Surviving Varanasi

I can hardly believe I have less than 10 days left in India.  Since I last posted, I traveled from Varanasi to Delhi and tonight just arrived in Jaipur.  It’s hot as heck everywhere these days, on Monday it was 49 degrees and yesterday a “cool” 42 degrees – we definitely noticed the difference.  In Jaipur this evening it’s a balmy 37 degrees and I had to grab a wrap sitting outside this evening.  Monsoon has not yet arrived in Northern India and there is major concern for the crops not getting enough rainfall. Traveling across the country, you can see how very dry the land is.  Even locals are struggling with the strange weather that is being blamed on El Nino and the impact it is having on currents in the Indian Ocean.  For everyone’s sake, I hope the monsoon rains come soon.

I had all sorts of plans for my week-long visit to Varanasi, but catching that bug meant I was in bed for the week except for one day, where I ventured out to see a few of the sites, mostly Hindu temples.  The most off-putting part of visiting the Hindu temples in Varanasi is the number of men trying to make a buck out of you.  I know it is part of the deal here in India but it was especially outrageous in Varanasi as compared to Kolkata.  In and around the ghats where most of the tourist hotels are located, almost everyone is on the make somehow, and very aggressively.  You just get tired of it.  All the time.  Having to say No No No constantly.  It’s made me into a rude person, I have never ignored so many people in my life!   

I did spend a day as I said, seeing the sights in Varanasi, but quickly ran out of the many Hindu temples on the list because of the touts and constant barrage of wanting money.  I did not make it past the entrance to the Monkey Temple before turning on my heels and heading back out.  Why?  I witnessed one monkey dragging a young women along the ground by her scarf (I do not tell a lie), neither the monkey or the woman was letting go.  And while that was underway, another monkey attacked a little girl and ended up biting her.  I was already being pestered by a bunch of the usual touts at the entrance and I just decided I could do with one less Hindu Temple, particularly when the monkeys were biting.  

The highlight of Varanasi for me was that first morning meditating on the Ganga, and visiting Sarnath – a place that is a little over 10km outside of Varanasi where  Buddha first taught the Dharma after attaining enlightenment.  I meditated in these grounds also which were clean and oh so peaceful – no one wanting anything from me!  Afterwards, I also visited the Thai Buddhist Temple in Sarnath and it too was a very peaceful place with n’ere a tout in sight.  The good thing about the Buddhist sites is the young man the hotel sent along to protect me (and who was a master tout himself in his own right!), did not feel comfortable entering the Buddhist sites.  This meant I got a few hours to myself without him trying every chance he got to get me to go visit some family members’ fabric store, holy store, bookstore etc …. I tell ya, if it were all to be believed, his family were running Varanasi.  

In a way I was glad to leave Varanasi, maybe being sick had something to do with it too.  But in speaking to other travelers, many had similar experiences to me.  If you ever visit Varanasi, be forewarned!

I was a tad apprehensive getting on the train for a 17-hour journey from Varanasi to Delhi (being ill and all), but I need not have worried.  I survived the trip well and even had a compartment to myself.  That was only because one Indian gentleman who boarded in Lucknow, freaked out that he had to share a compartment with a western female (that was me).  The conductor asked me to move but given I had booked and paid for the berth and had already been on the train 8 or 9 hours by then, I declined to move.  At this point a young man I had chatted with earlier, came over to my compartment I suspect to give me some moral support.  He is a software engineer and had lived and worked in Finland, had done some business in Ireland and just had received his work permit for the USA.  Oh, and was a first time Dad of 3 days.  A very nice guy.  I tell this story because it gives you an indication of how the older generation of men view women here in …. I was going to say in rural environments but Lucknow is a city of 5 million people. I am not saying all Indian men are like this, I am just saying this kind of thing happens in India, and it does not in my world in Canada, for which I am grateful.

My train arriving into the platform in Varanasi.  So many people on the platform!

My train arriving into the platform in Varanasi. So many people on the platform!


A compartment of my own.  My bed has been set up for my overnight journey to Delhi.

A compartment of my own. My bed has been set up for my overnight journey to Delhi.  It was a good night’s sleep.

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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5 Responses to Surviving Varanasi

  1. Grace coffey says:

    Oh Kate – what a belly laugh I have just had at your description of the monkey’s behaviour – did you pay to go in? Your account was so well worth reading – thanks!! P.s the compartment looks cool – t.g. you got through your journey and are feeling much better. gxxx

  2. Renu says:

    You are a brave, brave soul!

  3. Pingback: The Contrasting World’s of Varanasi… | TOMMY SHAW TRAVELS...

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