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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Jhansi to Varanasi & the holy Ganges

INDIA | Sunday, 9 December 2007 | Views [3027] | Comments [4]

Fri Nov 30th - Picked up train 2644 (Swarna Jayanti) from Mathura junction to Jhansi, but this is just a mid point for getting to Khajuraho. Could do more from Jhansi, but I'm a bit tired and want to take a break and go somewhere chilled for a few days. As usual the train was late. I don't think i've been on many trains running on time. It is a bit depressing waiting for trains in India. Whilst there is stuff going on, they have terrible habits. Permanently spitting, snorting, and that's women as well as men. Gets annoying after a while and makes me cringe. As usual, rats and cockroaches running about on the track and platforms, plus the ever present monkeys. Spent a brief spell in the waiting room but had to leave due to the snoring, snorting, farting etc as it got a bit unhealthy in there!

Well, in typical Indian tradition, the train was late by 3/4hr. Doesn't seem like much but it made the difference as will become clear later. At least the weather cleared up as we progressed south and the sun came out. The north is known for its morning fog at this time of year.

Due to the delay, got to Jhansi at 13:30. The bus had gone a few minutes ago, hence the importance of that brief delay on the train. So had a run-around to see what my options where. I hate the indians sometimes....the bus station and two drivers told me there were no more buses today! So, based on that I had to scrap plans to go to Khajuraho today and go to Orccha instead. This involved an 11km rickshaw ride. I hate the indians even further....got scammed as they knew which hotel I wanted to go to....how was I to know there were two of the same name....they took me to the wrong one. Found out sometime later. They have probably done this many times and on a commission from the hotel owner! Further to this, I went to a couple of travel agents in Orccha, who confirmed that there were definitely at least two more buses today that I could have got on to Khajuraho. As a result I have lost a day but not to worry as Orccha is worth an overnight stop. Will have to get up early tommorow to get the bus so half a day to whizz around the town. Seen so many temples and forts lately that a couple of hours browsing the outsides was enough. The Lakshmi Narayan temple was a short walk up the road from the hotel and gave a good view of the surrounds to get my bearings. Plenty of tourist coaches around as this town seems to be on everyone's itinerary.

Another thing that is getting to me a bit about india....don't get the wrong impression...I do like the country... Is the phenomenal amount of beggars....everywhere! You cannot breathe or move anywhere without someone wanting money from you. You daren't point your camera anywhere near a human as they are guaranteed to want paying for being in your photo. The other thing is the flies.....out in mass formation on the attack incessantly. That feels better..... Winge over, got that off my chest!

Sun 1st Dec - Well december has arrived. Set off from the UK in May and that seems a long time ago. Soon be christmas!

Awake ridiculously early which was annoying as m not leaving till 9am. Now, based on yesterday's confirmation by two travel agents in town AND the agreement of the guidebook, I was determined that I had to get the 11am bus from the train station, so instructed the rickshaw driver....to be told, the bus hadn't gone from there for a long time and must go to the bus stand instead. The mis-information that flies around is unbelievable, so you never know who to believe. Also, the 11am bus is actually 11:30 and yes it does go from the bus stand. Got there and got the ticket for bus 0026 coming from Gwailor for the 170km journey for 100 rupees. For the record, there is one deluxe bus at 5:30am and apart from the one i'm getting, another one at 12:05 (from Gwailor) and 13:30 (from Agra). So in summary, the travel agents all got it wrong and so did the lonely planet guide, although LP is the nearest. So the 11:30 bus left at 11:15am. Near enough I guess! Couldn't fit any more in so set off with  bodies clinging onto the sides and on the roof. My backpack had been squirreled away at the front where I couldn't see it, but was assured it would be ok! About 3hrs later most of the bus got off and my backpack wasn't there! Panicked a bit! The conductor looked at me and smiled....it's ok sir.....with that typical wobble of the head that all indian folk do.....it's with the luggage! Where's that then...he pointed upwards and said don't worry....so I sat down knowing that it was on the roof with a group of indians strapped on top of it. The route was a really nice one with some lovely scenery and rustic housing. Very nice.... Chatted to some locals on the way which turned out to be useful as one of them, as usual, worked for a hotel and it turned out to be half the price of where I had booked. He also turned out to be a great contact. Checked into the 'Zen' hotel complete with lotus flower ponds, a resident guru for that early morning yoga, an ayurvedic massage centre and good food, for the princely sum of 300 rupees per night. Bought him a beer later in return, as he also helped me sort out my travel plans as well as offering me a woman if I needed her! Nice and friendly these locals! Will pass on the last bit of the offer though!

