One of the benefits of staying at a homestay is that sometimes communal breakfasts and dinners are arranged. This is a great way to have home-cooked food in India and meet other travellers.
In Varanasi, we had generous hosts. The food was very good and the chef, once I explained vegan food, made some very delicious meals.
Her husband had his fingers in lots of pies. Apart from the homestay, he also ran a clothing and cloth export business (supplying the likes of John Lewis), and arranged tours.
We did two tours with him. One was a sunset boat trip after viewing a morning religious ceremony along the Ganges. The second was a trip to Sarnath.
Sarnath is one of four places that are significant in the life of Buddha. These are: where he was born, where he died, where he became enlightened and Sarnath, where he gave his first sermon.
We did the day trip to Sarnath with four others from our homestay: Daniel, Lise, Sylvie and Paul. We’d got to know them over breakfast and dinner. They were great company!
When we actually got to the ruins of the place Buddha gave his first sermon, our driver said that we could see the temple (stupa) without paying. Since it was a large structure, it was difficult to miss! We were not sure what we were missing out on by not buying tickets. After we saw the stupa, we had a polite and protracted discussion about whether or not we should buy tickets for the very thing we had come to see! Sanity prevailed. We laughed about this afterwards, especially since tickets cost about £2!
The site turned out to be much bigger than the impression given by the outside.
After leaving the temple complex, we briefly popped into the archaeological museum before being taken to a nearby village for a look at life there.
Our arrival at the village caused some excitement, especially amongst the children. They were at home because of a national holiday. We were of sufficient interest to them that they followed us around throughout the visit, more joining at each stop. By the end, we were surrounded by pretty much every child in the village, usually pointing at us and laughing.
Our driver, who was a farmer himself, showed us with great gusto the various crops that were being grown and explained how the irrigation system worked.
On returning to the homestay, some people took advantage of the owners’ shawl and scarf shop. In typical Indian fashion, items were brought out and laid in front of the potential buyers until the whole floor was covered in shawls and scarves. People bought far more than they expected to, as they remembered friends and relatives who should have a gift from India.
Once we’d stocked up on a lifetime’s supply of scarves and shawls, we were whisked off to the railway station for our nighttime sleeper train from Varanasi to Delhi.