• Varanasi Journey Tips Ghats India

Introduction to Varanasi: It did NOT Go as Planned

There is so much to say on this vibrant place that I’ve done a few separate posts that will be up soon: Varanasi travel tips, What to Expect at the Ghats in Varanasi and below is my little introduction to Varanasi and to the crazy we got ourselves into.

Man, Varanasi did NOT go as planned!

I had been a little pampered traveling with Chloe. In India, traveling alone is just as stressful as it is exciting because when things don’t go quite right and you’re stranded it always seems worse when you are alone. Now that Chloe was headed to Rajasthan and I was going to Varanasi, I had a pit in my stomach to be back on my own (or maybe it was the Dengue side effects still).

Getting to Varanasi was a headache to say the least. It involved a long train from Agra to Allahabad. I slept well overnight. I think I grossed people out as I hadn’t showered in 3 days… but I was tucked into my sleeping bag with my backpacked chained to the bottom post (make sure to pack a bike chain in India).

There’s almost always a stop-over on very long, non-direct train routes. From 3-7 am, I slept on the floor of a train station in the dirt, exhausted until my train to Varanasi came. By the time I got to Varanasi I was just delirious. I was starting to feel really sick again because I still hadn’t taken a rest to recover from Dengue Fever.

I’m not gonna lie, I was pitying myself quite a bit- all alone in a shitty train station with my stomach doing somersaults, but then a family invited me to sleep with them on the cow-shit covered floor which was really nice so I curled up next to them.

When you get into Varanasi, the first thing you need to know is there is a backpacking area to stay in that has budget guesthouses. Just ask for Old Town or Main Ghat. Don’t pay more than 200 rupees for a rickshaw.

Varanasi Journey Tips Ghats India

Varanasi Journey Tips Ghats India

The rickshaws can only take you so far, then you must walk down the narrow lanes, holding your backpack, while you hop skip and jump over cow shit. You can try to avoid getting head butted by a cow (or fail like I did). 

Where I Slept

I wanted to stay at famous Alka guesthouse but it was booked. He owns another, so I stayed at it’s sister, Teerth Guesthouse, for 700 rupees a night. It was just as good.My friend, Ashley (who I met in Pushkar), showed up a day later and we split the cost.

The guesthouse was clean, had decent food, and had a great location. Staff was very friendly. They have a guy who will come do massages in your room; obviously I took full advantage of that. Contact details: D. 8/9 Kalika Gali, Varanai, 221001, e-mail at [email protected] to book.

We met many people who stayed at popular backpacking guesthouse, Ganpati, and loved it. It was more ideally located, but over my budget.

Varanasi gave us head-aches and butt-aches.

Varanasi is the most spiritual place in India, where pilgrims come from all corners of the country. Journeyers stand near the Ghats watching the cremations in awe. That’s something for another post though.

On top on Varanasi being an overwhelming place to be, we had some really interesting things happen to use there.

  • I spent 12 hours in the hospital after I passed out at my guesthouse. I hadn’t been eating because I was so sick and well no food means no awkward moments on buses and trains. I should have stopped traveling to recover a couple weeks after Dengue fever, but instead I kept going. The doctors in Varanasi were shocked by my lab values, and although they wanted to admit me, after I got my fluids I went back to my hotel to sleep. I took a handful of pills that initially caused me to vomit for hours, but finally cured me within a week. As a nurse, I hate that I was that “Left AMA (against medical advice) patient”.
  • Before leaving Varnasi, we had to get to the train station at 6 am to get in line for the opening of afternoon tatkal (sound confusing? It’s explained on my post about booking trains in India) in order to get the limited available tickets to Delhi where we each had flights booked out of. She was off to SE Asia and I to Goa.

Varanasi Journey Tips Ghats India

  • Another horrible thing happened- A dog along the river bit Sophie, another girl I met. Now, these dogs are known to chew on bloated bodies that wash up to the shore. As you can imagine she went to the hospital asap.
  • THEN Ashley was pick-pocketed at the train station after we got our tatkal tickets. When she went back to look for her wallet, I headed toward the hotel and…

So obviously, things didn’t go super smoothly in Varanasi but it didn’t stop me from loving it there. I’ve never been somewhere so interesting and shockingly weird, but in a good way. There is so much to say on the place which is why I’m doing separate posts on different topics.