Went to a chemist to top up on my anti-malarials to find out that the Doxycycline I have been taking isn't effctive in india, so should have been on Chloroquine. Had heard this somewhere else so decided to change as it will also cover me for Sri Lanka and 5wks cover cost me 65 rupees taking 2 100mg tablets per week. Anybody out there want to comment on this then feel free.

I thought I had sorted my plans for the next few days...some chillin, a trip to the Panna national park...sightseeing. The guidebooks say a fair chance of spotting tigers at this park. According to the guy I met....he's been loads of time and never seen one. Damn, another bit of mis-information and decision to make. Costs a lot of money to go into these parks, with compulsory fees for cameras, guides, jeep. Entrance fees etc. So, to not see what you are going for is a big waste. To go or not to go...that is the question?

Sun 2nd Dec - Khajuraho is famous for its temples. It is a quiet town compared to most others i've been to recently, split into the old town based around the eastern group of temples, and the new town centred around the western group of temples. In the morning I walked arround the western group which are in a compound of nicely landscaped gardens. Costs 250 rupees to get in and worth it, as they are stunning. The most impressive is the 'Lakshmana temple' dedicated to Vishnu. There is a common theme running through these temples of various positions from the Karma Sutra. Whilst interesting, the detail of the architecture is the most awesome aspect. This one took 20yrs to build in 954AD. Another one, the 'Kandariya-Mahadev', is the largest of the group possessing 872 sculptures in various acrobatic poses!

It is very hot at present and by mid-day, it's too hot to do much, so sat and chilled back at the hotel for a while. Fortunately, the resident masseur was on hand to do a free body massage and the owner gave me some guava to eat whilst I was trying to relax, so that was a good move. One of those bone cracking massages, where they try to pull every limb out of its socket until it cracks. I have now been reassembled like mr potato head with limbs not where they used to be! ....Nice and relaxed, I decided to head for the old town in the afternoon. The old town was really quiet and I got adopted by a couple of locals as guides. They haven't had any rain here for a very long time, so it has to be brought in by tanker. Also, the government are opening a new museum and are plundering the old town of some of its artifacts to dislay in it, which as a shame as the locals have made nice use of some of them and will be upset for them to go. It was nice to get away from the busy new areas into a time that seemed to have stood still. Rickety old shacks not been rebuilt following the last monsoon, a guy making clay pots in a fashion that won't have changed for centuries, young kids tending the pigs and goats. The only thing that had changed is they all speak four or more languages and could converse in hindi, english, french, spanish and a few of them even korean! The last one surprised me. Many of the restaurants have a korean section to the menu and some even write it in korean. Not sure where the link comes from? I assume that a korean person came here, decided to settle and invited the family over and it grew from there?

When they ask how many languages I speak, they seem horrified if I say just one, so I sometimes say three to make it sound better...english, scouse and gobbledygook. The last one foxes them as they haven't a clue where in the world Gobbledy is!

And another thing...it's amazing when they ask where you are from....they all know everywhere in the world, until you ask them questions about it, then they admit to never having heard of it! I invent place names and countries just to see the reaction.

After the millionth time of being asked where i'm from, I need these little games to keep my insanity alive!

Dinner was at the 'blue sky restaurant', directly opposite the western group of temples with a dining area built Into a tree. At 6:30pm there is a sound & light show, so it seemed a good place to camp out and have dinner. Shame it was a grey evening and it rained! Never mind.

My plans for after Khajuraho aren't going to well as I want to go to Darjeeling, but the tour groups seem to have bought up every seat on the trains in the whole of the north of India! I can get to a place but not get out...or I can get out but not in....or I can get seriously ripped off by rogues who know that, and have the only transport available and can charge what they like. I can either go somewhere quiet and chill, or struggle to get somewhere more interesting and hope for the best and pay whatever it costs to get around. A bit in limbo, as I don't want to waste time or money. There have also been  troubles in the north - Bombs in Kolkata, and in places near to Darjeeling plus Varanasi to name a few. Whilst this is disturbing, the areas being targetted aren't those I am going to. One thing is certain is that the terrorists definitely do not want any tourists injured as that would hinder their cause.

