Arriving in Varanasi after a mammoth journey from Rishikesh and into the 45 degree sweat-inducing heat we were so happy to head straight to Stops Hostel and relax. After having stayed in their Jodhpur and Delhi hostels we knew we would be walking into somewhere that made us feel instantly at home and Stops Varanasi didn’t disappoint. The first and original Stops Hostel, Varanasi has all the usual Stops characteristics; cushioned common areas, spacious dorms and fantastic tours. We stayed for three nights in a 14-bed dorm and could have stayed longer if only to hide from India’s sweltering summer heat!
Located just a ten minute walk from the famous ghats that line the holy river Ganges and where the heart of Varanasi beats, Stops Hostel allows you to be right in midst of the action. However, hidden down a small alleyway Stops Varanasi is also far enough back from the road that after a day delving into its intense daily cremations and ceremonies you can find some peace and quiet away from the busy city to unwind.
We stayed in the 14-bed dorm (399 Rs) and we know what you might be thinking…awful? so many people? cramped? but actually this is one of the best larger dorms we have stayed in. The room is huge and so the beds are positioned all the way around the room meaning your not sandwiched in next to someone else and left feeling hugely uncomfortable when you wake up with their arm or foot in your face…it happens!
In fact, your nice and spread out so that you really feel like you have your own space to relax in. The air-con worked like a dream meaning we were welcomed with a tide of freezing cold air as we came back inside which was very welcome after literally dripping with sweat all over the ghats! The room also has an extra cushioned floor space in the middle so if you just cant make that extra step back to your bed you can certainly tumble into a heap here…perfect! There is also 8 and 6 bed dorms available for 499 Rs and 599 Rs respectively.
The Common Areas
Like with all Stops Hostels, Varanasi has tons of common areas dotted over its four floors. You can sit outside next to reception on the open air benches and soak up the morning sun or head upstairs for some cooler indoor spaces.
On the first floor there’s a fab little room kitted out with pillows and the all important table football!
Head up another floor again and you can relax whilst making use of their huge flat screen television, sit outside amongst even more pillows or eat breakfast up at the table and meet some fellow Stops travellers.
With all these great spaces its hard not to relax at Stops Varanasi as you find your favourite corner and get comfortable for a few hours to wait out the midday heat!
If you’ve stayed at a Stops Hostel before then you will come to expect a great breakfast from them and Stops Varanasi was no different. As much chai or coffee, biscuits, bread, cereal, fruit and eggs that you can eat and all included in the room price. Breakfast is served up here from 8am until 10am so don’t sleep in too long and miss out! If you do miss that chai then no fear, Stops Varanasi also has a free chai time everyday at 3.30pm – our favourite!
Now, we don’t often include staff in our reviews of places but the guys at Stops Varanasi really deserve a mention. The two guys that greeted us Virendra and Raj were so totally welcoming and couldn’t have been more on hand at every moment to answer any questions, fix our wifi or just have a general chat. We had some train issues as we were leaving and they both went out of their way to check the delays and make sure we were well informed and for this we are truly thankful! Then there was Sonu and Amir the resident tour guides who certainly make this place lively with their extrovert personalities and constant banter…more about their colourful tours next! All in all the staff here make Stops Varanasi a great place to stay; they are full of knowledge on the area and nothing is too much trouble for them! Thanks for a great stay!
Lastly, we just have tell you all about the awesome tours and activities that Stops Varanasi runs. They have something going on every day and not just your usual movie or pizza night but two informative 2-4 hour tours a day and then an evening activity on top! The tours you can choose from here are the temple tour, market tour, food tour, or all important ghats tours which either go at sunrise or sunset. They are really reasonably priced at 200-300 rupees or you can do a four tour package for 800 rupees and after experiencing them firsthand we thought they were so fantastic and real value for money! We chose to do the sunset ghat tour and the market tour; here’s a little about each.
