Rooftops and a river under a brown hazy sky

Burning Bodies and Meditation: Varanassi to Rishikesh

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Varanasi. Forget everything I said in previous posts about Kathmandu. This town is where chaos resides. After the long bus and train rides, we make our way through the maze of tiny alleys surrounding the river Ganges, eventually finding a place to stay. Starved, we climb to the rooftop restaurant, and stand in awe at the view… the holy Ganges river is massive, and the view from here is epic, although the view is hazy due to pollution and cremation smoke.

We spend the next few days wandering the small alleys of the Old town, eating absolutely amazing street food, mostly masala dosa, a potato crepe with dipping sauces, and drinking chai from the many vendors along the way. We watch people carry dead bodies past, towards the cremation ghats, as one chai vendor looks at us, shaking his head saying “Twenty four hours a day.” in broken English. With the cremation wood costing a bit of cash, occasionally the bodies are only partially burned, so bits of corpse are commonly seen floating down the river.

It’s a very intense introduction to the country, but also an amazingly beautiful city.

Red boxes of tea in a shop
Tea Stall in the Alleys of Varanassi

From Varanasi onward to Agra

After the 18 hour night train to Agra, we hold our breath as much as we can while looking for an affordable guesthouse. Finding a dive for pretty cheap, we drop our bags on the bed, have a quick shower, and head for some breakfast on the roof… and there it is: Taj Mahal.

Even from far, this building takes the breath away. Early the next morning we head to what everyone comes here to see, the Taj Mahal. This building is absolutely perfect. No picture can really describe the beauty of this building… not to mention how incredibly massive it really is! If you’re ever planning a visit, don’t worry about spending any amount of time here, aside from the Taj, it’s filthy and smells awful. Worth the visit, but definitely not the stay.

Large domed building with spires
The Taj Majal

The Chaos of New Delhi and the Peace of Rishikesh

Leaving Agra by bus later in the day, we arrive in Delhi early in the afternoon. I was really hoping that all I’ve heard about this town would live up to the expectations. Apparently it’s the most polluted city in the world, one of the most densely populated, and I expected it to be the most chaotic of all India. I was a little surprised to find Delhi quite chilled.

We stayed somewhere in the buffer zone between Old Delhi and New Delhi, but spent our few days there wandering around both. Getting lost in the winding markets of Old Delhi and wandering the modern shopping centres of New Delhi.

Day three, while wandering around the more westernized area of Connaught Place in New Delhi, we decide to spoil ourselves with a little taste of home… ironically enough, we almost never eat this shit back home. A little visit to Colonel Sanders and his bucket of deep fried love. Absolutely amazed at how good it was. The chicken burger was a bunch of whole chicken thighs in the usual crust and fried; where back home it’s a ground-up mystery mix of odd bits and assholes (hopefully from a chicken). It was a nice treat after six weeks of rice and curry.

After the week of madness we spent once leaving Nepal, we head up north from Delhi to the quiet(ish) town of Rishikesh, the ‘yoga capital of the universe’ as some label it… As well as the place where the Beatles were staying when they wrote the epic ‘White Album’. Rishikesh has (unfortunately) become quite the tourist stopover throughout the years, but still retains its sense of charm and energy.

Grey monkeys sit on a stone wall
Even the Monkeys are Chilled Out in Rishikesh

Unfortunately I picked up something before arriving here.. whatever Kylee had in Delhi, the kind of problem that at random causes you to double over in pain, and only a dose of antibiotics can fix… the first few days were spent sleeping the days away recovering from whatever I had picked up along the way.

Soon after that was over, we found a nice Ashram to spend the evenings in… practicing yoga in the mornings, hiking to jungle waterfalls during the day, and meditation during the evenings. Rishikesh was a beautiful spot to meditate, relax and take some time to let the experiences of the previous few cities absorb, and allow us to gather ourselves and prepare for the rest of this epic country.

Woman sitting on the ground
Kylee Meditating near the Ganges in Rishikesh

From Rishikesh we are headed to Amritsar, in Punjab, near the Pakistan boarder, to spend a few days checking out the Sikh lifestyle before heading north, to Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj. We are both very looking forward to this next span of the trip, as it’s the location of the Tibetan government-in-exile, as well as the residence of the Dalai Lama, and the centre of the Tibetan refugees in India. We’ve both grown very fond of the Tibetan people through our time spent in Nepal, and are very much looking forward to spending more time with these amazing people.

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About the Author

Mark Stewart

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Mark is the co-founder, photographer, author, and part-time editor of These Foreign Roads. A former chef, he left the professional kitchen in search of interesting experiences and unique cuisines from around the world.

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