Another example of what can happen is I planned to go to the local Panna national park to see some tigers, but many who go say it's a waste of time and yet many tour groups go there. So do I go and waste lots of time and at a high price or not bother? I spent 3 months in Africa and never saw a single leopard. I recently spoke to someone who had been similar time to me who saw them almost every time they went out. Luck of the draw I guess, and maybe I have been put off by the bad luck in Africa? Have a feeling at this rate I may not get to see any tigers in India. Will see.

Spent the evening with a group of italians at the hotel. Really nice crowd, with a number of tour groups but all at the same hotel. Me no italiano speako but managado to geto message acrosso. Ded fluent me eh!

Mon 3rd Dc - early up as had to sort out some train bookings before the rush started at the reservations office. 20 koreans in the queue when I got there causing mayhem, so left as had alternative plan. The fun started in the afternoon, as heading off to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. Either get a bus all the way there which would mean sitting upright on a government bus for 17hours overnight, or get a bus to Satna and then train the rest of the way, as did a few other travellers. Chose the later....oh dear! Three buses to Satna...2pm, 2:45pm and 3:15pm. 2pm bus didn't turn up as had an accident on its way and was told that the 3:15 bus probably won't turn up and may not reach the station in time. Not much choice then! The journey is supposed to take 3 1/2 hrs. Train due to leave Satna at 8:15pm. One guy on the bus was to get a train to Mumbai and then catch a flight so he was nervous. We had the slowest driver in existence! Stopped many times and got out to talk to his mates and have a coffee then nonchalantly get back and stop further down the road for something to eat. One of the passengers said that the bus regularly takes 6hrs! That means we would all miss our connections. This spelt potential disaster.....threats started to break out to rattle the driver and conductor. Speeded him up for all of 5 minutes then he slowed down again. Physical injury crept into the possible scenario from one of the passengers, who pulled the conductor's documents off him and threatened to not give them back unless things improved. A funny/disgusting sight at the stop at Panna....we stopped, facing a really ramshackled bus with obvious signs of a bad driver....three of the windows had signs that the passengers had been sick down the side of the bus.....there was a cow systematically licking the bus clean! Oh yuk!! Later on we picked up a new driver who changed the pace dramatically and hit the gas. He got us there before time. All of our trains had been delayed by 2hours, so needn't have rushed anyway. It gets worse...apart from me, there were four other travellers waiting. The board in the office and the electronic signs said train 6359 from platform 2 at 22:05. There we are waiting.....no train. I happened to turn around to face a train just as it was leaving platform 3....our train! The only carriage on that train that bore the number 6359 was the last carriage. All of the others were in hindi. We went mad of course and flew to the ticket inspector's office to complain. He said he had made an announcement earlier that the train could appear on either 2 or 3! How the hell could they not know which platform it would appear on? The announcement had been in hindi with some unintelligible bit in english that we would never have heard. No more trains to Varanasi tonight he said. Ba5tard! Scuse my french!

Anyway, all he could offer was to buy another 'General' ticket and go and wait on on of the platforms, get any train that went in the right direction and change somewhere. Fantastic advice innit! Told him to get stuffed as not paying anymore and went back to platform 2. After 20mins a train appeared that 8 recognised from my searches, and I reckoned it went to Varanasi. The driver's assistant was hanging out of the door and I asked him if it did...he said no...me not trusting anyone now asked a guy hanging out of the next door with a walkie-talkie...he said yes. I shouted to him to go and tell the bloody driver as he hasn't a clue where he is going! So I jumped onto the 1093 'Mahanagani' express. Luck was in my favour...met three trainee cadets on leave. Explained the situation to them and they gave us there seats and offered to sort it out with the conductor if he challenged us. Great guys. As it happened there was no conductor at all, so anyone could have got on for free. At least it went to the right place...don't forget that the ticket inspector had said no more trains to Varanasi tonight. This place is crazy...how on earth anything works is beyond reason.

Tue 4th Dec - This train was so slow that it didn't get into Varanasi until 11:30am but at least got to my destination....eventually.

