The Ganges Varanasi India Boats

From Kolkata to Varanasi (Ganges), India the adventure begins.

We have just arrived in the east of India from South India. Being a long journey, we decided to avoid overland travel and instead fly to Kolkata, once known as Calcutta. Bordering Bangladesh, it is one crazy place.

Kolkata or Calcutta – The ‘City of Joy’

Kolkata situated in the eastern part of India is located on the banks of the river Hooghly (which flows through the rest of the country as the Ganges River) and is very close to the Bay of Bengal.

A laid-back city with a peculiar charm which slowly creeps over you. Referred to as the British Raj, it’s a bohemian colonial city which was formed out of three villages – Gobindapur, Sutanuti, and Kolikata.

Kolkata or Calcutta Streets India

Surprisingly, crazy Kolkata has received the nickname ‘City of Joy’. It’s a city where the heart rules the head, where the old and the new merge and the rich and poor are in your face.

You need to hang here for a while to figure out the Bengali people, their unique culture, delicious cuisine and the many festivals and rush hour traffic jams.

Luckily, we stayed in a great hotel, so we had a peaceful place to return to when the car horns and crowds got too much. The place we stayed in was like the old Raj days and in fact a tourist attraction in itself the ‘Fairlawn Hotel’.

It has been owned by the same eccentric family for over 50 years. Felicity Kendall of ‘The Good Life’ fame (amongst other theatre and television shows) grew up in this hotel.

Prinsep Ghat – Hooghly Bridge and River Kolkata Calcutta India

So, what’s so special about Kolkata. Here are a few of our recommendations:

The Top 10 Things to Do in Kolkata

  1. Try Street Food – Especially Roll and Chow Mein
  2. Eat Delicious Rosogolla and Mishti Doi Desserts
  3. Support the Hand Pulled Rickshaws
  4. Ride an Old Tram
  5. Visit College Street or ‘Book Street’ as it’s Known
  6. Shop at New Market – From Clothes to Cold Cuts and Spices
  7. Visit Prinsep Ghat – Hooghly Bridge and River
  8. Spend Time at Kumortuli – Clay Artisans Area
  9. Experience Durga Puhna Festival in October
  10. Party the night away in Park Street – Nightlife Area

Our adventure continues from Kolkata to Varanasi, India.

Varanasi and the Ganges River – ‘The Holy City’ 

We are now in Varanasi, ‘the holy city’, the Ganges River where Indians come from all over their country to bath in the ‘holy waters’ to wash their sins away.  It’s a magical city where the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in famous and public ghats.

It’s hard to believe they swim, defecate, brush their teeth and cremate the dead, in this water, all at the same time.

Varanasi The Ganges North India

Apparently, it has 1.5 million times higher than acceptable bacteria levels but because they believe it to be ‘holy water’…….it’s ok!

Eek, you might say but it’s so fascinating.

The sights, sounds, colours, and yes, death, will make you feel brilliantly alive with an endless but fascinating spectacle of ritual activities.

We wanted to experience the Ganges River early morning, so we organised a sunrise boat trip to watch local life on the river. We saw Indians praying, washing their clothes and bathing in the beautiful morning light. Magical, orange-hued views of ritual bathers performing puja (worship) of the rising sun and doing their laundry and oh yes, doing their morning deification. “Oh madam it is very good for your constitution,” as he wobbles his head.

Varanasi The Ganges River North India

A Ritual at Sunset on the Ganges River

Later that day at sunset we returned and watched a ceremony. Ganges ceremonies at sunset are held at the main (Dashaswamedh) ghat. Every day, as the sun sets, multiple Ganges ceremonies occur on these steps.

The ceremony ritual includes bell ringing, to ward off evil spirits, with offerings of elaborate gifts of light to the river. Then finishing off by floating beautiful candles down the river and pouring more water back into the Ganges. A most memorable experience.

Ceremony The Ganges India

We still can’t believe they immerse themselves in this river, we politely declined!

After the ceremony last night, we decided to get an auto rickshaw home about a 30-minute ride to our hotel. Until then we thought we had experienced some crazy driving.

A Rickshaw and a Crazy Ride Home

We’re now feeling like we are in a Bruce Willis movie as the driver ducks and weaves through the traffic brushing at least a dozen bicycle riders (thankfully we didn’t knock any over), missing cows, dogs and pigs, then he started driving up behind the bicycle rickshaws and giving them a nudge whilst blowing his horn.

Then we thought we had made it to our hotel when a bus came straight for us, just in the knick of time he swerved out of the way clipping his light. Phew, we made it back a little stressed but alive, our driver laughing!

Varanasi Ganges River North India

We have loved every minute of Kolkata, Varanasi and the Ganges River they are such interesting and fascinating places.

From Kolkata to Varanasi (Ganges), India a must do adventure and don’t forget your camera!

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