The Ganges, McDonalds and going solo in Nepal!

Well, it’s been a very interesting few days! We left Agra what seems like weeks ago to drive to our next destination of Lucknow. This was basically a ‘stopover’ before we went to Varanasi where we were staying for two days.

To be honest, it’s a struggle to remember what we really did in Lucknow, not only because we weren’t there for long but because it was a bit of a dive with not much going on! I know that it’s famous for being the spot of a big battle between the Indians and the British – something about the British Army using animal fat to grease their guns to stop them from jamming – which not only offended pretty much everybody in India but enabled them to win the battle hands down! If you don’t know why that would offend Indians, think about where animal fat comes from and what that would mean to a country full of Muslims and Hindus! Apart from that, we didn’t know much about the place (although this may be more down to our ignorance rather than the fact that it is nothing special).

Anyway, we were starving when we got to Lucknow and decided to just eat in the hotel – we were also warned that there really wasn’t anywhere decent to eat in the area so the hotel was our best bet. We eventually managed to order some vegetables and rice as the hotel itself had hardly anything on the menu, including the most staple of foods – nan bread!

It filled us up though and we spent the rest of the evening in the internet cafe down the road and eating chocolate!

The next day we headed for Varanasi – again, we didn’t know a great deal about this place either except that it was situated on the River Ganges, so we were looking forward to having a look at that! We got there in good time and straight away headed for McDonalds round the corner! It was the first Maccy D’s we had seen for a while and we were getting a bit fed up of Indian food at that point so headed round there with the rest of the Oz Bus group (half of which went to Pizza Hut next door). We broke our no meat policy for a box of Chicken McNuggets – although we figured that McDonalds nuggets had probably never even seen a chicken so would be safe to eat anyway!

After that, we took a walk around the block, avoiding the stray dogs and annoying tuk tuk drivers as much as we could and experienced our first proper sprinkle of monsoon rain. It was quite refreshing for us however, so we didn’t mind, but it had fizzled out by the time we got back to the hotel.

We had to have an Oz Bus meeting that night to talk about the remainder of the trip and visas for the rest of the group to re-enter India after Nepal – most of this didn’t apply to us however as we’re not going back into India, so we just took part in the ‘feedback’ part of the meeting. Leighton handed out slips of paper for us to write down any comments, complaints or suggestions we may have about the trip so far and it was very interesting to see what comments were thrown up! Complaints of ‘tension’ within the group and against the tour leader – something that Richard and I hadn’t really experienced actually, so we were a bit surprised! This is probably because we never really go on the group excursions so haven’t heard any of the conversations that have taken place regarding the pricing of trips etc, but I guess some form of tension is inevitable on trips like this, so if that’s all there was to complain about so far, this Oz Bus is doing pretty well!

The main thing that we were concerned with was that Leighton wasn’t going to be with us when we go to China and we have a feeling we’ll need his help! (Plus we were very annoyed with his contempt for Bear Grylls who we think is great, so had to put in a complaint about that!)

Meeting over, we headed up to bed in preparation for what was probably going to be a long, HOT day the next day! The only thing we really wanted to see in Varanasi was the Ganges and we hoped to get to see one of the ceremonies that take place there – the Ganges is viewed as holy by the Hindu’s, who see it as the blood of Lord Shiva, so they bathe and pray there every day. They also cast off the bodies of their loved ones when they die into the river. Instead of burying them, they ‘cremate’ them at the side of the river, then take them by boat into the middle and push them off towards the afterlife.

The richer Hindu’s use sandalwood to burn the bodies (which also covers the smell of burning flesh!), then take the body back home once the burning is finished. About 10 days later, they return it to the river, perform the last part of the funeral rites and then set the body out in the water.

All of this sounds very strange to people from the UK, but we really wanted to see it for ourselves (no matter how macabre that may seem!!)

We were told that the burning usually happens in the evening around sunset, so we had a whole day to kill before we were ready to go down to the river. So, what else do you do when in Varanasi, but gatecrash the nearest Radisson hotel to use their gym?! The Radisson was such a contrast to the hotels we’ve been staying in – it was great to pretend we were staying there for a couple of hours! After we had finished there, we had the second McDonalds of our Varanasi stay and then walked the long way back to our hotel, getting absolutely drenched on the way! This second monsoon shower was much more dramatic than the first, we were probably out in it for about half an hour and our feet were swimming around in our shoes by the time we got back! The locals seemed to find it hilarious that we were walking around in it and laughed at us from underneath their shelters – but for us, a break from the intense heat and humidity that we had been experiencing for the last two weeks, was extremely welcome!!

We rinsed out our clothes as soon as we got back to the hotel – as even though it was rain, we were convinced that it was dirty! Took all day and night for everything to get dry again!

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At around 5pm we decided to head over to the Ganges. We got a tuk tuk there after agreeing a price of 70 rupees with the driver and he drove there like a maniac through the back streets. Was good for us though, as he went all the way through the extremely narrow alleyways that surrounded the river and took us straight to the waters edge (he wouldn’t actually leave after that despite us trying to pay him and insisted on hanging around and bringing us back again!).