Straight to the Foreign Tourist Assistance centre to book my train out of Varanasi to Darjeeling. This is another wonder of the indian rail network. As a tourist, I am helped by there being a special tourist quota on most trains that allow us to book trains 1 day in advance, when most indians wouldn't stand a chance. Sorted!

My hotel arranged to pick me up, so rang them to say I was here. The rickshaw driver kept stopping and going off for something to eat or talk to his mate. What is it with these people? Couldn't give a toss about customer service some of them.

Where I am staying is right on the bank of the famous river Ganges at Scindia ghat. Got a room with a view too. By the way, the Ganges has 108 names, which are documented in a small book available from most book stalls here. To one side of where I am staying is one of the main features of this area, the burning ghats. This warrants a lengthy explanation.....

The river Ganges or 'Ganga' is the most sacred river to the Hindus. When they die, they are brought here to be cremated, unless they are under 12yrs old, suffer from leprosy or are a Saddhu. The families will bring their dead from all over india for this ceremony. Note that women are not allowed into the funeral area as widowed wives used regularly to throw themselves onto their burning husbands pyre, so they became forbidden. The body is layed onto a stretcher made from bamboo and then draped with robes and flower garlands. The whole is then dipped into the sacred waters of the Ganges, followed by being left for an hour or so to dry. The body is then transferred to the funeral pyre. Higher caste people are burned on a platform higher than the main area. A funeral pyre is built using wood from either the Banyan tree or the Sandalwood tree. The latter is nore expensive so generally used by the more wealthy. For those of lesser means they will scatter sandalwood dust over the banyan pyre. The body is put on top and a further layer of wood added. The person who is going to set fire does the five circles around the pyre. On the site is a shrine that has an eternal flame burning which has never been allowed to go out. A piece of burning coal is taken from this fire and used to ignite the body and pyre which doesn't take long to be in full flame. After about 2hrs of burning, the head of the body is cracked to release the spirit and then allowed to finish burning. There is normally one bone left after the fire has died down...the breast bone in the man and the pelvis/hip bones in the woman. These are removed and taken out and cast into the Ganges. There are an average of 250 cremations a day on the babks of the Ganges. This is a 24hr a day operation. I saw dozens throughout the day, which is a very moving experience....no photographs as it is disrespectful.....just stand and watch and take it in. It is an incredible sight.

The pyres are built by the lowest caste people, referred to as the 'untouchables'. There are many dozens of these guys chopping wood, building pyres, cleaning up the area, every day. A sea of discarded gold and coloured robes and flower garlands adds to the amazing sight. The area is a mass of stacks of wood and boats ferrying in more wood. Note that no emotion must be shown as negative emotion is bad for the person's spirit, so only good atmosphere allowed.

Explored the old town for a while and it is a rabbit warren of little alleyways that create a really great atmosphere. Sat and watched the sun go down over the Ganges from the roof of the Dolphin restaurant. Later on went to see the 'Pooja' ceremony at Dasaswamedh ghat. A brightly coloured ceremony where floating candles are set free. The sight of hundreds of candles floating down the Ganges at night to indian music is a sight that will stay with me forever. The ceremony that accompanies it is held under big illuminated umbrellas with guys in orange robes and waving big feathers to music. This lasts upto an hour and is a real highlight. The atmosphere is great and there are many other side activities going on. Many offerings of a head massage by very old traditionally dressed guys. Boats crammed in with sightseers and some boats adorned with flowers. Just Incredible. This place should not be missed!

To top off the evening, went to the Ganga Fuji restaurant which had live traditional indian music playing with sitar and dola. Met up with some travellers there to swap stories.

Wondered back to the hotel down the dark streets of the old town strewn with tiny stalls. Many wouldn't be doing this and feel it risky, but I am probably getting over confident about my safety...or stupid? More worried about dodging the cow pats or falling down dark steps and injuring myself to be honest. Back at the hotel and the monkeys are in full flow, fighting and scrambling over the building. Warnings given to never leave windows open or stuff lying around as the monkeys will have it.

This has been a shattering day, with a lot to take in, and more to come tommorrow.

Wed 5th Dec - Up early for 5:30am boat ride down the Ganges. A cold start to the day with mist lying over the opposite bank and an eerie feel to it. The burning ghats were being tended to by the 'untouchables', who were clearing up from the previous days funerals, ready for today's funerals. It is an off feeling to thing that around 250 cremations happened here yesterday. Makes you think!

