India travel

Varanasi – Life, death and the world’s best Lassi

I’d never really faced death so closely until we arrived in Varanasi. This enchanting, unforgetble place is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Built along the holy river Ganges, it's here that the beginnings and endings of life are woven together to create something truly extraordinary.

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Many Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi offers Moshka – freedom from the cycle of birth and death in order to reach nirvana. Thousands of pilgrims travel here every day to prepare themselves for death. People bathe in the Ganges, drink from it to cleanse their sins and offer their cremated loved ones to the holy water. It's no doubt that this can be an overwhelming place - the demanding heat, burning corpses and endless hassle can leave you feeling both physically/emotionally tired. But we promise It's more than worth it to persevere! 

Strolling along the Ghats is a fascinating, almost twisted-dream for anyone who loves to people watch. From children’s swimming lessons in the river to groups of mourning families and wandering sadhus –it’s incredible to witness a place bursting with so much life and death in one single moment. 

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And so, Varanasi instills such an indescribable feeling in so many of its visitors. To see these intimate acts of religion displayed so publically is so contrasting to our own private culture. But intensity aside, it’s hard not to be astounded by this crazy, magical city that celebrates both life and death in such a unique way. 

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Although strolling along the Ghats and through the ever-winding alleys is a great way to see the city, a sunrise/sunset boat ride is the most popular way to see the streams of life that run through the Ganges. We joined a sunset boat ride which slowly rode us along the Ghats, ending with a perfect view of the famous evening ceremony.

As hundreds of people sung from the Ghats, the golden fires reflecting upon the water and clouds of smoke filling the air, this definitely felt like one of the most surreal experiences of our lives so far. We didn't even take any photos as we were so consumed by the whole moment – either way I’m not sure they could do it justice!

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Sleepy dogs in hidden corners  

Sleepy dogs in hidden corners  

No surprises - we also found some delicious food in Varanasi, including (probably) the best Lassis in the world from ‘Blue Lassi Shop’. For those new to Lassi, this is a tasty Indian drink made with fresh yoghurt, water and often fruits and spices.

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Blue Lassi Shop is no secret to Varanasi, in fact it’s got a pretty legendary reputation as being one of the oldest joints in the city to churn out incredible Lassis. Served in rustic clay pots with mounds of delicate toppings and a spoon – each Lassi is incredibly thick, creamy and so tasty. Definitely the best Lassi we had in the whole of India. There’s a huge amount of flavour options – we tried quite a few, but our favourite was this perfect mango and coconut one.

Blue Lassi is also famous amongst travellers for its strong Bhang Lassis. Drink one of these before a river boatride, and you're guaranteed to have a crazy, dazzling trip of a lifetime.

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We also found some delicious dosas hidden away amongst the faded alleyways. Dosa is a thin, crispy pancake made from fermented rice. This one was stuffed with cashews and vegetables, served up with spicy samba and dreamy coconut chutney! 

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So happily tired and with our bellies satisfied, we left the wonder of Varanasi to head onwards to Agra. So for anyone planning a trip to India, make sure this city is on your list. This true experience of the senses is something you won’t forget for a very long time….

Little Andaman Island

As we rode through Little Andaman Island in the back of a jeep, a small part of us felt like we'd reached the end of the world. And it felt like pure magic, like a true adventure beginning to unfold.

Nowadays it’s rare to visit a place in the world that feels undiscovered, but Little Andaman still feels special in that respect. Its beaches are dramatic in their emptiness, the locals’ huge smiles are warm and genuine…and there isn’t a souvenir shop in sight.

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Despite its name, there isn’t actually much all ‘little’ about Little Andaman – it’s got a big heart, it’s large in size and the boat journey from Port Blair is around 10 hours long. With infrequent boats, no internet, vast rainforest and a few crocodiles (yes, really), this is definitely a place more suited for those wanting to escape the beaten path and feel truly disconnected. And while the longish journey and remote location puts a lot of tourists off, we practically skipped onto our boat and could have stayed forever more…

So here’s more about our favourite place we’ve ever been to and the kindest souls we had the pleasure of meeting…

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Blue View 

Our 10 day stay on Little Andaman was partly so great due to the home we made at Blue View Resort. Run by possibly the happiest and friendliest man in the whole of India, Bubba, we immediately felt so at home here in this basic but extremely welcoming hostel.

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There aren’t a lot of accommodation options on Little Andaman and on the first few days of our stay there were only 4 other tourists on the whole island. But while most of the hostel options are aesthetically similar, Bubba’s real priority is creating a contagiously happy and relaxed atmosphere for his family of guests. And it works so well. Our simple beach hut cost just 100RS (£1) per night with shared toilets, but more importantly we have incredible memories simply hanging out here with new friends and delicious food.

There were also 4 puppies clambering about the place during our stay…making hammock time even sweeter!

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Highlights: Butler Bay, Big Waterfall, The Lighthouse

There is a lot to explore on Little Andaman, from empty beaches to waterfalls to sweaty jungle trekking. These were our favourite three spots:

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Butler Bay

Butler Bay is the most famous beach on Little Andaman – a dreamy turquoise bay tucked away behind the forest. Despite being the island’s main attraction, we only saw around 2 other people on the beach during all our visits. This is also a great spot for surfing – boards are available to rent on the island if you ask at your accommodation. We opted for the sloth-like option and buried ourselves in books and mangos.

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The Big Waterfall 

The Island has 2 main waterfalls, helpfully referred to as the little and big waterfalls. We heard great things about the latter (official name: Whisper Wave Waterfall) and found ourselves flung into a day-long adventure getting there on our first full day. Located deep into the jungle, getting there yourself requires renting a motorbike/moped, driving on tricky terrain for 1-2 hours and then over an hour trek in the jungle. As you can imagine, it feels like quite an achievement finally arriving there, and it's worth it to see this beautiful waterfall and its surroundings.

