Sunday, May 31, 2015

India travelogue 2 - In Varanasi

When the Indigo flight landed in Varanasi there was no connecting passage between the flight and airport and there wasn't a bus to take us to the airport either. You go down the steps from the flight and walk across the tarmac into the terminal! It wasn't bad but it was odd; it reminded me of Malaysia where we had to do the same for boarding the flight! The airport was small but clean, neat and silent. It didn't seem like they had to handle too many simultaneous flights. I took my time, got my phone up and running, connected to gps and the internet. I headed to the airport authorized taxi counter - one of my worries was whether I would have to haggle over taxi fare. And haggling over prices is no good if you don't have a reference point of your own. 

I announced 'Beniya Bagh park'. The guy at the counter said it was around 27km though Google claimed it was only 23 or so; anyway I didn't argue. 
'AC or non AC?’ he asked. AC was priced Rs.100 higher and I opted for non-AC. 
I had to pay Rs.50 at the counter and he said the remaining Rs.650 I should give the driver. "No other charges?"
"No. Nothing. No parking or anything."
First surprise I had was when driver asked me to pay the parking charge at airport’s exit. He also pointed to the receipt I had where it said, "Parking and toll charges have to be borne by the passenger!" I wasn't in a mood to get out from the car, walk to the airport and check with the counter guy. It was Rs.40.
"Beniya Bagh park? Do you know where it is?”
That was the second surprise; I assumed he would know the park; aren’t parks prominent?
"It is in Beniya Bagh,” I replied hesitantly.
"I don't know. Have you seen it before?"
"No. My friend will come there." That was a partial lie. I just wanted to take a walk to my real destination to get a feel of the surroundings. “You can go to Beniya Bagh.”
I followed the blue dot on Google Maps to see if we were on the right track. Most of the main roads had only 2 lanes; the side roads were in bad shape and the driver used them to bypass traffic. The time was 2:30pm and I could feel the heat; definitely hotter than Chennai. There was a difference but I didn't realize what it exactly was till later.
The driver suddenly pulled over. According to Google, this is where the park was but all I saw was a road filled with small shops on either side.

After walking a few meters I discovered the park; it was on a side road on the left side. Seeing the state of the park I knew why the driver didn’t know about it; it was a dilapidated park with some greenery but hardly any maintenance. There were people sleeping on the grass. It looked a bit shady as well!
My first impression of Varanasi was that it appeared like a small town than a large city. There were so many small shops stacked one beside the other on both sides of the road; there were many shops on trolleys; not one large store I spotted in my 10 minutes of walking. There were a lot of two-wheelers on the road and there were so many rickshaws - not motor driven rickshaws but manually driven ones (tricycle with a seat that can accommodate 3 passengers with a sun shade on top).

Each side of the road was hardly 2 lanes wide. As I walked closer to my destination the crowd increased. There were many school kids travelling on rickshaws. Most girls had wrapped their faces and hands in cloth; there was only a small opening for their eyes. The reason was heat - even the breeze would feel like burning your skin. This was the opposite of what I felt in Boston during their peak winter - the breeze there would be so cold that you had to cover all your skin. The heat was literally scorching; to add to the problem there were no trees on the road - just small buildings with shops and so no shade. Men had small towels on their head to protect themselves from the heat. And this was not even peak summer - it was just 40 degree centigrade. Wow - and people say Chennai is hot! Humid yes but hot, no way!

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