Further on, where last night's Pooja was held, at Dasaswamedh ghat, pilgrims were already doing their bathing rituals. And washing their clothes. Set against red and white striped steps, it is the image you have in your mind from pictures seen before coming here, except this is real and an intense atmosphere that you can only appreciate by being here.

Back for breakfast and met with a group of yoga teachers from Ireland, here for a yoga festival. I can imagine thousands of people standing on their heads with their legs wrapped around their necks being an odd sight...somehow don't think it would be like that though.

Nice time exploring the old town back alleyways. Stopped at a great little café for lunch and watch the world go by. Was odd to be there with soothing japanese music in the background. A lot of weddings going on today, so many processions in the streets headed by musicians that you don't know which one is coming from where. They were all heading off to the ghats though, so that was a very colourful place to be.

Checked out the Aarti Pooja again this evening. Slightly different to last night's performance in that tonight they were swinging candelabra style objects and lots of flames involved. Great crowd and good atmosphere. Also managed to meet some folk I had met earlier in my travels and later had a nice meal on a rooftop restaurant with two lovely girls from California....thanks for the nice time and hope to meet again one day.

The banks of the Ganges is full of memorable images....on one bank, the ghats for washing/bathing/cremating & on the other bank almost nothing, with trees in the distance. The liveliness of the pooja, cows everywhere, along with their mess! Plenty of depressing sights unfortunately....have seen some of the most deformed people in my life here. Effluent is being pumped into the Ganges at such a high rate, that there is a major increase in water born diseases spreading throughout the surrounding areas. They are trying to improve the water with new pipes but they are also committed to major repair work on the pipes alreay due to damage. This must also rate as the filthiest city I have seen so far. No apparent refuse collection system in place, so all rubbish seems to be just dumped anywhere they can. People urinate anywhere they want and spit incessantly as well as clearing their throats of gunk all the time. Saw one cow still alive on one of the ghats, legs disintegrating through what looked like gangrene, being eaten away by maggots and covered in flies. Revolting but nobody doing anything about it. The highest density of beggars seen in india so far. Also, a very high presence of rifle carrying soldiers. Following the bomb blasts on Nov 23rd, they are everywhere. Many images are just beyond description. On the other hand the technicoloured display of the poojas and flashy weddings. Mist over the Ganges in the morning, accompanied by the sound of bells ringing the start of the morning rituals. This place has been a fascinating place to visit although for some, getting out as fast as they can seemed to be an objective. Understandable as you can imagine with what I have described above.

Tags: Sightseeing




Hey Jeff! We're all doing fine - just the usual work stuff. Mick Moorhouse is doing a good job of occupying your chair and is much quieter ;-) Even if we don't respond much, most people in the office are reading your blog so keep it comming! When it's blowing a hoooley and the rain is lashing down, it's good to hear about someone enjoying the sunshine (but don't rub it in)!

Take care


  Dave Curtis Dec 4, 2007 2:03 AM


Stumbled upon your blog when I googled 'Khajuraho'. I am planning for a road trip along with a buddy from Hyderabad (south India) to Varanasi and Bodhgaya starting next week. Basically from south India and with a 'corrupted mind (read: by the West)', I recently came back for good. I am going to bookmark your site as reference for a bunch of my EU friends who are planning to visit India. Haven't read too many writings on this topic, but, I like the way you described your 'not so good' experiences without mincing words ;)

Good luck with your journey!

  ven Dec 6, 2007 5:01 PM


Wow Geoff! you're having a amazing adventure, wish I was there, certainly beats bricklaying and concreting in retirement, although I'm back doing a bit for the DSO team at present. Having been to India its not only the flies that attack in mass formation, Its the hawkers and huslters on the sight of western face, Taj Mahal is probably one of the worst. Be luckly and keep writing the blog.


  Peter Carpenter Dec 7, 2007 7:33 AM


You write:.."no photographs as it is disrespectful...."

Wrong! Before each funeral at Varanasi, the family photographed in front of the bunch/dead body, by professional photographers. Photos exploiting by local photographers. This is why, all Western travelers listed "respect".

  Petros Sep 7, 2010 1:32 AM

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