Happy Holi: Varanasi, India

Cycling or walking, it takes hours to get anywhere in Varanasi

While life shits on me, albeit in little ways that don’t really matter, it always seems to work out for Hugo. I dragged myself out of bed at five for the umpteenth morning to put back on my filthy cycling gear and accompany Hugo on the 40km cycle to try and find his passport. I felt like shit and the fumes and dust from the traffic and burning of rubbish – mostly plastic – really didn’t help matters.


Boats, bathers, burning and piles of wood. Colourful Varanasi

On the way my gears slipped and my pedal went into my shin, immediately causing a huge purple lump. I also managed to step knee deep into a sewer and sit in shit during the course of the morning. It really wasn’t my day. Hugo was having better luck after a young lad had picked up his passport and as word got around that we had arrived in the village, it was returned.


Public places filled with people sleeping everywhere
One of the many morning rituals taking place at the ghat

After a week in the same clothes with no proper shower I was desperate to get back to our guesthouse but we had to sort out a train ticket. The next five hours were sat in the train station working out how we could get south asap as most Indian trains get booked up months in advance. When we approached the Nazi-like woman at the ticket counter we were told she was changing shifts so we had to wait another half an hour. By now, we were desperate for some food so took the opportunity to grab a Big Mac and a McFlurry from McDonalds. While we walking we joked that we would arrive back to find the seats now fully booked all because of our trip to Mc D’s. Guess what happened?


Exactly that. 

We couldn’t believe it, we had sacrificed our tickets and a five hour wait for a McDonalds. We had no other option than to return the next morning and wait two hours for an emergency ticket which were double in price.

I’m not sure how but I managed another 5am rise the next day, determined not to miss sunrise over the ghats. We took a small rowing boat out on the River Ganges for just $5/£3 to get a glimpse of the morning hustle and bustle. We watched people bathe, drink and wash their clothes in the river which is used to burn bodies, dump litter and drain sewage. It was pretty incredible to see these things taking place along side each other. I cut my leg on the boat and to this day I am adamant some disease is bubbling up inside me.


Sunrise over the river Ganges

After another two hour wait we finally sorted out some train tickets south, albeit in a lower class at a higher price with one seat unconfirmed but hey-ho, we had our ticket out of here. After all the stress of the last few days we took the afternoon for some “me time” which I spent blogging in a lovely little spot called Bana Lassi.


Cruising the river Ganges at sunrise is a must

That evening we attended the daily Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat where a declaration is made to Goddess Ganga. It’s worth a look especially if you are in to people watching like me. Some interesting characters for sure!


Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat

I spotted a few friends from volunteering in Nepal in the crowd and joined them for dinner along with a couple of friends we met in Kathmandu. Eager to get an early night before Holi celebrations Hugo and I called it a night at around 9:30.


Bomb squad checking the bonfires lit on the night before Holi

Ignoring the warnings not to go out between the hours of 8pm and midday during Holi we found the streets to be fairly timid and didn’t feel too unsafe walking home that night and stopped off to recharge our phones. It took 30 minutes for the owner to even acknowledge us – of course all the locals went in front  – and then, after handing over the money our balance still said zero. So we waited. And waited.


Didi’s getting “clean” in the river

By the time we received confirmation of our top-up it was nearly 1am and we were absolutely drained and frustrated at being ignored. The night didn’t end there as we got a shouting at once we arrived back at the guesthouse as the police had apparently fined them for having the doors open for us past midnight, a curfew we were unaware of. We were also forced to move rooms, else having to wake up at 4am to do so…long story…we collapsed in a state of exhaustion.


The one conversation topic which makes me become a friend with any Indian

We were both up sick with aches and a fever all night which continued in to the next day. I had cycled six days from Nepal to Varanasi to celebrate Holi here and I fall sick on the night of the festival. Whaaat! Determined not to let it beat me we ventured out to meet friends anyway.


The burning of bodies continuously takes place along the river

Varanasi is meant to be one of the most iffy places to celebrate Holi as locals are believed to get a little aggressive so many choose to spend the day indoors. Apart from the two friends I met, I seemed to be the only woman out that day and looking back I can see why. Nearly every “Happy Holi” handshake and hug ended in a stroke across my chest.


Hugo and I got a prime spot for the evening ceremony

I mean I can kind of understand it if I had boobs like a page three model or was wearing some kind of low cut top but I mean, look at me. I look like a tramp, I’ve had the same sized boobs since I was 14 and I’m wearing clothes I got from the charity bin. It didn’t bother me too much at first but as the day went on and my fever worsened, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pissed off.


No one told us this dye does NOT come out!
Happy Holi!

Expectedly us tourists got the brunt of the covering of dye which the locals took great pleasure smearing across my face. After an hour all six of our group decided to call it a day as it all got a bit too much; too rough, too touchy, too much powder in my eyes, too aggressive.

Both so sick with fever, Hugo and I weren’t in the mood for any more touching and there may have been a few near punch ups on the way home. This isn’t to say the majority of locals were like this or that the festival wasn’t an enjoyable one, it was just all a bit too much for us when feeling ill. If I’m honest, I much preferred Pii Mai in Laos which I celebrated in 2014.

We booked ourselves back in to the guesthouse for half a day to try and sleep off the illness before our two day train to Chennai. Cycling through the streets of Varanasi at midnight on the night of Holi to catch our train went surprisingly well. It’s now time for our first Indian rail journey…..



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