This is going to be a light entry, as most of my day was spent traveling!
I took an Uber from my hotel to Jaipur airport, which took about half an hour. At 8:30, I was afraid I’d hit rush hour, but in fact the roads were way emptier than during the day.
Once at the small airport, I discovered that things work differently here: first thing you do is take your bag to your airline’s X-ray scanner, where they put a seal on its lock, and then you can take it to a check-in counter to drop it off and get your boarding pass.
I got on a flight to Delhi, which was on time, and once there I had a 4h layover until my next flight, to Varanasi. There are apparently direct Jaipur-Varanasi flights, but only some days of the week and it didn’t work out for me. Also, in the end it was okay but I initially booked this long layover deliberately just in case my first flight was late.
At Delhi airport, there was a small food court with fast food joints where I had a pizza. Yes, I am at that point of an Asian trip where I start getting cravings for Western food after ten days of eating local fare, so I enjoyed my pizza even knowing that it was objectively not good. Cravings sated!
One aside about Indian fashion. I’ve been surprised by the sheer variety of styles I see on the streets. I encounter both men and women wearing traditional clothes and Western clothes, and anything from homewear to tracksuits to formal suits and everything inbetween. The other day I crossed a boy, he must have been around 13, who dressed head to toe in Versace-style silk. Also: a surprising many babies with eyeliner!
My second flight, Delhi to Varanasi, had a slight 15 min delay but went otherwise well, and this time the driver I had booked through my hotel was indeed waiting for me! At 18:30, it was already fully dark, and the faint smell of smoke hanging in the air told me that pollution is worse here than in Jaipur.
The drive from the airport to the old city took surprisingly long -a full hour- through what turns out to be a massive urban sprawl, of which the ancient town is but a tiny fraction. The catch is that the old quarter is inaccessible to traffic, so the car dropped me off at the gates and then a hotel guide had to walk me another 10 minutes to the hotel itself, through narrow, winding streets, going up and down stairs, taking sharp turns left and right, and basically crossing a veritable maze of ancient streets. I’m so relieved I have data on my phone -I couldn’t possibly find my way on my own, and even with a map I’m intimidated!
I’m staying at the Ganpati Guest House, which is right *on* the river Ganges. It is more quirky and modest than the other hotels I’ve stayed at (the rooms are locked with a massive padlock) but it’s also charming: all the walls are painted in bright colors, there’s an atrium, and I had dinner at a rooftop restaurant with views over the night-time Ganges river. It was shocking to see it suddenly, in person, so large and wide; one of those sights I kind of didn’t think were real. Sadly, I could see from the haze around the lights that the air really is quite dirty around here.
It’s already late, so I think I’ll get my bearings tomorrow. For starters, I should probably just walk down the river bank and take it all in, perhaps try my hand at navigating some of the inner streets; I don’t think there are a lot of “visits” to do in Varanasi, as in a museum or a palace, but it’s more about seeing the different ghats (the steps leading into the river) and some temples along the way. Let’s see!