Published: August 3rd 2012August 3rd 2012
The Ganges at the back of the photo flowing from left to right is joined by the Yamuna flowing from the bottom right
Allahabad and Varanasi are both cities intimately connected with Hindu mythology. I had been following the Yamuna river from Agra, where the Taj Mahal backs onto it, to Allahabad, where three Hindu holy rivers meet. The Yamuna joins with the Ganges, and in theory so does the Saraswati, but that's mythological river.
Because of this, the confluence if the three is considered one of the most auspicious places to undertake religious bathing. Every year, usually in February, there is a mass gathering of Hindus here, called a Mela, usually in February. Every 12 years there is a particularly big gathering known as the Kumbh Mela - the next one if February 2013. The Kumbh Mela is the world's largest single gathering of people in one place - tens of millions of them. The place where it is held is a very large area of mud flats, exactly where the two rivers meet, known as Sangam.
After one night in Allahabad I moved on to Varanasi for two nights. Varanasi is an all-year-round bathing place along the river Ganges, and is also the place where ideally Hindus would like their ashes to be scattered when they are cremated. There are
dozens of ghats (flat steps or platforms alongside the river) where these two activities take place. Most are bathing ghats but there are a few cremation ghats and my hotel in Varanasi just happened to be right above one of them - Harishchandra Ghat - about 50 meters from the river bank. If I wanted I could simply look out of my window (I even had a little balcony) and see 3 or 4 cremations in progress. Behind the hotel is an enormous supply of wood which the relatives of the deceased must buy to have their loved one cremated here.
I walked from my hotel past 20 or so ghats towards one of the main bathing ghats. The scene here was one some ways almost reminiscent of a sunny day in the summer at an English seaside resort - hundreds of people, familes etc sitting on the ghats, eating packed lunches, with fruit, drinks, food sellers, and people offering boat rides on the river (I took one those as well).
When I arrived in Varanasi I was just getting over a particularly bad digestive problem (that's the politest way of describing it!). I hadn't eaten for two
days and I had felt extremely lethargic. What I really needed was somewhere where I could sit in somewhere fairly open, well ventilated, and where I could buy some really bland food! I normally love Indian food, and I had enjoyed my meals here in small local eating places, but right now I needed to let my stomach get back to normal. Luckily I happened to pass a restaurant called the Kerala Cafe. I was was very modern (well, in a 60s Wimpy Bar type of modern), large, spacious, lots of powerful fans, and best of all had lots of bland things on the menu. I started with a coffee - the best coffee I have had yet in India, then something a bit like a pizza base with coconut and onions, and finaly a gorgeous cold coffee with ice-cream. The next day I also managed to find a stall recommended by the guidebook - The Blue Lassi - absolutely heavenly lassis flavoured with almost any available fruit.
There are more photos below