Day 7. Drive to Varanasi (via Indian border)
We have a long yet interesting drive today (approximately 10 hours). First we arrive at the Nepalese border at Sonauli where we walk through customs and immigration into India. We then head south across the Gangetic Plains, through remote towns and villages to India’s holiest city, Varanasi.
Day 8. Drive to Mirzapur; board boats
This morning we drive to Mirzapur where we board our boats for the 3-day boat journey through the sacred and fertile Gangetic plain back to Varanasi. Life on shore varies as we drift peacefully along; the ornate temples and crowded bathing ghats, the fields of wheat and rice paddies, everyday life in countless villages and stunning sunsets. We camp in 2-man tents on beaches along the banks of the river. The actual nightstops we use will vary according to local conditions, but as a guide, the following itinerary might be followed:
Day 9. Arrive Chunar on Ganges
Our relaxing journey on the boats continues today, and we watch villagers at work on the nearby banks of the river. We halt our journey at Chunar to visit the small 16th century fort. It was captured by the East India Company in 1772 and remained a stronghold of the British for many years. A plethora of bird life accompanies our route to Varanasi and we should see varieties such as kingfisher, sunbird, heron, egret, barbet and babbler
Day 10. Ganges Sailing back to Varanasi
This morning we continue our journey downstream to the holy city of Varanasi where we disembark at Asi Ghat and transfer to our hotel. Varanasi (Benares) has been the centre of Hinduism since the dawn of history, its age is contemporary with Babylon and Thebes. Often known as ‘Kashi’ (City of Light) by Hindus it attracts over a million pilgrims each year – many of whom come to spend their last years here in the holy city.
Day 11. In Varanasi; excursion to Sarnath; overnight train to Agra
This morning we take an early morning boat trip along the Ganges where we’ll see the many Hindu devout bathing in its sacred waters. Later we make a visit to nearby Sarnath. Having gained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya the Buddha came to Sarnath to preach his first sermon. The city was at its peak in the 5th century, when it was a respected centre of religious activity, learning and art. Muslim invaders destroyed much of the city and today remains of several monasteries and stupas can be seen along with the small museum which has a well displayed collection. The afternoon is left free in Varanasi to enable you to explore the labyrinth of streets, bazaars and temples that line the banks of the river. This evening we board the overnight train to Agra.
© Gary Bennett