Budget guesthouses in India can be…pretty grim, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong – I did find some gems, like the charming place I stayed at in Pushkar.
But unless I wanted to spend a large chunk of my budget on accommodation, as a solo traveller my options weren’t great.
This room in Varanasi wasn’t the first room I stayed in in India. That dubious honour goes to a lovely hotel across from the railway station in Gorakhpur, a 3-hour bus ride from the India/Nepal border.
And when I say ‘lovely’ I actually mean ‘hotel featuring rooms with damp, dirty sheets, toilets that hadn’t been flushed since 1999, condom wrappers under the mattress and giggling Indian girls knocking on the door at all hours of the night’.
Even for India, it was pretty dire.
But hey, it was only 100 rupees. I was with a friend so I could laugh rather than cry about it and we only needed a place to crash between 10pm and our 4am train to Varanasi. We took it with a roll of our eyes and set our packs and some chairs up against the door and went to sleep.
In love with Varanasi
Compared to Tibet and Nepal where I’d just spent the better part of two months, down at sea level Varanasi was hot and humid. It was my second visit to the city and I loved it just as much the second time around.
I stayed in a concrete cell in a popular five floor backpacker guesthouse that overlooked the Ganges and the main burning ghat, where throughout the day and night bodies are brought to be burned on funeral pyres.
The rooftop restaurant had a bird’s eye view of the ghat and eating a meal with the ashy grime from the fires coating your face was…an odd experience. The smoke gave everyone, myself included, hayfever.
Flies buzzed about your food and I tried very hard not to let one land on anything I was going to put in my mouth – who knew what they’d been feasting on?
My little room had grubby walls but no windows. It did, however, have vents that opened onto the room beside mine. Every evening my next-door neighbour would light a joint, the smell wafting into my room and making my eyes run even more.
The room featured a huge door with a heavy, creaking bolt that when I tried to open it made a noise akin to that of fingernails on a chalkboard. I had to lock it with my own padlock whenever I went out.
I did, at least, have an ensuite. I’d chosen to go Indian-style rather than Western – trust me, it was the nicer of the two options.
In the way these things happen when you’re travelling, this room, although ugly and a bit sad, quickly became home.
It became mine.
And do you know how much it cost me? Three dollars per night.
I stayed in Varanasi for almost a week. I spent my days taking boat trips out on to the Ganges, dodging funeral processions in the narrow alleyways and drinking banana lassis or chai, listening every afternoon to a wasted Dutch girl loudly berate the wait-staff that her bhang lassi wasn’t strong enough (I’ll let you figure out for yourself what was in it). And every afternoon I contemplated pushing her off the balcony and onto a pyre below.
So maybe this post makes Varanasi sound…not great.
But to be honest, it’s the most amazing city I’ve ever visited. In my next post, I’ll tell you just what it is I love about the holiest city on earth.
The My room in… series gives you a glimpse into the kinds of places I stay while I’m on the road – from those dodgy railway station hotels that rent rooms by the hour, to European hostels, to the (rare!) fancy-pants five stars.