The first thing we noticed when we arrived was, of course, the massive River Ganges. It was huge and REALLY muddy! It was still quite light when we got there so we had a chance to wander around the Ghat – there were steep steps leading down to the water – swollen from the rains – with Hindu temples towering over the tops of the steps. People were washing themselves in the water – some with full blown toiletries! Local children were also making the most of the river by diving and somersaulting into it as if it was a clean, clear swimming pool!

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To our right (on the next Ghat) we could see three funeral pyres which were burning the bodies of the dead. We didn’t get too close to them, as there were loads of family members there and taking photos up close would have been viewed as very disrespectful, so we just stood and watched for a while, not quite believing what we were seeing. The families must have been rich, as we didn’t get any odour of rotting flesh drifting our way, all we could smell was burning wood.

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Later, when the nightly prayer ceremony started on our Ghat, all we could smell was incense which was lovely! The prayer ceremony started at around 7pm and lasted nearly an hour! We didn’t really understand what it was all about, but it was great to watch as the sun went down and the candles were lit up – it’s known as the “Ganga Aarti” ceremony where a Hindu priest stood on the waters edge and prayed to the river. He rang bells, threw flowers into the air, lit incense and candles, repeating each sequence to the north, south, east and west. All the while, a boy stood there banging a steel chime – which was insanely loud! The whole experience was mesmerising but sightly spooky, especially when the sun disappeared completely!

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We spent a good few hours by the edge of the Ganges and headed back to the hotel as soon as the ceremony finished. The tuk tuk driver had stayed with us the whole time and of course, when we pulled up outside the door, he tried to make us pay extra because he was kind enough to ‘wait’ for us and take us to a cash machine two minutes down the road. Needless to say we didn’t pay him anything extra and explained to him that we told him at least 4 times just to leave us there!

So that was our last night in India and we rounded it off with an Indian curry, despite the fact that we’d really had enough of it! We were leaving at 7am the next morning as we were off to Nepal and were expecting a hold up at the border, along with a long drive.

Before the bus left however, the whole group got a bit of a shock as Leighton announced that he was leaving us – right there and then! Overnight he had been given some bad news from back home and had to get back to Ireland as quick as he could. After a quick goodbye and a stunned silence we were off, minus a guide, to the border, with rough instructions as to what we should do! The ride didn’t feel the same without him, but we understand that he had to leave, and we probably would have done exactly the same thing!

With or without Leighton we were still glad to be leaving India. It certainly was a shock to the system as we thought it would be, but I don’t think we were entirely prepared for just how filthy, crowded and pushy it was. The sheer amount of people there was suffocating. There is no such thing as an empty road in India – people appear from nowhere, at all times of the day and night. Unlike Pakistan, the people in India are used to Westerners and use us as an opportunity to make some quick cash. They looked at us as though we were a walking cash machine and just wouldn’t take no for an answer when we told them that we didn’t want to look in their shop, buy a drink, take a rickshaw, buy an ornament etc etc!

The big difference was the majority of people who worked in the hospitality industry – they were extremely polite and accomodating, but the people on the street were the complete opposite. What was weird was that down every road, there were billboards and adverts for business courses, mba’s and degrees in computing, medicine or hospitality – pinned up opposite rubbish tips or shanty towns. Do they really imagine that the people they are advertising to will ever have the opportunity to go to college and complete any of these courses? The people who live there are forever stuck within their caste, with no chance to progress – we found it strange that people were just resigned to living that way.

So that’s the end of our time in India and to sum it up it’s a massive country with massive contrasts between rich and poor, filthy streets and gleaming temples, tourist ‘professionals’ and pushy rickshaw riders and although experiencing it has been extremely elightening , interesting and shocking at times, we both have to repeat what one of our dodgy tuk tuk drivers told us, IndiaI‘ll, Never, Do, It, Again! 

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6 Comments

  1. February 15, 07:43 #1 Aisleen Author

    Hello Robin, thank you so much for your comment and of course, it is never too late! we’re glad you enjoy reading our stories! 🙂

  2. February 14, 17:22 #2 Robin Lama

    Hi Aisleen and Richard,
    How are you ? I am Robin from Nepal, I read your diary, found it very much interesting,as you have written very well,
    Maybe it’s too late to comment, but then I really like it ..Wished I could have read more of your diary which are just as above.. bye

  3. October 23, 10:49 #3 Aisleen Author

    Enjoy your drink!

  4. October 22, 15:42 #4 mietwagen mallorca

    I had been arguing with my close friend on this issue for quite a while, base on your ideas prove that I am right, let me show him your webpage then I am sure it must make him buy me a drink, lol, thanks.

    – Kris

  5. August 15, 11:32 #5 Aisleen Author

    Hi Maureen & Barry, Thanks for getting in touch! We’ll certainly pass on best wishes. Norma is certainly making the most of her trip, as is everybody else and we’re glad you’re enjoying reading about it too!

  6. August 14, 19:57 #6 Barry & Maureen Jones

    Hi there Aisleen & Richard,
    We have been watching your diary with much interest, you don’t know us, but we have an interest in your Oz trip as we know one of your fellow travellers (Norma, our daughters Mother in Law). We thought we would get in touch with you before you leave the bus for China & Vietnam, please give our Best Wishes to your fellow travellers and have a good & Safe journey on your own, & we hope you carry on your diary, as it certainly makes good reading.
    Best Wihes & Good Luck,
    Maureen & Barry (Jones)


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