Travelling the Length of India: Varkala to Varanasi
Varanasi was our final stop on our first trip to India. We travelled from Varkala in the very south, which was completely different to what we were about to experience in the far north in Varanasi! This post will share the logistics of how to reach this culturally shocking, but amazing place. If you’re more interested in a glimpse of what you’ll see, rather than the travel click here for our post on a day tour of Varanasi.
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Also read: Preparing Yourself for Varanasi
Travelling South to North
India is a HUGE country, so if you can start in the south and gradually work your way north, that’s probably a more sensible and cost effective way of travelling. As somewhat naive first time travellers we booked our flights to Goa without proper research on best times to go and found the place was shutdown when we arrived as it was still monsoon season (September). We ended up travelling south, north, south, north, which definitely wasn’t the best way to do things! That said, it’s still relatively cheap to travel the length of the country. For the most budget friendly way of travelling, you’re going to be taking several modes of transport!
1. Train: Varkala to Kochi
The first leg of the journey is to catch an early train from Varkala Railway Station (VAK) to Ernakulam Junction(ERS). Allow yourself plenty of time as Indian rail services are, more likely than not, DELAYED! This journey will cost you around £3 travelling in SL (Sleeper Class) – you don’t need to travel sleeper, however this was the cheapest available class when we booked. The journey is about 3 hours, and there are irresistible refreshments on board! We had a train Biryani and it was SO good.
2. Tuk-tuk: Kochi Station to Airport
Hop off the train at Ernakulam Junction and there’ll be TONS of tuk-tuks waiting outside. Drivers will probably come on to the platform to try and get your business. Make sure you agree a price before getting in the tuk-tuk and make your way to Cochin International Airport. The journey is about 30 minutes and should cos max. £6.
3. Plane: Kochi to Delhi
We try to avoid flying as much as possible, however travelling almost the entire length of India with no stops between places is incredibly time consuming and can also be really difficult as trains get booked up months in advance! The cheapest internal flights are always to Delhi or Mumbai as these are the largest airports. We flew from Cochin International Airport to Delhi Airport for £62 each with Air India.
4. Night Bus: Delhi to Varanasi
We spent one night & day in Delhi to catch a night bus to Varanasi the day after we landed from Kochi. There were tons of options on RedBus for this journey, and this seemed to be the most hassle free way to get to Varanasi from Delhi. It costs around Rs. 800 (£8.50) and takes around 13 hours.
TIP: Be sure to check the reviews/ pictures on RedBus and research the bus company! We were lucky for all of our travels until this very last bus that we didn’t research! Our curtain was falling down and the bus was a bit dirty. Someone threw up next to our bed over everyone’s shoes and the conductor just threw a blanket over it instead of cleaning it up which made the journey pretty hellish! BUT don’t let this put you off night buses!! Before that incident this was our favourite way to travel around, and still is, this was just an unfortunate one!
You can never be sure where the bus will drop you so our best tip is to make sure you have an indian sim card with data so you can figure out how far you are from your hostel! The tuk-tuk will take you close to your accommodation (you should haggle to around £2-£3 for a 10 min drive) if you’re staying in the alleys near the Ghats, however they can only drop you so far as they aren’t allowed (and probably don’t fit) down the narrow streets. Bear in mind you’ll have to do some walking to your hostel, and 4G can drop out in the alleys so download your map!
Where to Stay
The Neela by Bunked Up Hostel – located in the narrow streets of Varanasi, this hostel is in the perfect location to reach the Ghats. The dorms are pod-style beds which are great for a bit of privacy, there’s great areas to chill out and meet people and the staff are super helpful and get everyone involved. We did 2 tours with our hostel – one of the city and Ghats by day and another of the Ghats by night. Both were super cheap and a great way to see things properly with like-minded people experiencing this crazy place for the first time too. They also threw a rooftop party for Diwali which was amazing! Click here to read about this jam-packed day!
NOTE: There’s another bunked up hostel on Hostelworld, however it no longer exists. Make sure you have the right map downloaded!
This is a very long journey but a VERY worthwhile one! There’s definitely quicker ways you can travel south to north, however for backpackers on a tight budget we think this is the best journey at only £80. You get to experience all kinds of transport, you don’t pay an arm and a leg for a flight (the most expensive form of travel at around £200) and you aren’t stuck on a train for 2 days (the cheapest method of transport at £13). Varanasi is one of the most unique places you will ever experience, and something you have to mentally prepare yourself for. Check out our post on preparing yourself for Varanasi.