Last you heard from us, we were in Kathmandu and since then, we made the long bus journey to Varanasi. Our plans had been to work on a farm in Bharawai near Sonauli, at the border, but when we called the farm after the long bus journey from Kathmandu, the farmer told us that he couldn’t host us anymore. His farm guide had gotten injured and was transported to Kathmandu so there was nothing for us to do. It was difficult communicating with him since I don’t speak much Nepali and he English, but I realized that we no longer had a farm to visit or place to stay. We then set out to walk around in the dark trying to find a decent hotel to stay in. We were once again astonished at the condition of some of the rooms (torn and stained sheets, roaches, floaters in the toilet, you can only imagine!). It’s funny to me that all the hotel owners want to show you their rooms to convince you to stay in them but they act indifferent to the actual state of the room. Ugh, here I am again generalizing. But we saw several different rooms in Sonauli and that’s how the experience went. We finally found a slightly expensive , but *clean* place– 600 Nepali rupees a night. The owner of the hotel mentioned that he sold bus tickets to Varanasi so we gave in to the allure of an non-stop bus, and purchased our tickets from him. (Non-stop buses are the ones where everyone has a seat, and there’s no stopping to let on an infinite number of random people who will crowd into your seat.)
The next morning as we were leaving the hotel, we were joined by an awesome Korean travel companion, Super Sport. Isn’t that a great nickname? It was very appropriate too as he was very relaxed and up for anything. We had great conversations the entire time, and played cards and shared traveling stories. Once we arrived in Varanasi, we set out to find this cafe where Super Sport said we could find other travelers and tips on places to stay. We had a really nice rickshaw driver who guided us through the winding narrow lanes of Varanasi through lantern lit corridors and past countless shops, cows, and even the passage of several chanting groups of families on their way to burn their dead. We finally found Nagra Cafe, a Korean restaurant whose employees let us use their WiFi and gave us advice on where to stay. Super Sport found a good review online for a hotel, so we got directions and set off. We arrived and were welcomed by two friendly older men and were escorted to our clean rooms. What a relief it is to find a clean place to stay! We were then asked to provide our passports for a photocopy but they insisted on holding them till morning since the power was out. We thought to ourselves, ‘strange’ but acquiesced. In the meantime, Super Sport was given half a bottle of whiskey from the men (I’m not really sure why but the man gave a sweet little speech about being generous!) and the three of us went out to dinner at a touristy but tasty restaurant up the street. In the middle of dinner, Julian’s stomach started to feel upset so he headed back early. He was fine, but we decided to sleep in the next day.
By early afternoon the next day, we still hadn’t received our passports back as promised. I was getting very suspicious at this point. What could possibly take that long?! After a heated conversation with one of the men, I was able to trade our passports for a photocopy that we had brought with us. Most travelers know to bring copies like this, so why they wouldn’t ask for a copy up front, instead of making on themselves, was unclear to me. After this confrontation though, we were off special treatment from the owners. (As in, instead of asking us how we were and what we were up to, we got slightly less-than-enthusiastic ‘namaste’s. Oh well!
The rest of our time, we had plans to observe the burning ghats and to walk around the city but in retrospect, we mainly got to know some street children. This actually entailed spending too much money buying things from the places the street children took us because we felt sorry for them, and for wasting their time. We also discovered an amazing fruit called custard apple! and had amazing bananas. I also had a great 3 rupee snack of a samosa covered with a spicy sweet curry in a banana leaf. The food has been enjoyable, but I’ll update later with more on our experience with the street children…