Varanasi has to be one of the most incredible places I have visited, ever! I think the only word that can really describe the city is magical. The old city's narrow backalleys, with the buildings tripping over each other, are filled with non-stop bustle, with open fronted shops selling everything under the sun, with their owners lounging around chatting on cushions by the step. Every third shop sells carefully crafted colourful mithai (sweets), concocted from various milky & syrupy substances, and laid out in rows on the stall. On one of our walks through Godaulia we bought some chai from one stall by the side of the road - chai is a milky, frothy tea drink, and is incredibly sweet, and refreshing. We watched the chai-wallah as he heated the brew over and over again, filtering it a few times and fanning the substance just as it was about to boil over. Served in a small china cup, it was the perfect antidote to the heat and the madness of the town.
For dinner yesterday we went along to the Ganga Fuji restaurant, not far from our hotel by Meer Ghat, where we ate while watching two muscians play the tabla and sitar, plus a unusual box-like string instrument played with a bow, with atmosphere added by the occasional power cut. We allowed ourselves a lie-in this morning on account of the ridiculously early starts and lng journeys recently, and postponed our boat trip until tomorrow morning. After breakfast on the terrace overlooking the Ganges, we went in search of the Triveni music centre, recommended in LP as somewhere you could get good tuition on Indian instruments. We found it completely unexpectedly down a small alley near Pandhey Ghat, and an old man gave me a beginner's lesson on the Sitar, and his son taught Nico the tabla. The Sitar really is an incredible instrument! With about 20 different strings and massive tuning pegs and a huge bulbous end, it looks rather odd, and it's damn hard to play! Nico seemed to do pretty well with the Tabla drums, and at the end we spent a good hour or so examining the sitars on sale - Nic has asked me to bring an authentic Indian sitar back to add to his collection of weird and wonderful instruments, and I eventually settled on one, and a mad dash across the town to a bank to withdraw money ensued on the back of a scooter - with myself, another English guy called Jack who was buying a sitar as well, and the driver all fitting onto one, and Nico and the shop assistant/sitar player on another. With the cash in hand, we returned to the shop, paid, then went in search of food. We found a cool restaurant recommended to us by Jack and after we had eaten, went up for tea (alcohol is illegal in the old city) on the on the roof terrace - the sun was going down over Varanasi, and people were flying kites from the rooftops. We could see the silhouettes of monkeys perched on top of the buildings, and Nico swore he could hear the twanging of sitars in the distance. Many photos later, we made our way back to Triveni where a concert was about to take place - the old guy on sitar, the son on the Tabla drums, and later their friend on a bamboo flute-like thing. It was pretty impressive, though we had to leave early to make our way back to the hotel (it shuts it's doors at night on account of Varanasi being a bit dodgy after the sun has gone down), and only got a bit lost in the labyrinth of streets.
It's a boat ride tomorrow morning on the Ganges, then we catch a train to Satna, then (hopefully, this may not go entirely to plan) to Khajuraho.