As we come close to the end of our week in Varanasi. We are finally settling into our travel routines, and finding out just how we prefer to spend our days. To be honest, I’ve never been particularly active or enthused about seeing artifacts and visiting temples. So Phil and I have come to an agreement that we will do as we please, and plan each day as we wake.
One place that you can’t possibly miss in this holy city would definitely have to be the burning ghats of Varanasi. During the day time, you can walk along the ghats. But the best would be at night, when the ceremonies begin. We’ve seen boats with actual tour guides speaking through microphones, and travelers who just walk along the ghats on their own. Our hostel offered somewhat of a “private row boat” which was just two minor kids rowing us up and down the ghats around dusk and then we stayed on the river to watch the ceremony. I’d also highly recommend waking up early to watch the sunrise across the Ganges and witness the morning rituals of children chanting and people bathing along the river bed.
If you happen to find group of locals and sitting down around a kettle, don’t hesitate to get yourself a small cup of freshly brewed chai and a maybe a biscuit or two. This will be the best chai, even on a steamy hot day. The chai is creamy, it’s sweet, and smells of captivating spices. Every shop seems to have their own masala recipe. Try different stalls, sit down, watch your chai brew in a kettle and manage to start a semi-conversation with a lot of hand gestures with the locals. Trust me, it’ll warm your heart.
Varanasi also serves the best lassi, or drinkable yoghurt. It’s completely fresh, and churned to order. It can be ordered just plain or with different fresh fruit toppings. My favorite lassi shop is Blue Lassi, the one recommended on Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. It may seem to be a tourist trap with travelers flocking in and squeezing in through the tiny street and filling in the shop. But the lassi here is beautifully crafted. It is thick, creamy, naturally cooling and best of all, they serve you a good heaping portion of it. Phil and I came back every day.
There are a few western eateries which serve up wonderful breakfast/lunch and baked goods. For the days when you just can’t seem to consume anymore curry flavored dishes. Most of these cafes are opened by expats and are all about giving back to the community and empowering underprivileged children/workers.
I recommend Om Cafe near Assi Ghat. They have a wonderful selection of vegetarian dishes and have a very relaxing atmosphere. The eggless omelet and homemade pancakes are pretty top notch. Brown Bread Bakery is another place I would recommend. The restaurant is a little hard to find, since it is nestled in a tiny street near the Golden Temple. There is another bakery with the same name inVaranasi, but only one is the original. The authentic Brown Bread Bakery has a yellow sign and rooftop seating over seeing the city and part of the Ganges. The best part of this restaurant is the free bread basket you get with your food order.
Tip: The rickshaw rides should not cost you more than 50 rupees per ride from the train station to Assi ghat. That’s how much we paid, and I know we were completely ripped off. Always settle on the price before you get on the rickshaw, make sure they understand fully that you are paying however much for the ride, not per person. If they refuse, just walk away and find another rickshaw. Someone will take you up on the offer.