It is possible to rent a guide to get you there, but we really enjoyed the journey and it was a great day trip with a few people. It sound obvious, but make sure to get clear directions before you leave! Annoyingly we didn't bring our camera, but trust us, it's cool! 

Lighthouse Beach

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Near the islands' lighthouse lies the favourite bit of beach we visited. White sand and crystal clear, shallow water make this place seem almost unreal. I definitely had to pinch myself when we arrived here...

There's also some really beautifully rugged beaches on the road past the jetty, so we recommend exploring there!

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Food

The food on Little Andaman was one of our favourite parts of Island life – with endless fresh coconuts, incredible fish and classic Indian dishes. Mainland India is a very cheap place to travel, but Little Andaman was even cheaper.  Any place where fresh fish fry costs 60RS (60p) and mangos are 30RS (30p) for a kilo (!) is our version of paradise. Oh and you can find small lobsters for 120RS (£1.20)!

Hut Bay is the main place to get food on the island but, weirdly, most places close during lunchtime hours (12 onwards). Everywhere begins to open again from 3pm onwards, so it’s best to adjust your mealtimes accordingly and buy lots of snacks!

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Some of the nicest memories we have are from this special island and it's warm-hearted people. For more island life, check out our posts on Neil Island and Ross Island.

Neil Island (The Andaman Islands)

The afternoon sun was fading as our boat docked in the harbour, and we immediately fell for Neil Island and its lazy, laid-back vibe.

As the majority of our fellow boat passengers sailed onwards to bustling Havelock, we felt pretty smug with our little piece of deserted paradise. But besides the breathtaking beaches and electric blue ocean, it was the simplicity of life on Neil that we loved the most. So we hopped in a rickshaw towards our guesthouse, abandoning all worries & wifi for a perfect week on this happy little island....

Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go
Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go

There's no surprise that we easily fell into island life on Neil, with our days generally consisting of beach lazing, frisbee, lots of mangos & cycling through fields of palm trees. The island's small size makes everywhere reachable via bicycle, and so we'd happily cruise between the beaches - bazaar - home, greeting friendly locals as we passed by. The lack of traffic was one of our favourite parts of the Island, and although our bikes were pretty rusty, we loved the freedom of cycling everywhere!  

The beaches on Neil are lucidly named with numbers, and each of the 5 beaches have something different to offer. We personally fell in love with Beach No. 1, and found a precious spot of our own to return to each day. Shaded by hauntingly huge, overhanging trees and woodland forest, we were almost always the only people on the beach. If you're after that castaway, desert-island feeling, then there's nothing more you could ask for in life.

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Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go
Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go
Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go
Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go
Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go

After sun-kissed days and sun-set swims, we'd cruise back into town for our sweet evening ritual of chai, samosas and sitting with locals. The main-bazaar is wonderfully lively in the evening and we became regulars at the same shops, stalls and fruit/vegetable stand (the only one on the island!) 

Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go
Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go
Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go

Five months later, and we still feel dreamy about our week on Neil Island. It's no wonder the locals have so much warmth to offer - they've got life pretty sorted , with more coconuts than you could wish for. Our Andaman adventure continued onwards to Havelock & Little Andaman, so check back soon for part two of the journey... 

Neil Island (The Andaman Islands) - So We Go

Extra Info/Tips! 

-We stayed at Beach No.3 at Breakwater Resort, making a humble little beach hut our home for a mere 200RS (£2) per night. There's not a huge range of accommodation to choose from on Neil, but we definitely recommend this place for it's amazing setting, good food and cheap bike rent!  

-If you head into the Bazaar in the evenings, make sure to get a samosa from the small set-up stall in the square. The owner is the loveliest guy and has some of the best samosas we had in India… accompanied with the most delicious green chutney!

-If you're ordering any food on the Island, be prepared to wait a long time before it arrives! With all the locals running on 'island time', speed isn't a priority when dinner is due. Bring some cards, snacks and have a beer/juice while you wait… we're on an island after all 

-Be aware of the changing tide times all across the island. On our first day we turned up to the beach, ready for a swim, and had to wait hours for the tide to come in. Just check with locals to be clued up about when to go.  

Read more about our adventures on Ross Island here

Ross Island, Andamans

After a couple of hours trying to buy tickets, we eventually managed to jump on a boat for the twenty minute ride over to Ross Island. We’d had a few days to kill before our boat to Little Andaman, and decided this would be a worthwhile escape from the heat of Port Blair.

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During the British occupation of India, the Andaman Islands were used as a penal colony for political prisoners and revolutionaries who challenged the British rule. As well as a large prison on Port Blair, many of those imprisoned were forced to work for the British officers as they holidayed and relaxed at their so called administrative center on tiny Ross Island. The level of luxury they had there is quite shocking in contrast to the no-doubt horrendous conditions suffered by the prisoners, and indeed the conditions in which most of India lived, and still lives. As if it wasn’t enough being surrounded by a perfect blue sea that glows almost hypnotically in the midday sun, they had a swimming pool, a ballroom, a bakery and houses scaled up to the size of small mansions.

Despite the clear injustices of this place, and the quirky Indian signs and layout, Ross Island is now a great place to explore. Since eventually being abandoned after World War Two, nature has quickly overturned much of the island. Trees and vines wrap and warp around many of the ruins as they reach for the sun. The lush green palms and cool flashes of blue are refreshing against the decaying British architecture. And there is something peaceful and haunting about the emptiness of the large barracks and dance hall.

sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island
sowego Ross Island

Later we headed back over to Port Blair in time for a few more of our favourite parotas and fish curry. The next morning we set off early and excited, for adventures on Little Andaman. 
More soon on our trip....