Varanasi Journey Tips Ghats India

Varanasi is the place in India where the dead are brought to be cremated and find salvation. Tourists come from far and wide to take a peek into the interesting ceremonies at the Ghats on the Ganges. We put aside our problems and spent a few days exploring the most ancient city I’ve ever been to.

More to come!


About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Laura August 5, 2014 at 4:18 am - Reply

    This made me giggle. These sort of stories are never funny at the time, but they make for great tales once the bruises (physical and emotional) have healed. I have always wanted to go to Varanasi so I’m excited about this new series!

    • Rachel Jones August 5, 2014 at 7:20 am - Reply

      you’re right they aren’t funny at the time but they make travels so much more memorable!

  2. Justine August 5, 2014 at 10:03 am - Reply

    Holy crap. I’m super impressed that with all the bad things that happened to you — dengue fever, sleeping on the cow-shit-covered floor, getting pummeled by a bull — that you had such a good attitude. It sounds like an adventure. I can’t wait to read more!

    • Rachel Jones August 6, 2014 at 6:12 am - Reply

      haha well, at the time I don’t think my attitude was SO good lol but yes no looking back it is.

  3. Andrea Anastasiou August 5, 2014 at 10:15 am - Reply

    The dog bite story freaked me out a bit! Looking forward to reading more about this trip.

    By the way, I tried to click on your packing list but it’s not showing up on my end for some reason…

  4. Victoria August 5, 2014 at 10:45 am - Reply

    “So sorry to hear that you’ve been ill with Dengue Fever. Another blogger – Wandering Earl – is just recovering from the same thing! Please take care of yourself. :)
    Right. Yeah Varanasi. I’ve been there. Let’s just say that it was pretty revealing and it’s a good thing your girlfriend went to the hospital ‘cos I personally saw a dog dragging a dead body in the water. In my innocence, I thought it was a huge fish…!
    Suffice to say, I refused to put my foot in the water. We had hired a boat and we were to wade through the water back to the shore. Er. No! The local people are brave souls. :)
    And yes, watch out for cow poo, dog poo,and just poo LOL!

    • Rachel Jones August 6, 2014 at 6:14 am - Reply

      I would like to think it was just a big fish too! But they’re are quite a lot of bodies floating around.. I wouldn’t have gotten in the water either.

  5. Zoe @ Tales from over the Horizon August 5, 2014 at 10:51 am - Reply

    Varanasi sounds really interesting. It is one place in India that I really want to visit. Looking forward to hearing more.

  6. chandan August 5, 2014 at 11:44 am - Reply

    As someone belonging to the city, I can say that the city is a chaos at times! There are times when I am sick of the place, but then there are moments when you love the place more than anywhere else! You are right when you say that when things go wrong, at times there is no stop to it and it becomes a nightmare! Varanasi is still a place worth visiting, learning and soaking in the ancients culture. You have to scratch the surface to see the beauty of everything that looks and sounds weird for enjoying the city completely!

    • Rachel Jones August 6, 2014 at 6:19 am - Reply

      I’m sure it’s very different from a local’s view. I’d love to go back!

  7. venus john August 5, 2014 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    you’re brave!

  8. john obrien August 5, 2014 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    hi rachel,
    that is a real horror story.when things go wrong in india they can go horribly wrong!
    especially if you are on your own.even a bad train ride can be enough,we’ve had those also.hopefully now all is in the past.best wishes…

    • Rachel Jones August 6, 2014 at 6:21 am - Reply

      Yes it is all in the past, and looking back it never seems as bad as it does at the time.

  9. Sarah August 5, 2014 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    Very impressive determination!! I love the part about the cow shit covered floor. I feel like a trip to India wouldn’t be the same without stories like this!

    • Rachel Jones August 6, 2014 at 6:23 am - Reply

      True! This is the “real” India when it comes to backpacking. I always try to remind people that because living in Goa now my photos on IG and FB make it look like it’s a breeze!