Sunset Ghats Tour
If you’re headed to Varanasi then its inevitable that you will want to see and learn all about the intriguing history, culture and religious ideas surrounding Varanasi’s holy ghats and a boat tour is the best way to get up close and personal with all these things as they centre right around the riverbanks. We left Stops Varanasi at around 4.30pm and headed through the old city and down to the ghat all the while our friendly tour guide Sonu telling us about the history of the city and the meanings of the various temples and structures we walked past.
We had many questions about the famous cremation ceremonies but he promised these would all be answered by the end of the tour. We hopped aboard the large wooden boat and began paddling down the Ganges itself; as we passed each new ghat Sonu explained its origins and importance to the area.
The view of the whole city from the boat was really spectacular and even more so as we got off the boat on the opposite side of the river to watch the sun disappear behind Varanasi’s river side rooftops.
Over the course of just a few hours we began to see the ghats come alive with its nighttime buzz. Back on the boat the tour turned slightly more serious as we neared Manikarnika Ghat which is the biggest cremation ghat in Varanasi and runs cremations 24/7. Some were being prepared as we pulled up along side the shore and Sonu did indeed tell us in lots of detail all about the importance of the cremations for Hindus; we of course had a hundred questions each of which were also answered expertly.
We watched a cremation get underway which was completely raw and intense and something i’m sure none of us on that boat will forget but this was all part of visiting Varanasi and understanding its importance in the Hindu world. From sadness to celebration; as we floated back along the Ganges towards the city we stopped at Dashashwamedh Ghat where the nightly puja ceremony takes place.
Here we moored up along with tens of other boats all packed to the brim with foreign and Indian tourists alike all waiting for the event to start.
It was an incredible evening full of atmosphere as the drums, chanting and fire show began and the lights and fire all blurred into one reflecting off the surface of the Ganges and the faces of those watching. We can see why Varanasi is a place steeped in such religion and magic as this can really be felt all around you.
We sailed back down thee river and made our way back to Stops all quite overwhelmed at the nights sights, contrasts and details. All in all this was a truly fantastic and informative tour which gives you a real and honest look at Varanasi and for a very good price!
The Market Tour
We set off to do the Market Tour at 10am this time around with Amir who would be taking us to visit a total of five local markets. We hopped aboard a cycle rickshaw (30Rs) for the first leg of our trip to the Paan Market.
We had seen paan being sold all over India and inevitably dodged its red stream being spat from the mouths of many Indian people however never had we really known what a big industry it is. The paan market was absolutely heaving with men selling, trading and buying paan leaves.
Amir explained to us a bit about the history of the paan trade and the price of the different leaves depending on colour. It was really fascinating to see the local men bargaining and arguing over their fare. After leaving we visited the surrounding paan stores which sell everything from the more traditional betel nut filling to the more modern sweet paan fillings like fennel, cherry and coconut. We saw a maker in action; filling and rolling the paan for his client. An amazing glimpse into a traditional product so synonymous with India!
Next we wandered through some small backstreets which holds the local spice market. Here we found chillies, turmeric, dried fruits and even natural paints all in huge sacks or displayed in bowls in the shop front to entice the clients.
After a quick chai stop in the most local place imaginable we headed through the iron and milk markets all of which wind through the small alleys of the old city. It was amazing to see and you can just imagine that they really haven’t changed in years so that you almost feel as though you have stepped back in time. Lastly we visited the flower market which greeted us with its vibrant colours and overwhelming smell – luckily a fabulous one!
As through all of the markets Amir gave us in depth information on the products sold and the history of the markets all the while keeping it lighthearted with his many rhymes and jokes!
We are not usually tour people, hating the image of following someone around and being talked at, but actually the tours at Stops have changed our views on this. They were so informative yet not overwhelming, gave us a chance to ask questions on things we may have had no-one else to ask and took us to places we most definitely wouldn’t have found otherwise. So, a tip for you all – give the tours a go and we are sure that they’ll make tour people out of you yet!
We hope you enjoy Stops and live the Varanasi experience to the fullest!
C & J x
We accepted a complimentary stay at Stops Varanasi but all thoughts and opinions expressed are totally our own!