Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sat July 09 2016

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | July 9, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    Varanasi: Shocking But Recommended

    Varanasi: Shocking But Recommended

    PHOTO: Spending time walking along the Ghats to watch people bathe as bodies burned was an interesting contrast. (photos by Shannon Wolf)

    Upon arrival in Varanasi, I expected a quiet and peaceful village — reality proved to be the exact opposite. To be quite frank; Varanasi shocked me (and it wasn’t even due to burning bodies.)

    Varanasi was, for me, the epitome of the word “intensity” that never once ceased. Unless on the Ghats, my days were spent dodging oncoming motorcycles, bulls, swarms of flies hovering over mounds of poo and too many people in such confined spaces without a minute of peace.

    You couldn’t take a breath without someone wanting something from you whether it be rupees, chapattis, a favor or a photograph. By night, there is the possibility of getting groped by shady men on narrow side streets as you pass — even when accompanied by male friends and fully covered up.

    READ MORE: An India Transportation Primer

    Maybe my expectations were too high after hearing how much everyone loved this city but personally, it definitely did not fit me. For a place regarded as one of the holiest cities in all of India, it was the most contradicting and I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it.

    Although my experience wasn’t necessarily a positive one (despite falling in love with a local shop’s Masala Chai), I would still highly recommend that everyone visit Varanasi. Not everything in the world is meant to be beautiful. Some places are meant to shake you to your core so you question things more.

    PHOTO: One of the best aspects of visiting Varanasi is the opportunity to sit alongside the many Babas to speak about their lives and their take on spirituality. 

    Getting Here: From the train station, walk to the tuk-tuk stand to buy a pre-paid fare of 90 Rupees going to Dashashwamedh in order to avoid being scammed. They will drop you off a few feet down from the old town since tuk-tuks can only go so far. You can walk the rest of the way into the Old Town to find a guesthouse.

    Best Accommodation: Homy P Guesthouse (200 Rupees for a private room)

    By far one of the best guesthouses in India I’ve stayed in. The owners treat you as though you truly are their guest, making you feel instantly at home. Their private rooms are clean, spacious, comfortable and cool enough in the heat. They also make a huge, delicious homemade thali for 100 Rupees.

    Best Eats

    Street Food: If you haven't gotten your fried food fix yet, indulge in the many mouthwatering dishes you'll find along every street corner.

    Market: you can get vegetables for incredibly cheap! Forego the expensive restaurants if you want to eat healthy! We bought enough veggies/salad to feed three people for 40 Rupees. Fruit costs range but typically you can get four bananas for 10 Rupees and a full watermelon for 70 Rupees.


    Spicy Bites: Reasonable prices, good food and everything is washed in mineral water to avoid illness.

    Brown Bread Bakery: This famous shop makes some killer bread but the prices are laughable. If you show up at 9 p.m., you can get everything 50 percent off and it still tastes good! (Note: there are two of them. One store is a fake. The original one has organic nut butters displayed along the wall). They also hold free Indian classical concerts every day at 8 p.m.

    Best Lassie: Typically everyone goes to the famous "Blue Lassie" which admittedly is good but Bana Lassie or Baba Lassie is costs far less! (The mango Lassie is incredible!)

    Best Masala Chai: Nandey Tea & Coffee Shop

    Out of everywhere in India (and possibly the world) — this was the best Masala Chai I have ever had for only 20 Rupees for a large glass.

    Best Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is nearly non-existent in Varanasi but the best locations for it includes Bona Cafe, Bunny Cafe located just around the corner from Homy P Guesthouse and Open Hand near Assie Ghat.

    READ MORE: Experiencing an Indian Ashram

    PHOTO: Taking a private boat along the Ghats at sunrise was one of the best ways to wake up to the otherwise hectic city.

    Must Do's

    While in Varanasi, be sure to take a 5:30 a.m. boat ride along the Ganges costing around 100 Rupees per person, walk and dodge through the hectic alleyways before taking a stroll along the Ghats where you can see everything from worship ceremonies to bathing and body burning. In the evening at 6 p.m., head to the main Ghat of Dashashwamedh to watch the Pooja Ceremony preformed by Brahmins. 

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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