Asia, Destinations, India, My room in

My room in Varanasi

June 2, 2011

Boats on the Ganges at Varansi, India

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

Steps leading down to the ghats or up to a restaraunt in 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.

My concrete cell block of a room in Varanasi, India

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.

My Indian-style ensuite in Varanasi, India

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.

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18 Comments

  • Reply Tijmen June 2, 2011 at 7:59 am

    I heard from a friend as well that the accommodation in India can in many ways be an interesting experience πŸ™‚ I bet once you have been there, lots of other places that you would normally never consider staying in, suddenly look reasonable.

    Don’t think I would like to see the burning of those bodies along the river. But maybe I would just have to get used to it, in the western world something like that would be unthinkable.

    Did the Dutch girl make it to the end of the week without falling of the balcony? πŸ˜›

    • Reply MeganRTW June 2, 2011 at 10:26 am

      Hey Tijmen! Actually to be honest it was Tibet and Mongolia that prepared me for the not so nice accommodation in India, not the other way around! I can sleep pretty much anywhere now – so long as there are no dusty blankets near my face!

      The way death is on display in India is definitely confronting at first but it’s just another way of grieving. You get used to it πŸ™‚

      Yes, unfortunately the Dutch girl made it through the week! She’s probably still there complaining about her lassi!

  • Reply T-roy June 2, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Had to laugh at this post bc yeah you didn’t really talk people much into going there with that sales pitch! lol My room was 300Rs and had a squat toilet as well but it was a whole lot better looking then your place. My hostel owner took a keen interest in me and what I thought of his hostel. So much that I laid out exactly what was good and bad, and what I would do to improve it for travelers coming. He liked what I said so much and when he found out I did photography he asked me if I would shoot some photos of his place. Said sure but I didn’t work for free just like he didn’t let people stay for free at his hostel. He laughed and said “Ok, now you stay for free here at my hostel!” lol You can check out the photos I took of his place here at HostelWorld.com http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Suraj-Guest-House/Varanasi/46267 Can you tell which photos I took and which ones I didn’t? I also did the write up for it on HostelWorld for him, as he had a lot of useless info on it.

    Anyways, if anything I can remember about Varanasi is the hostel I stayed at. I didn’t love the city as much as you did but that was just me. πŸ™‚

    • Reply MeganRTW June 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm

      πŸ˜€ Hopefully the next post will make up for it…!

      Love the story about the hostel you stayed in. Am going to have to bookmark it for next time – yes, there will be a next time! It does look way better than where I stayed (but my room was only 150 rupees! More cash left for boat trips lol) which was pretty miserable, although for some reason it was fully booked with backpackers.

      I’d been travelling for almost 2 days straight from Pokhara by that stage and couldn’t bear to go back out into the Varanasi crazy to find somewhere else to stay. Plus the rooftop restaurant was awesome and had fast wifi – always a plus!

      The photos you took are the wide-angle shots with the funky lighting and pro-looking post processing obviously! πŸ˜€ Nice work.

      Wonder if I can swap photos + copywriting for accommodation anywhere in South America. Hmmmm!

      • Reply T-roy June 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm

        You sure can in South America, just ask Jasmine, who created this site [ http://southamericatourist.com/ ] just so she could do that. She now goes around South America scoring free rooms for doing a write up on their place with a few photos. Email her and ask her what her tactics are for it! πŸ™‚

        Oh wait, you can actually use her site to get free accommodation, see this link: http://southamericatourist.com/travel-for-free/

  • Reply Adam @ SitDownDisco June 2, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    I guess you get what you pay for… I’ve never stayed in a room that is downright unsanitary. Well, unless you call stained pillows, old sheets and grubby toilets unsanitary — which it would be fair to do. I guess my point is that no matter how bad it is, you can usual get by with putting down a sleeping bag liner. My last really bad accommodation experience cost me about $15! Couldn’t shower the next morning. I just had to get out of there. I’m all the better for it. πŸ™‚

    • Reply MeganRTW June 2, 2011 at 1:18 pm

      Oh yeah – my sleeping bag liner and then as it got colder my sleeping bag (what is it with Indian guesthouses not supplying blankets?!) got a heavy workout.

      I didn’t stay anywhere particularly unclean – this looks bad but the sheets were clean and the toilet wasn’t as gross as it looks – just unloved and a bit gloomy! Well, aside from the dodgy railway hotel in Gorakhpur, but I stood in the doorway of my room with my arms folded until they finally changed the sheets. They were even brand new, straight from the packaging!

  • Reply jade June 2, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    wow- only 3 bucks a night! I guess you could put up with just about anything for that price! I’m shocked that you choose that style toilet- I was not fond of them when I was in China! πŸ™‚

    • Reply MeganRTW June 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm

      Hi Jade! I’m very used to them by now – and trust me if you saw the alternative…!

  • Reply kay* June 2, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    i’ve been debating whether or not to visit Varanasi while i’m here…a part of me thinks it’ll just be too overwhelming for me…but we’ll see – i’m very curious for your next post with the reasons why you love it…may just give me reason to go!

    & you’re a brave girl! i don’t know if i could have stayed in that room – yikes!!

    • Reply MeganRTW June 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm

      Kay, you must visit Varanasi! It can be very overwhelming but also very eye-opening.

  • Reply sameer singh June 5, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    you should have told me, i am from varanasi only would have helped find a good place.. keep it in your mind when you again come in here.. cheers πŸ™‚

    • Reply Megan June 5, 2011 at 7:29 pm

      But Sameer, I didn’t know you then! πŸ™‚ How long have you lived in Varanasi? It must be an amazing place to live.

      • Reply sameer singh June 5, 2011 at 7:34 pm

        i took birth here only ma ancestors are from here only, however it may look but it is indeed a great place i must say..”its really unique” its like a mixture, you would have only seen the places which the tourist are able to see & guides show them, there are plenty of more thing all around, ma father is a doctor, this is our native place, i tell you i have not been out anywhere out from india but i strongly feel that this is really among the β€œbest” places around the globe, river may be poluted, roads may be full of puverty but again these all are levels of this city, its not named as β€œholy city” just like that..& yeah you last line was really nice.. πŸ™‚ )

  • Reply sameer singh June 5, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    i took birth here only ma ancestors are from here only, however it may look but it is indeed a great place i must say..”its really unique” its like a mixture, you would have only seen the places which the tourist are able to see & guides show them, there are plenty of more thing all around, ma father is a doctor, this is our native place, i tell you i have not been out anywhere out from india but i strongly feel that this is really among the “best” places around the globe, river may be poluted, roads may be full of puverty but again these all are levels of this city, its not named as “holy city” just like that..& yeah you last line was really nice.. :))

  • Reply Micamyx|Senyorita June 14, 2011 at 5:15 am

    When I saw the photo of the room with the bed, I was like ‘Yeah, i can survive with that’. When I saw the bathroom, I was like 0_0

    Like what i mentioned in one of my previous comments here (Varanasi-related), i am still interested on embarking a trip to Varanasi so I could witness everything I heard from the bloggers who were able to go there. It may not be an ideal luxurious trip, but i’m quite sure i’ll be able to appreciate the simpliest things i take for granted.

    • Reply MeganRTW June 14, 2011 at 11:48 am

      Haha there are plenty of nicer options, Micamyx – I was just being cheap πŸ˜€

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