Thursday, August 15, 2013

6 Things to Do in Varanasi with a Padhaaro Greeter

I first learnt about Padhaaro's "welcome visitor" program in India from twitter some time last year before I traveled to New Delhi, India. Their admin for their twitter account tweeted to me and told me about their great program. Sadly, it was only this year was I able to try out their program. :)

Basically this program is meant to help foreign visitors to India meet up with locals also known as a Padhaaro Greeter. These greeters will host the visitors and bring them around interesting places for free! The catch? Just pay for their food and transport. Quite easy right?

So the first step in enjoying this great service is by filling out a form online to request for a greeter. ( :)

My travel group of three (Alid, Suntea and I) managed to get Gaurav as our lovely Padhaaro greeter at Varanasi. We met up at our Couchsurfing host's house some time during lunch and ate together. Both guys never heard of what the other site is about. It was kinda funny to have both of our Padhaaro and Couchsurfing hosts together. Hahaha.

"Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together."  Mark Twain

Alid sandwiched between Padhaaro host Gaurav (left) and CS host Arihant (right) with our lunch in the front! haha!
So Gaurav would be our tour guide and Arihant provides us food and bedding. How more convenient can our trip to India be? :P

Places that Gaurav brought us to for Day 1:

1. Banaras Hindu University

Statue of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya on the left and Vishwanath temple on the right which is situated at the campus
Banaras Hindu University is a public central university located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Established in 1916 by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya (his statue is erected right at the university's entrance), BHU is one of the largest residential universities in Asia, with over 20,000 students. (Wikipedia)

In terms of ranking, this university is notable number one in India after the university in Delhi which makes it a very prestigious university. I also heard that the Engineering courses here are among the best in town. Maybe I'd continue my studies here? Hehe. *wishful thinking*

2. Crossing a pontoon bridge over Ganges River

The concrete road bridge across Ganges River heading to Sarnath is always congested with trucks occasionally breaking down at the middle of it! At times like this, auto rickshaws prefer to detour using a floating pontoon bridge. It was this bridge that Gaurav brought us to cross to get to the other side.

I managed to find a photo of a similar pontoon bridge used in one of India's most elaborate festival as mentioned below. Pontoon bridges were built temporarily over the river in Allahabad to cater 30 millions devotees!
Photo credit to here.  See the masses of devotees here!! Amazing!
And this how it looks from inside the auto transport when crossing the bridge. Sorry, the picture isn't that great. But this was among the most memorable experience of mine in Varanasi. Crossing the pontoon bridge across Ganges River. :)
Pontoon Bridge - easily constructed, economically cheap and fits the needs of people wanting to cross the very wide river!
3. Visit Ram Nagar Fort 

Alid was particularly excited to come here. He told me that it was the 7th Pit Stop of The Amazing Race 18. He even had us take his picture at the exact spot where the shot the episode. LOL

Outside the fort that faces Ganges River
The fort is turned into a museum but is really in bad shape. It is a typical Mughal architecture seen similar to the buildings in Jaipur and were inhabited by previous kings of Benaras (the title was long demolished in 1971). Historic pictures of foreign leaders and kings that visited here can be seen inside the museum and I was surprised to see a picture of a Bhutan king there. And due to the pictuesque scene outside the fort, it also has been used as film locations for their movie Banaras. 

In and about Ram Nagar Fort 
4. Exploring the Lanes of Kashi

Varanasi itself is a maze of narrow lanes (3 to 4 feet wide) and quaint alleyways which are filled with colorful shops selling interesting items from pooja materials, books, idols to sarees, a lot of eateries, people walking up and down, and even the occasional cow roaming aimlessly around. Well, thankfully we had Gaurav to maneuver us around the maze, else we certainly would've got LOST!
Sorry Caci, I've nothing to buy here. T__T
5. Watch the Ganga Aarti after sundown

And then in the evening, we got to experience a ceremony at Ganges which is famous world-wide, the spetacular Ganga Aarti on the Dashaswamedh ghat (one of many ghats in Varanasi). It starts just after sunset, with a bunch of young priests choreographing to Hindu chantings whilst holding and swinging the lamps in a rhythmic matter. It is a way to offer holy prayer to holy river Ganges and done every evening!

Ganga Aarti. There were boats on the river full of people to watch this ceremony. The area itself is crowded with people!
6. Sunrise boat ride on Ganges River

Will blog about this on a separate blogpost because we did this the next morning. :)

Enjoying my boat ride on the great Ganges River!
We ended our city tour with Gaurav and headed back to our couchsurfing's house situated in a railway settlement just at the outskirts of Varanasi. There was a wedding to attend and Arihant was bringing us there.

Till next post! Happy traveling peeps!