No wonder the Sakura is the national flower of Japan.

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Best Travel Cooking TV Shows and Chefs | Food & Travel

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Travel and food go hand in hand.  There is no more accessible way to discover a country’s culture, history and environment than food.  We love travel and we love food.  I love food so much I jacked in my nicely paid job in digital marketing to become a chef (or try to become a chef) at a lovely London restaurant.  Maybe my dream job would be to be a chef travelling the world sampling the diverse flavours the world has to offer.  In the meantime I’m still enthralled by travel cooking TV shows where chefs and presenters immerse themselves into local culture and cuisine.  Here we round up our favourites and what we think are the best travel cooking TV shows.

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