…….The World Without Boundaries

Exploring Varanasi

Written By: jipp - Jul• 06•19

Bhadra Khali Guest House

The hotel was Bhadra Khali Guest House. I found it on Booking.com with excellent reviews. Since the room that I booked was so cheap, I was not surprised when the guy at the counter told me that the one that I had booked was a non-airconditioned room. He offered to give me one with air-con, with additional RM75 to the bill for 3 nights. I was there when the heat was making news all over, with the temperature at some places in India had soared to 50℃. That temperature is a no-joke. Considering that I may spend much of my time in the room (thanks God they had a good internet connection!), I agreed to get the one with an air-con.

Bhadra Khali Guest House met most of the good reviews that I had read about it on the internet. The staff were super-welcoming. The owner was there too most of the time. Opening up to a conversation that I started, he told me that he was in the UK for 20 years but had to come back to Varanasi because nobody was taking care of the hotel. We exchanged views on India and the people, which was one of my favorite topics of conversation. He told me how outsiders would think that everybody on the streets of India is poor when that is not quite the case. In fact some of them are millionaires but they mingle around with the crowds and you wouldn’t be able to tell which and which.

He also told me how that there is job for everybody in India, and those who can’t find a job are those who are lazy and want easy money. I gotta say I was taken aback when he said that but then he is a local there so he should know his people more than I do.

My favorite part of the hotel is the rooftop café. Unfortunately, the summer heat (yes, they call it summer) made it almost impossible to stay on the rooftop when the temperature was soaring high, and going there in the morning when the temperature was cool could expose me to a threat in the form of monkeys – or so I was warned by the staff. I was told that the monkeys could be quite aggressive so I had to be careful being around them. But I did manage to sneak out when they were not around and enjoyed the beautiful view of Ganges River from the atop the building. The view was breath-taking and the feeling was amazing.

One of the best things about Bhadra Khali Guest House was the location, which was very much near to the river. Walking out from it would be a quick access to the riverside and very near to the main temples where the puja ceremonies would take place in the evening every day. When I first came out to the river, I was instantly overwhelmed by the crowds, the sweeping views and the bustling atmosphere. Dozens of boats were docked at the riverside while dozens more were making their ways across and along the river. They really looked like they came straight out of a movie scene that I remember having watched, or probably from some book that I had read. 

The History

Varanasi is a city of a very long history. It is described on Wikipedia to be a city that dates back to the ancient time, when gods and goddesses were still roaming the earth and even fought against each other. In Hindu mythology, Varanasi is said to be the place where Shiva dropped Brahma’s chopped off head which then disappeared in the ground and holifed the whole area. In later eras, kings are known to have built temples and palaces in Varanasi and they are still very much there as a testament to its glorious past.

Exploring the streets of the old town of Varanasi can be quite confusing. It is a complex maze of streets that would likely send you tagging behind your own tail if you are not familiar with them. Quite a few times I lost my way and had to ask around, which was not easy since most of the locals could not speak or understand English. They’d point their finger to somewhere but it was more like they wanted to get rid of you the quickest possible.

The Smell

Just like in most major towns and cities in India, Varanasi is still struggling with littering problem. The buildings and the streets are so beautiful – even rivalling those in the old towns of, say, Europe and probably South America, and yet the piles of trash and the stench that comes with them is such a huge setback. The stench does really come from the piles of trash though. Instead it comes from the spitting of betel – which is a popular practice among the locals in Varanasi (and many parts of India).

Then the people of Varanasi seem to embrace their co-existence with animals, mostly cows and dogs so their disposals also make up most of the smell of the streets. That we did not see any cats all throughout our trip was one of my topic of conversation with my travel buddies when I went to India the first and second time. Seeing them in Varanasi and later in Kolkata was quite a surprise and delight to me. But still they were far fewer than the number of cows and dogs that I bumped into while walking on the streets in these two cities. They were literally everywhere.

I gotta admit that the smell of the streets of Varanasi was quite unbearable to me in the beginning, but as I spent more and more days in this bustling city, my nostrils kinda got used to it and I could finally accept the fact that all the smell was part of the characteristics of the city and in a way was part of its beauty. Heh. 

The Food

The quickest way of finding out the best restaurants in Varanasi is via Google – which would usually lead you to TripAdvisor. Desperate to get a good food in Varanasi (the hotel does cook but I had to stop ordering food when the cook seemed to cough incessantly, just for precaution), I googled for it and tons of restaurant reviews popped up. After noting down some of the restaurants that I thought I had some interest in, I went to look for them.

I was actually looking for a restaurant called Aadha-Aadha Café, and without any internet access to my phone, it was not easy to locate. Asking the locals had proved to be futile too, may be because they don’t go to such restaurant. When I finally managed to find it, it was closed for the summer because the restaurant is apparently located on the rooftop of a hotel where the summer heat was unbearable.

I went to my second choice on the list, to a restaurant called Sushi Café and Continental Restaurant. The food did not really wow me, but it was the coffee that immediately clicked in my head. India may be known to produce some of the best, not to mention expensive, teas in the world but coffee is definitely not really their cup of tea. Getting a good coffee on the streets of India has always been not easy so when I found a not-so-bad coffee at Sushi Café and Continental Restaurant, I was thoroughly delighted.

And of course I kept coming to this restaurant ever since, and I had come to realize that the same reviews on the internet could come so handy when it comes to ordering food. Since the menu did not offer any visual assistance, I had to rely wholly on my own imagination based on the name of the dishes on the menu. Fortunately though many of those who have left their reviews on TripAdvisor left pictures of food that they ordered too – together with their reviews – so it really made my ordering food so much easier.

I wish I had the guts of eating some of the food on the street of Varanasi which were aplenty but 3 visits to India were apparently not enough to grant me with those (the guts). For one the streets are so dusty, so I could not help but imagining that those food were heavily coated with dust and dirt. Then the hands of the food handlers – I mean, I could imagine all kind of things on their hands but the bottom line is, I just did not have the guts. Not yet.

And then the chai. I am more of a coffee guy and less of a chai’s but then it is still good to be had as far as my constant need for caffeine is concerned.  But then I had this stupid thought that some of the water supply might be siphoned off the Ganges river – which was not entirely illogical since the holy river is believed to be able to purify both the bodies and souls. I never asked any of the locals to confirm about this anyway.

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