  10. Kate August 6, 2014 at 4:48 am - Reply

    Wow, I applaud you for still seeing the positives in a trip where you had quite a few bad experiences! Hey, at least you can look back and laugh now, right?! ;)

    • Rachel Jones August 6, 2014 at 6:24 am - Reply

      Yes, now I laugh! and when the cow headbutted me I did actually laugh them too while I cried a little from pain lol

  11. Empty Rucksack August 6, 2014 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    We always think about going to Varansi but never get there, is it really worth it? We have found some really spiritual places in India and somehow just doesn’t give that vibe

    • Rachel Jones August 7, 2014 at 2:27 am - Reply

      YES! Absolutely. Actually, I didn’t see many tourists at all (foreign) & it was a legit spirital place, I mean to the point where I actually felt uncomfortable or like I was imposing being there. I have more posts coming so you’ll see more!

  12. Alison August 18, 2014 at 12:39 am - Reply

    This was a great post! I’m headed to India in a week for the first time and looking forward to Varanasi. Thanks for the honest and funny look at the real Varanasi and your experience! I look forward to checking out the rest of your site before my trip. Blessings.

    • Rachel Jones August 18, 2014 at 2:59 am - Reply

      Youre welcome, I’m glad the post could help you before your trip!

  13. Meg March 10, 2016 at 8:09 am - Reply

    Would one week be enough time to spend in Varanasi?

  14. 14erjohn March 5, 2018 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    I know this is a few years late, but as a seasoned solo traveler (mostly SE Asia) I decided to venture into India. My third city was Varanasi. If not for the humans there, it would be a wonderful place to visit. If they are not sticking their open hands into your face expecting Rupees (do NOT give to the young mothers – Indian Mafia), they are smiling at you while screwing you over. I did have some great experiences photographing early morning on the ghats, and I found wandering the narrow alleys to be the most authentic part, as most people are just going about their business. Sure, the smell of piss is everywhere and there are numerous flavors of shit on the ground you need to watch for, cows everywhere (I found them benign) dogs everywhere (I found the alley dogs to be benign). But it’s a unique and holy place and worth a visit if you are ready for it. Be CAREFUL of the ghat dogs – late at night they become aggressive and territorial. Carry a stick and don’t be afraid to use it – but if you merely pass through quickly they will likely leave you alone. There are many Monkey Guards who carry sticks and slingshots, but I found the monkeys harmless and amusing. YES they are thieves and vandals at night – one broke out two lightbulbs on my guesthouse’s balcony. But they left me alone while I walked around taking their pics.

    On my last day I met a really cool young guy, Sanu – who wanted to chat in the street. Normally I ignore these people but I felt a good vibe from him and told him I only had an hour before my taxi to the airport, which was true – and I was just going to the Wine store on the main road to get one last beer before I go. He asked if I would buy him a beer too, sure why not? He didn’t want to drink it there but wanted me to go to his nearby house. I was a bit skeptical at first but followed him. He was cool. He turned on the fan and had me sit in the best chair. We drank our one can of beer and chatted. He gave me a going away present of a costume jewelry bangle which he tied to my wrist with a rough piece of twine. I was truly touched. Then he walked be back most of the way to my hostel to catch my taxi. There is more to him but it was a great last day.

    UNTIL I went to Varanasi airport to catch my flight to Bangkok. Bastards wanted to keep a very sentimental keepsake of mine – my father’s 60 year old lighter from his Air Force days in Turkey. Because it was a lighter. Same lighter has been to Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam, Hawaii, Denver, Delhi – without even a mention, in my carry on bag. Never mind that I showed them it had no fluid, no flint, had not been used in well over 30 years and was just a useless hunk of metal that meant the world to me. I begged them and they let me keep the outside cover which is the most important part. But they kept the useless inside part. WTF for??? But after that – I cannot forgive India. It was way too personal and I vow never to return.

    • Rachel Jones March 5, 2018 at 11:10 pm - Reply

      I’m sorry to hear there that. You must check lighters in your luggage in India, unfortunately, they are never allowed in carry-on luggage due to people using them on planes. Thanks for the insight on your Varanasi trip.

  15. Desmond Lewis August 14, 2018 at 5:18 am - Reply

    Hippie in heels. You never forget to amaze me. I really hope you find a good publisher and publish a book aka shantaram and become a millionaire. Cheers.

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